KISSIMMEE, Fla. — When the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open kicks off Jan. 15-17 on Florida’s renowned Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, these Central Florida waters, which are a short hop from Disney World, will offer a magic kingdom of rod-bending potential.
Daily takeoffs will be at 7 a.m. ET from Big Toho Marina at Kissimmee Lakefront Park, and weigh-ins the first two days will be held at 3 p.m. at the marina, while Friday’s championship weigh-in will be held at 4 p.m. at the Bass Pro Shops in Orlando.
Elite pro Jesse Tacoronte has been making the short trip from his Orlando home to explore tournament waters, and he’s expecting mostly a prespawn event. The Sunshine State can see spawning activity as early as December, but speaking 10 days prior to the event, Tacoronte said he had yet to see solid evidence of a shoreward movement.
“There were a lot of empty beds when I was out there last,” he said. “There were no bucks (male bass) or anything, and then the cold front we got stalled them even more.”
Beginning in downtown Kissimmee, the namesake chain includes four major lakes — Toho (22,700 acres), Cypress (4,097), Hatchineha (6,559) and Kissimmee (34,948) — all linked via canals. The Kissimmee River, headwaters of the Florida Everglades, runs through the chain and into Lake Okeechobee.
Within tournament waters, anglers will find plenty of fishable habitat including hydrilla, pad stems, reeds, Kissimmee grass and trash mats. Laydowns, stumps and open-water shellbeds enhance these vegetation-centric lakes.
Without any major rains in recent weeks, water clarity should be fairly good. However, windy conditions could change that. All of the Kissimmee Chain lakes are relatively shallow (approximately 13 feet maximum), and strong winds easily stir the bottom sediment.
While some might prefer bedding bass, as this brings sight fishing into the picture, Tacoronte knows that prespawn typically means aggressive fish with liberal appetites.
“It’s wide open right now, from ChatterBaits to Texas-rigged Senkos to Rat-L-Traps, jerkbaits and frogs; it’s crazy right now,” Tacoronte said. “When they’re all over, you can catch them any way you want.”
In addition to bait diversity, the Kissimmee Chain’s geographic range also presents options. Plenty of competitive fish live in Toho, but some anglers prefer distancing themselves from crowds. The Kissimmee Chain offers lots of room, but running time vs. fishing time remains a strategic calculation.
Those who choose to fish below Toho will need to watch the clock, both in terms of overall distances and the locking process. For prudent time management, Tacoronte suggests allowing an extra hour each way.
If history is any indication, several anglers should break 20 pounds, with a 30-pound bag a serious possibility. Recent early-season Florida events saw anglers exceed that 30-pound mark, including last year’s Eastern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes when Whitney Stephens opened with a Day 1 limit of 32-12 en route to victory.
Tacoronte believes 15 pounds a day will earn a Top 10 finish. Another 30-plus bag is completely realistic, he said.
“I had almost 30 pounds during practice,” Tacoronte said.
Weather is likely to play a major role in this event, as the year’s first quarter can prove particularly fickle. Florida bass grow big, but they have pitifully low tolerance for meteorological change.
“A cold front could come in a make those fish abandon everything they’ve been doing,” Tacoronte said. “If they’ve been up in the pads on a prespawn deal, a cold front could send them right back out and put them under (deeper) mats.
“But if you get a warm spell, they could be up on the beds spawning. So, weather could really change it. In Florida, it could be cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon. This time of the year is so fun because it’s a constant challenge.”
Exact game plans will probably be defined the night before competition commences, but those who fare best will be the ones who choose the right lake and react best to the week’s weather.
Based on a field of 150 boats, the winning angler in the pro division will earn $35,000. The winning co-angler will earn $17,000. Payouts are adjusted based on field size.
The event is being hosted by the Kissimmee Sports Commission.