Fewer competitors, tighter competition

The first two days of the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open were characterized by brisk winds and enough fishing pressure to make the catch difficult for most.

But, with the tournament field trimmed from nearly 400 anglers to 12 pros and 12 co-anglers, the remaining competitors shouldn’t have a problem finding a solitary place to fish. It appears that the wind has died down, as well as (along with a couple hundred boats) muddied the water.

So Saturday's launch had the feel of a fresh start for the field of 12 pros, and all were feeling good about their chances to put the finishing touches on a Southern Open Championship at Lake Tohopekaliga here in south-central Florida. The three-day tournament concludes Saturday with a 4 p.m. weigh-in at the Bass Pro Shops on International Drive in Orlando.

The field is bunched tightly for the final day of action. Richard Howes leads the way with a two-day total of 32 pounds, 8 ounces. But, his lead is barley 5 pounds more than the 12th place angler -- Bradley Jones who sits with a 27-4 haul for two days on the Kissimmee Chain. In between are 10 anglers looking at their own chance for the Southern Open title, including two Elite Series pros who have felt this type of pressure before.

David Walker, one of those Elite Series pros, sits in fifth place with a 30-13 haul. He said fewer boats on the water will lead to at least one thing on Saturday.

“There will have to be some other excuses today,” he joked. “But the thing to look at is the wind. It was just howling yesterday. It was crazy. The first place I went, I didn’t stay 15 minutes because the waves were rolling in with white caps.”

Walker is flipping heavy cover in Lake Kissimmee, which involves moving through a locking system south of Toho. That was a bit of a strain on many anglers the past two days, when the overwhelming majority of boaters were fighting for space into the lock. That won’t be a problem today.

“There are fewer places on Toho than there are on Kissimmee right now,” Walker said. “So it sort of concentrates the anglers. But who knows? I don’t know if any of the Top 12 are fishing Toho, but if they do, they’ll have it all to themselves, I  think. But I’m definitely going to dance with what got me here. The potential to catch a big fish is there. Someone’s going to catch a big one.”

That possibility of landing a 8-, 9- or 10-pounder is very real on this chain of lakes, as Toho is famous for producing lunkers that can break a tournament wide open for the angler lucky enough to find one of that size.

Howes, the tournament leader, knows that well. He also knows that he’ll have to keep up the pace to maintain his lead.

“[Less pressure] could definitely help the other guys,” he said. “I don’t how many local boats will be out, but I’ve had my spot to myself all week. I know Trevor Fitzgerald [fourth place with 31-5] has, too. My fish haven’t dealt with boat pressure other than me. I don’t know if my fish will replenish or not, but I’m gonna go check.”

Derek Remitz, an Elite Series angler who is in seventh place with 29-4, said he hasn’t had much company on the water either. He wasn’t sure what to make of it before takeoff on Saturday.

“I don’t know if I’m fishing for scraps or not,” he said. “But I’ve been pretty much alone. I’ve seen a couple boats the past few days. I guess today, I may see no boats.”

Todd Auten is in 10th place with 27-11. He thinks the Southern Open is anyone’s to win.

“Yesterday with the wind, I was scrambling around to catch what I caught,” he said. “But if the wind stays like it is right now, I think we all can catch them. Things should clear up. In practice there wasn’t much wind, and we were catching them pretty good.”

Other pros in the Top 12 include Tracy Adams, 31-10; Brandon Lester, 31-9; Daniel Lanier, 30-6; Jordan Card, 28-12; Glenn Browne, 27-13; and Chad Morganthaler, 27-5.

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