The Bass Pro Shops Southern Open about a week ago in Kissimmee, Fla., didn’t feature the normal Florida fishing conditions that anglers expected when they headed to the sunny Orlando area. The region had been hit by not one, but two separate cold fronts within days of the event.
Most other places have snow on the ground or ice on their lakes, but in Florida, the fish are in spawning mode and the grass is almost as green as it was back in the summertime. Flipping and pitching are dominant ways to catch giant Florida bass, but the Southern Open held on Lake Toho and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Jan. 15-17 featured an array of techniques that paid off as well.
Chad Morgenthaler won the Lake Toho event solely on Lake Toho, which many anglers didn’t think would happen when this event started. Morgenthaler flipped and pitched his way to the come-from-behind victory by tossing a big weight around shallow cover with a Missile Baits Baby D Bomb as the fun end. No one expected a 22-pound, 3-ounce bag to come on a mostly slow final day.
Bobby Lane made a huge comeback on Day 2 with 20-6 and put himself in contention going into the final day. With low weights on the final day, Lane grinded out 14 pounds to move from third to second place. He primarily fished a Texas-rigged trick worm, but also fished a chatterbait-style lure to catch his fish.
Todd Auten, the Lake Wyle, S.C., pro, only had 11-9 on his final day. But throughout the week, Auten caught his fish on an array of baits. He started the morning throwing a chatterbait around shallow reeds in Lake Toho. Auten also caught fish on the final day of the event slow-rolling a worm through pads, reeds and Kissimmee grass. The sun didn’t come out for much of the tournament, but with blue bird skies on Day 3, Auten did catch keepers flipping into thick cover.
Gerald Swindle scratched his starting spot on the final day because numerous local anglers were fishing his area. Instead of barging in and causing commotion, Swindle packed up, found new water to fish and managed to flip up 12-6 to move into fourth place. Swindle fished a shell bed area for much of the tournament, but he never had a chance to fish that area on the final morning.
Brandon McMillan had two main techniques that contributed to his weight all week. McMillan had a window in the morning where he could boat fish on a Devil’s Horse topwater plug. Once those bites stopped, he picked up a jig and went to work sacking up weight on one of his go-to techniques.
Elite Series pro Kelley Jaye stayed in the same area all week. Each morning, Jaye would pull up to his “offshore” area and search for a school of bass. Once he found them, he would go to work with a jerkbait. On Days 1 and 2, other anglers were around Jaye and they would sack up quick limits as well. On the morning of Day 3, Jaye found the school of fish and hooked into a giant to start the morning. The fish, which he believed to be at least an 8-pounder, bent numerous individual hooks on his jerkbait and the fish swam away before Jaye could hoist it into the boat. Jaye lost by 9-15 to Morgenthaler, but only trailed Bobby Lane by 6-5.
One of the final techniques that paid off on Toho was that of Day 1 leader Andrew Slegona. Slegona flipped a big weight and soft plastic at grass, but not just any grass. He targeted a large area where offshore grass grew about 8-10 feet deep. Slegona boated the biggest bag of the event at 31-2. He believed he could have had close to 40 pounds if he kept pounding his fish on the first day. Instead he let them rest and tried to manage them for the remainder of the event. But he bit the bullet when his big fish area was affected by the post-frontal conditions, and he never could catch the lurking giants.
The week didn’t play out like many anglers thought, but the diversity of the fishery showed as numerous techniques were a factor in the final leaderboard.