Bass Pro Tour Adds to Hallowed History of Florida's Kissimmee Chain
By Joel Shangle
December 3, 2018
KISSIMMEE, Florida – In the historic first season of the MLF Bass Pro Tour, it seemed appropriate to begin competition on a historic fishery.
When the 2019 Bass Pro Tour season opener gets underway Jan. 29-Feb. 3, the league’s 80 anglers will head out onto the waters of one of the most hallowed places in the history of bass fishing: Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. MLF officials today confirmed that Kissimmee, Florida will serve as the host city for the league’s first-ever regular-season event and that five of the six rounds of competition will take place on Lake Tohopekagila, Lake Kissimmee, Lake Cypress and Lake Hatchineha in Osceola County.
“Do you know how many of the 80 anglers fishing the Bass Pro Tour have had their personal best days or caught the biggest fish of their lives on Lake Toho and the Kissimmee Chain? So many!” Dean Rojas said. “That fishery is such a piece of bass-fishing history, and it means so much to so many of us, I can’t imagine a better place to fish our first Bass Pro Tour event.”
Rojas, of course, has one of the deepest personal connections to the Kissimmee Chain: his 45 pounds, 2 ounces – caught at a Bassmaster Top 150 on Lake Toho on Jan. 17, 2001 – is still the heaviest single-day weight ever recorded in a traditional five-fish-limit event format. Almost as impressive is the 41-10 that MLF pro Mark Davis weighed in the next day at that same event.
But those are just two of the notable career moments that many anglers in the 80-man Bass Pro Tour field have experienced on this upper end of the Kissimmee River:
- Luke Clausen won the 2006 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Toho with 50-2, including a then-Classic-record 29-6 on Day 1.
- Kevin VanDam picked up his 12th career tour-level win with 59-7 in a 2008 Elite Series event there.
- David Walker weighed in his personal-best bass caught in competition with a 12-1 from Toho in 2001.
- Bobby Lane earned his second tour-level win with 60-0 at a Bass Pro Shops Open on Toho in 2018 and has six Top 10s on the Kissimmee Chain.
- MLF NOW! commentator JT Kenney won a 2015 FLW Tour event on Lake Toho with 76-0.
- MLF anglers Takahiro Omori, Shaw Grigsby, Brett Hite, Gerald Swindle, and Terry Scroggins have all picked up tour-level wins on the Kissimmee Chain.
“I have a lot of history on the Kissimmee Chain over the years – have won an event and caught some giant bass there,” VanDam said. “What’s going to be awesome about that event is that there are so many different types of fishing there, and depending on Mother Nature, they could be spawning or they could be in pre-spawn. It’s going to be a great way to start the season.”
Official competition waters for the first five days of the Bass Pro Tour event – two Shotgun Rounds, two Elimination Rounds, and a Knockout Round – encompass all of Toho, Cypress, Hatchineha and Kissimmee, a span of over 65,000 acres. The 10-angler Championship Round will be contested on a yet-to-be-named water.
Prepare for big fish and changeable conditions
As is always the case in the winter with Florida’s notoriously fickle largemouth, the late January/early February competition dates should provide the field with excellent big-fish potential, as well as day-to-day challenges in adjusting to changes in the weather.
“We’re going at a very turbid time of year,” said Kenney, a Florida native who has competed in dozens of tour-level events on the Kissimmee Chain. “As evidenced by Dean’s 45-2 back in 2001, January could be really, really good. But as Bobby Lane showed when he won on Toho in 2018, it can be unpredictable: he smashed 32 pounds one day and then only had 10 pounds on Day 2.
“And that’s what’s exciting about the Kissimmee Chain as a competition venue. We’ll see big weights one day, the next day it’ll be a lot tougher, and then the day after that, we’ll see a couple of 10-pounders. We’re encompassing a time frame of six days – we could have three weather systems move through in six days, which means it’s going to make for an extremely entertaining event.”