Florida’s Lake Toho Primed for Tour Team Challenge

   01.23.12

Fishing in central Florida can be like riding a roller coaster. One day, life is good. You’re cruising along, enjoying the scenery and catching fish.

The next day, it’s like that coaster plunge when you’re wide-eyed wondering if you’re going to make it. A cold front has blown in – even a mild one – and water temperatures dropped just enough to make those bass finicky. Testy. Aggravating.

“This time of year there are basically about three things going on,” said Vicious pro Patrick Pierce, who lives near Jacksonville and regularly fishes the central Florida lakes. “The fish are moving up and staging, they’re spawning or it’s ‘Oh crap, it’s cold and we’re going to the thickest mats we can find.’

“It’s all about the weather in January and February. Hit and miss. When you get into March things get a little more predictable.”

If weather forecasts hold up, Lake Toho should be primed for a breakout this week in the PAA Tour Team Challenge. Practice begins today for the special tournament that starts Thursday morning and ends Saturday.

Tournament weigh-ins will be at Lakefront Park in Kissimmee the first two days. The final weigh-in will be Saturday at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World on International Drive in Orlando.

Teams must have at least one PAA Tour-level angler, with the other being a Tour- or Advantage-level member. The winning team will take home cash and a Nitro Z-8 with a Mercury 225 Optimax and T-H Marine Atlas jack plate $14,400, while the second-place team will win a Nitro Z-7 with a Mercury 150 Pro XS. Tour members also will receive points toward the PAA Angler of the Year title. Tournament highlights will be broadcast on FishPAA Television later in the year.

Pierce competed last week in a tournament on the Harris Chain, about 30 minutes from Kissimmee, and said conditions look good for a slugfest.

“If we continue on this warming trend, it’s going to be lights out for spawning fish,” he said. “It’ll be the Toho everybody knows, the 30-pound bags. We had a cold front come through a week ago Saturday, then a weak cold front last Wednesday and that knocked things back three to four degrees.

“But just based on what I saw at Harris on Saturday, which is about minutes from Toho, the water temperatures were in the low 60s and the bucks were up fanning. If we don’t have a cold front they’ll be moving up. It could take 30 pounds to get a check and maybe 60 or more to win.”

January has proven time and again the expectations of feast or famine on Toho. Past tournaments have included outstanding sight-fishing as well as tougher offshore conditions.

The 10-day forecast from The Weather Channel for the Kissimmee area shows a warming trend, with high temperatures in the low 80s and nighttime lows near 60. Those consistent temperatures help stabilize water temps, which helps trigger bass to move shallow for spawning.

“If it’s a sight-fishing event, you could see some big catches from the guys who are really good at that like Shaw Grigsby and Dean Rojas,” Pierce said. “Not only being good at sight fishing, but also knowing where to go on Toho for them will be important.

“But it could go the other way just as quickly if the weather changes. If that happens, typically the bucks will stay on bed a day or two and other fish with disappear. Then it could become a flipping tournament under the mats, or a shell bar tournament like when Brian (Snowden, in 2009) or Gerald (Swindle, in 2011) won those tournaments.”

Toho is known for a mix of shallow and deeper areas, deeper being relative, of course, in Florida’s lakes. But Pierce said knowing where to locate the key areas in deeper water can pay off.

“Shell beds or areas with a little hard bottom are really good for the offshore bite,” he said. “Those spots tend to get good on the start of a warming trend when the water’s not warm enough to put them on bed but they’re moving up and staging.”

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