KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Patrick Walters, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Summerville, S.C., had approximately eight hours on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, but he needed less than 20 percent of that to catch a five-bass limit of 21 pounds, 4 ounces that gave him the Day 1 lead at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open.
Around 10:30 a.m., Walters found himself without a keeper. But once the show started, it happened quickly.
“I caught all my fish in an hour and a half, because after 12 o’clock, I didn’t catch another fish,” he said. “I started deep, bouncing around a lot. I found a bunch of fish offshore in practice because the shallow bite wasn’t really any good. They were dropping the water, it was a full moon — there was something holding those fish back a little bit.
“Yesterday afternoon, right before we came to the meeting, I found a couple more areas where it looked like the fish had pulled up on the bed. Today, when nothing was happening out deep, I ran shallow and it happened quick.”
With a 7-13 largemouth anchoring his limit, Walters said he was targeting spawning fish, but he was not sight fishing. Rather, he was making 15-yard fan casts to promising areas.
“It was on the outside a little bit, they weren’t way in there where you’d want them to be spawning,” he said. “They were a little further out on the first actual spawning cover. The water has been warming up 2 degrees every day; it was 77 today. They’re definitely making a push. I think they’ll make an even bigger push tomorrow.”
Walters took a unique approach, targeting his fish with a Tokyo rig — a setup that has a weight suspended from the eye of a hook. This allowed him to present a traditional soft plastic in a horizontal fashion and, most importantly, with strategic precision.
“I was dragging a Zoom Zlinky (stickworm) on the Tokyo rig with an 1/8-ounce weight,” he said. “I’d throw it in there and let it sit for 30 seconds.
“The Tokyo rig keeps the bait off the bottom about 2 1/2 inches. The best thing is that it will fall vertically, whereas, if you have the worm on a Texas rig, it glides. You’re casting at a hole that’s the size of a basketball. So if the bait glides, you’re already out of the spot. When the Tokyo rig lands, it goes straight down."
Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., is in second place with 21-0. Despite breaking the 20-pound mark, New described an exasperating day devoid of consistency.
“I wanted to catch spawners and it didn’t happen, so I ended up junk fishing,” New said. “It wasn’t one thing. I caught three big ones doing three different things. You can’t just go do that and expect to catch big ones every day. I was flipping some pads and hydrilla, I caught them on a ChatterBait, a Rat-L-Trap and some on a worm.”
Joshua Stracner of Vandiver, Ala., is in third place with 19-5. His catch included an 8-11 largemouth that he caught flipping a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver.
“I lost a 3 1/2-pounder that would have helped, but that was the only other big one I saw,” Stracner said. “I did a lot of punching mats with a big weight and I hit four or five offshore spots. I was just bouncing back and forth in Kissimmee.”
James Castillo of West Richland, Wash., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 8-12 largemouth, more than half his total of 16-4 that has him in 15th.
Alexandre Jelev of Ontario, Canada, leads the co-angler division with 15-7. Describing his day as slow and inconsistent, Jelev said he found his fish in a particular area of pads. He caught his fish on a 3/8-ounce Treeshaker swim jig with an X Zones Lures swimbait.
“They wanted it slow, I was dragging the swimbait through (the cover),” Jelev said.
Jelev holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 6-12.
Takeoff Thursday and Friday is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET from Big Toho Marina at Kissimmee Lakefront Park. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held at the park at 3 p.m.
Friday’s championship weigh-in will be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Orlando.
The event is being hosted by the Kissimmee Sports Commission.