World Championship on Lake Toho Could Impact Record Book, Anglers Say

CELEBRATION, Fla. — All of the elements are pointing toward a gangbuster of a world championship event when the CITGO Bassmaster Classic unfolds Feb. 24-26 on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., next week.

The ingredients? Record-setting big-bass waters; perhaps the premier month for trophy bass catches; a favorable moon phase that should send a wave of spawning female bass shallow; one of the most talented fields in Classic history; and a pre-fish period closer to the Classic than any before it.

“I think it is shaping up to be the Classic to beat all Classics,” said Terry Scroggins, one of two Florida pros in the 51-angler field. “The weather will dictate just how good the fishing’s going to be, but I can’t see a situation where we won’t catch them strong. It’s just shaping up that way.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Florida fishery officials to show off Lake Tohopekaliga and the Kissimmee Chain. No freshwater system in the state - and arguably the country - has received more habitat and fisheries restoration work over the past three decades. In fact, in 2004, Lake Toho underwent a year-long, $9 million restoration project that dramatically improved much of its nursery and spawning areas.

The northernmost body of water on the Kissimmee Chain, at 22,750 acres Lake Toho is one of Florida’s largest natural lakes. The Osceola County lake is 13 miles long and has a maximum width of more than 4 miles. It is best known for its record-setting blitz in January of 2001 when Dean Rojas set the Holy Grail of bass records — a five-fish limit weighing 45 pounds, 2 ounces.

Charlie Youngers, a CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro from nearby Oviedo, knows this fishery as well as any angler. Although he is disappointed to not be competing in Classic XXXVI, he is looking forward to enjoying a Classic slugfest like other fishing fans.

Youngers anticipates a wave of spawners will move shallow in numbers that could rival the 2001 tournament that went down in BASS history as perhaps the most remarkable big-bass event ever. “If the weather will stabilize, these fish will have to get on the beds,” he said. “They haven’t really moved up yet. There have been a few that have tried here and there so far, but they really haven’t done it.

“If that water hits the mid-60s by the time the Classic gets here, it’s going to be incredible. The bass are going to move up — they have to because it’s the end of February. To me, it’s setting up to be just like (2001). If we get a little warming trend, it should be awesome.”

If Youngers’ prediction proves true, the majority of the Classic field could spend their time scouring shallow grass beds looking for visible bass. In that situation, soft plastic baits like tubes, creatures, lizards and worms will come heavily into play.

If the weather takes a turn for the worse, those bass are most likely to seek the shelter of the heaviest vegetation available near the spawning flats. That situation would call for pitching and flipping soft-plastics and jigs.

Should the weather stay decent and the bass not come shallow en mass, offshore tactics like Carolina rigging, spinnerbaiting and cranking would likely be the key. That was the way 2004 Classic champion Takahiro Omori won a CITGO Bassmaster Tour event in January of 2005 on the Kissimmee Chain.

Four-time Classic champion Rick Clunn said the 2006 Classic field enjoys an advantage that other Classic participants have not. In past Bassmaster Classics, tournament waters were off-limits for a month before the event. Contenders this year will enjoy the luxury of a three-day official pre-fish period Feb. 14-16.

“I think this Classic will be the first where the practice will mean something,” Clunn explained. “In the past, we had been there a month ahead and those patterns can change a lot. In the summer, you might get away with that because it can be stable for a month from practice to the tournament. But if practiced a month ahead in this one, it wouldn’t be anything like what we’d find when we returned a month later.”

The 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will be hosted by the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Central Florida Sports Commission.

BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry’s widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

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