Benton, KY – Like most anglers do when tournament season ends and there’s time to catch up on things, Bojangles pro Guy Eaker has been keeping busy the last few months.
He’s been in contact with his sponsors, keeping all of them on board for the upcoming 2012 season. Just last week, he finished rigging his new Triton and then got a couple of days of fishing on Lake Norman before competing in a charity bass tournament.
Eaker also put himself and a day of fishing up for auction in a fundraiser to help Bojangles. He was “sold” for $3,400, and then another couple matched the offer. Along with all that, Eaker’s kept a watchful eye on his flowers, azaleas and dogwoods that will burst into bloom in spring on his property.
But one week penciled in on his calendar has Eaker pretty excited: He and TeamGreatOutdoors.com pro David Hendrick, also of North Carolina, will be competing in the inaugural PAA Tour Team Challenge on Lake Toho. They were the first team to register for the event.
The tournament is Jan. 23-28 in Kissimmee, Fla., out of Kissimmee Lakefront Park and begins the 2012 PAA Tournament Series season.
“We got to talking about it and David’s excited because he’s never fished much in Florida,” Eaker said. “I’ve probably fished 10 or more national tournaments down there. We’re planning to go down a few days early and maybe fish the Harris Chain, too.”
Tour Team Challenge teams must have at least one PAA Tour-level angler, with the other being a Tour- or Advantage-level member. The Advantage member can be a family member, friend or sponsor, or two Tour members may fish together, like Eaker and Hendrick.
The winning team will take home a fully-rigged Nitro Z-8 with a Mercury 225 Optimax and $14,400, while the second-place team will win a Nitro Z-7 with a Mercury 150 Pro XS and $5,000. Tournament highlights will be broadcast on FishPAA Television on VERSUS, part of the NBC Sports Group, later in the year.
The first two days’ weigh-ins will be held at Kissimmee Lakefront Park, as will the morning launches all three days. The final day weigh-in will take place at Bass Pro Shops off of International Drive in Orlando.
Entry fee is $5,000 per team. Registrations are being accepted now, with a $750 deposit and balance due by Jan. 9. There is no off-limits period.
“I feel pretty good about fishing down there that time of year,” Eaker said. “I know the lakes and that time of year, you just find where they’re at. They’ll be stacked up somewhere to get on the beds, and maybe a few will already be on the beds. There may be a few that already have spawned. It’s a good time of the year to be fishing down there.”
Toho in January is a mélange of activity, giving anglers different options. If the spawn is on, then obviously sight-fishing will play a role in the outcome. Pre-spawn conditions lend themselves to offshore action. The Tour Team Challenge will take place during a new moon, believed by many to be an excellent time for spawning activity.
Dean Rojas set the then-Bassmaster record for a one-day catch on Jan. 17, 2001, with a stunning five-bass limit weighing 45 pounds, 2 ounces. During that tournament, water temperatures rose the final day of practice and the pros were giddy with prospects of a slugfest on the first day.
Twelve years later, the scene could be repeated. With the Tour Team Challenge format, too, competitors may practice during the week and work together on strategy and locations during tournament days when they fish together from the same boat.
“They were just swarming in on that final practice day,” Eaker said. “I didn’t believe they would be spawning and was looking offshore, and caught about 16 pounds. Jimmy Houston saw me at the dock and asked if I had ‘em, and I said yeah. He said I needed about 40 pounds and my jaw dropped. All those big fish moved in fast in one day.
“It’s temperature and conditions,” he added. “You can have a good cold front move in and knock the water back a few degrees, and they just sit and wait. When it starts warming up again they go on a tear.”
At the recent Gambler Lures tournament on Lake Kissimmee, 23 pounds took top honors and the big bass weighed 10.5 pounds. Kissimmee is a short drive south of Toho, connected by the same river, and offers a glimpse of possibilities. The winning team flipped Gambler Crickets into cover.
If a cold snap does hit, Eaker said he’d prefer it to be the week before the Tour Team Challenge and then move on out. If not, it’ll be time to get up close and personal.
“If one does come through and things get tough, the fish will get into the grass and then you’ll be pitching or flipping,” he said. “Sometimes it can get tough like that and you have to put it on their heads.
Having a partner will be a plus in any situation, though. Splitting up practice time and then combining those efforts should make things interesting. Additionally, the PAA Tour members will earn points toward the PAA Angler of the Year title.
“It’ll be a fun deal,” Eaker said. “I think it’s great to start out the season like that. I enjoy having someone to talk with and share your plans, and it’ll be a lot of fun.
“I think I’ll be a fun deal for everyone. If you have a buddy you fish with, someone you work with or just love fishing with, this will be a great tournament to be in and a great time of the year at Toho.”
Registration: Registration is being accepted now for the PAA Tour Team Challenge. Entry fee is $5,000 per team, with a $750 deposit upon registration and balance due by Jan. 9. Teams must consist of two PAA Tour-level members or a Tour- and Advantage-level member. For more information or to register, call the PAA at (270) 527-2030.