It all begins on Lake Tohopekaliga, the northernmost body of water on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Lake Toho (also known as West Lake or West Toho to local anglers) is one of Florida’s largest natural lakes with 22,750 surface acres of bass habitat. The Osceola County lake is 13 miles long and has a maximum width of more than four miles.
But Toho is best known as the magical place where Dean Rojas broke the all-time BASS tournament record with a one-day five-bass catch of 45 pounds, two ounces and a four-day tournament total of 108-12.
And that was just the beginning! During that four day competition in 2001, two 40-pound-plus limits, 21 bass over 10 pounds, and 251 five-fish limits were brought to the scales.
For the first time, the elite Federation field will be reduced from 55 to 15 for the final two rounds which will take place on Disney’s Bay Lake, home to a tremendous bass fishery that tournament anglers rarely get to experience.
They might be considered amateurs, but make no mistake, there will be a boatload of talent in central Florida — as well as the attention of the fishing world.
Contenders in the Federation Championship endured a grueling yearlong elimination process to get to the crowning event. They include representatives from individual Federations in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Italy, Canada, Mexico and Japan. The championship field is rounded out by defending champion Thad Takes and Oklahoma’s Eddie Camara, the 2005 champion of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Grand National tournament.
At stake is $54,000 in prize money, including $15,000 for the winner. More importantly, though, five berths in the Bassmaster Classic are up for grabs.
There will be a wealth of talent vying for those five Classic slots. In addition to Takes, there are two other former Classic qualifiers — Ed Cowan of New Jersey and Zimbabwe’s Gerry Jooste.
They should enjoy some great fishing action on two of the Sunshine State’s most storied bass lakes.
On Lake Toho, there should be a strong post-spawn bite from fairly shallow bass that are schooling offshore and in cuts in the grass and boat trails.
“Toho is one of the best schooling lakes I’ve ever seen,” said Terry Segraves, a veteran Bassmaster pro and Kissimmee Chain expert. “It’s just unbelievable how many fish school here. It’s primarily a numbers game, but we catch a lot of big fish, too.
“It usually starts in April and goes on to about the end of November or first of December. It’s unbelievable. There may be a lot of small ones, but you’ll have four and five pounders schooling, too.”
After two days on Lake Toho, the three anglers with the highest two-day weight in each of the Federation’s five geographic divisions (for a total of 15 anglers) will make the cut and move to Walt Disney World and Bay Lake.
In the late 1960s, about 70,000 bass fingerlings were released into 578-acre Bay Lake. No fishing was allowed until a decade later, giving them time to grow large and plentiful. The heaviest largemouth on record at Disney weighed 14 pounds, six ounces, and vacationing anglers routinely catch fish weighing between two and eight pounds.
“The fishing is as good as it’s ever been,” said Jeff Holland, a biologist for the Reedy Creek Improvement District that oversees Disney’s watery natural resources. “Our catch rates are still over two fish per angler per hour, and it’s kind of a slow period because the bass have just come off the beds.
“Limits are probably not going to be a problem. The guy who figures out how to catch a five to eight pounder or better is going to come out on top. There are still some fish on the beds. There are even a few that are still prespawn, but the majority has already spawned.
“If the weather is stable, I predict the better limits will be in the 15-pound range. The person who gets that big fish will have an 18 or 19 pound limit. The majority of them are going to be 10- to 12-pound limits, with a lot of 15 pound limits. Two-pounders are very common here.”
The lone Florida angler in the championship field is Leon Roy, a UPS driver from Tallahassee.
The Federation Championship is more than just a fishing contest. The weeklong array of activities includes the Bassmaster CastingKids semifinals and meetings for BASS Federation presidents and conservation directors.
The weigh-ins on Wednesday and Thursday will be held at 3 p.m. ET at Kissimmee Lakefront Park South. On Friday and Saturday, the boats will launch at Bay Lake at 6:30 a.m. and the anglers will weight their catch at 3 p.m. at Downtown Disney.
2005 BASS Federation Championship contenders
Dewey Allen Indiana
Greg Alexander Delaware
Bill Bennett Maryland
Jim Bishop Utah
Justin Booth South Africa
Doss Briggs Oklahoma
Randy Burch Wisconsin
Eddie Camara Oklahoma (PVA Champ)
Joe Conway Colorado
Richard Cottone Nations Capitol
Ed Cowan New Jersey
Michael DiChiaro Rhode Island
Bob Ellis Georgia
Jay Evans Montana
Jami Fralick South Dakota
Marc Gilliland Kansas
Donald Gossett Missouri
Jeff Hager North Carolina
Russell Hosick Kentucky
Grant Johnson Arkansas
Jimmy Johnson Texas
Gerry Jooste Zimbabwe
J.J. Judd Vermont
Dennis Kotas Nebraska
Jason Lambert Tennessee
Robert Lechel New Mexico
Jamie Long Alabama
Greg Lownds Connecticut
Joe Lucarelli New Hampshire
Joshua Mabee Maine
Franco Mancini Italy
Mike Mapes New York
Paul McKenney Washington
Bryan McNeal Ohio
Dave Mehalechko Arizona
Dave Palmer Oregon
Jason Pittman Louisiana
Brian Plank Illinois
Gary Pope South Carolina
Michael Rold California
Leon Roy Florida
Reid Paul Sanders Mississippi
Yoshikazu Sato Japan
Todd Schaaf Virginia
Brent Shores Idaho
Andy Sommerfelt Iowa
Chuck Steinbauer Minnesota
Eric Stewart West Virginia
Tyler Swaney Wyoming
Thad Takes 2004 BASS Federation Champion
Bill Todd Ontario, Canada
Javier Villareal Mexico
Nate Wellman Michigan
Richard Witushynsky Pennsylvania
Jamie Worth Massaschusetts
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.