The catch, which ranks as the second heaviest one-day total this season behind the 25-pound, 15-ounce limit caught by Pedigree pro Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., on day two of last month’s Lake Okeechobee tournament, gives Kenney a 1-ounce advantage over his closest competitor in the quest for a $100,000 victory Saturday.
“I’m fishing the heaviest grass that I can find close to a spawning area,” said Kenney, whose season is off to a phenomenal start after finishing second and 14th, respectively, at the EverStart Series and FLW Tour season openers on Lake Okeechobee. “These are definitely fish that are staging to spawn.”
Kenney’s bait of choice is a black and blue Reaction Innovations Beaver creature bait that he his flipping to grass and matted vegetation in both Lake Toho and Lake Kissimmee. His biggest bass, a 9-pounder, was caught in Kissimmee. “After I caught that one, I came back through the lock and just fooled around (in Toho),” Kenney said. “I’d rather be in 10th than first tomorrow, because that means I didn’t burn up all my fish.”
Warren Wyman of Calera, Ala., caught five bass weighing 23 pounds, 9 ounces using a combination of topwaters and soft plastics in shallow water to end the day in the runner-up position followed by BFGoodrich Tires pro Chad Grigsby of Colon, Mich., who caught five bass weighing 22 pounds, 6 ounces using a black and blue Venom Craw and 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight to punch through matted vegetation. Both men fished Lake Kissimmee.
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla. (five bass, 21 pounds, 14 ounces) and Chevy pro Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo. (five bass, 20 pounds, 1 ounce) rounded out the top five pros.
Interestingly, both Kenney and Grigsby practiced with Lane, who has fished Lake Toho and its connecting lakes for more than 25 years. Grigsby and Kenney are even fishing the same area of Lake Kissimmee.
“These fish are moving in to spawn, and I’m basically cutting them off at the pass,” Grigsby said. “I didn’t get started until about 9 o’clock and I had a limit by quarter after 10. The stuff I’m fishing is so thick that I lost two big ones that I couldn’t pull through the grass, and one straightened by hook.”
Kellogg’s pro Sam Newby of Pocola, Okla., earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $750 in the Pro Division with a 10-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that he caught on a watermelon Reaction Innovations tube flipped to mats in Lake Toho.
In the Co-angler Division, Quint Bourgeois of Knoxville, Tenn., leads the tournament thanks to a five-bass catch weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces. He caught the impressive limit, including a 7-pounder, on buzzbaits and Senkos while fishing with pro Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., who caught five bass weighing 9 pounds, 8 ounces and is currently in 65th place.
“Getting a big one really means a lot in these tournaments,” said Bourgeois, who has earned nine FLW Tour top 10 finishes since 1997, including a win on Kentucky Lake. “Having that kicker fish gives you a certain level of comfort, so I’m feeling pretty good.”
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Rob Newell of Tallahassee, Fla. (five bass, 14 pounds, 13 ounces); Land O’Lakes angler Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla. (five bass, 13 pounds, 4 ounces); Merle Wells Jr. of Hammond, N.Y. (three bass, 12 pounds, 3 ounces); and Trevor Jancasz of White Pigeon, Mich. (three bass, 11 pounds, 14 ounces).
Jancasz claimed the Snickers Big Bass award and $375 in the Co-angler Division with a 9-pound, 7-ounce bass that he caught on a green pumpkin Senko while fishing with pro Rick Marsh of High Point, N.C., who is currently in 168th with two bass weighing 3 pounds, 7 ounces.
Seemingly undaunted by last year’s hurricanes and scraping to remove muck and excess vegetation, Lake Toho yielded a remarkable catch of 1,121 bass weighing 2,209 pounds, 5 ounces to 192 pros and 149 co-anglers compared to a catch of 741 bass weighing 1,690 pounds, 8 ounces given up to 246 anglers on opening day of the tour’s last visit to Toho in 1998. One hundred and sixteen of the 400 anglers competing this season from the United States, Japan and Australia caught five-bass limits, and only 59 failed to land a single keeper on a remarkable opening day.
Fishing conditions could change for the final round, however, as a cold front is forecast to pass through Kissimmee Thursday, dropping overnight temperatures into the upper 30s. The cooler weather may delay spawning activity, and give the lake’s finicky Florida-strain bass a case of lockjaw. Whoever can best adapt the changing conditions will likely prevail.
Anglers will take off from Kissimmee Lakefront Park at 7 each morning. Thursday’s weigh-in will also be held at the park beginning at 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1471 E. Osceola Pkwy in Kissimmee beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
The community is invited to join the worlds’ top bass anglers as they celebrate the FLW Tour’s 10th anniversary in the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The free Family Fun Zone, which opens at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy.
Following Thursday’s competition, the field will be narrowed from 200 competitors per division to 10, and weights will be cleared. Co-angler competition concludes Friday based on the heaviest one-day weight, and pros continue competition Saturday with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight. The winning co-angler earns $20,000 while the winning pro earns $100,000.
Anglers are also competing this week for valuable points that determine Land O’ Lakes Angler of the Year standings and the field for the 2005 Forrest L. Wood Championship, set for July 13-16 in Hot Springs, Ark., on Lake Hamilton. The $1.5 million championship presented by Castrol awards the winning pro $500,000 cash, the sport’s largest payout, and features a world-class outdoor show.
Complete coverage of the FLW Tour’s stop on Lake Toho will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net (FSN) March 6 and March 13 as part of the “FLW Outdoors” television program. “FLW Outdoors” airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern time on FSN.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and seven other national tournament circuits offering a combined purse of $30 million through 214 events in 2005. The 27-year-old organization is the purveyor of America’s largest and most prestigious fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as title sponsor of the FLW Tour in 1997 and today is the title sponsor of all FLW Outdoors events.
For more information on Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com. For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. For more information on FSN, visit FoxSports.com.