Located adjacent to the larger and much more publicized West Lake Tohopekaliga - most often referred to as Lake Toho or West Lake and the site of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic – the 12,000-acre East Lake Toho has long been overshadowed by other Central Florida bass fisheries.
That is likely to change after the lake hosts the inaugural ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series National Championship on Jan. 19-21. The crowning event of the country-wide weekend anglers circuit will put the spotlight squarely on West Lake Toho’s little brother, as the winner takes home $100,000 and the final invitation to the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26.
The 50-man field includes four former Classic qualifiers: Jason Quinn, Jamie Horton, Jeff Coble and Kim Carver. The top 10 boaters and non-boaters qualified for the championship through five regional championships. Anglers qualified for the regional championships because they were the top performers in the 16 ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series divisions.
“East Lake can be really, really good this time of year,” said Charlie Youngers, a CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series competitor and East Lake veteran who lives in nearby Oviedo. “I love fishing it. I’ve won several tournaments on that lake. Whenever I get a chance to fish that one, I fish it.”
West Lake Toho has been the site of numerous tournaments over the years and is likely to be more familiar to the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship contenders than East Lake. But Youngers emphasized that the two lakes are considerably different.
“East Lake fishes quite a bit differently,” he said. “There’s a lot more reeds in the lake. And there’s a green moss that grows there and keeps the water fairly clear. Consequently, you have to make pretty long casts because the fish can be spooked. It’s a lot clearer than West Lake.”
Youngers predicted that the better catches will come from the Bell’s Cove area, where hydrilla and off-colored water are usually present. Also, a series of dredge holes on the south end of the lake should be productive because they give resident bass the ability to quickly move from 3 to 15 feet in depth to adjust to passing cold fronts.
“It will take an average of 15 to 16 pounds a day to win it this time of year,” he said. “But if somebody has a day or two where he catches a 10- or 12-pound limit and then sticks an 8- or 9-pounder, it might be more than that
“This is a great time of year, especially when the fronts come through. The bass will get up tight to any cover overnight — whether it be reeds or cattails or hydrilla — and during the day when the sun gets bright, they will get up in the skinniest water they can find because it warms up really quick. They will be in 6 inches of water if they can.”
In addition to the $100,000 top prize and the last Bassmaster Classic berth, the champion receives a guaranteed opportunity to enter the CITGO Bassmaster Northern or Southern Tours and the Outdoors Series.
On the final competition day, the field will be cut to the top 12 boaters and non-boaters and total weights from the first two days will carry over. Anglers will weigh in on the first two days at 3 p.m. at East Lake Fish Camp, 3705 Big Bass Road, Kissimmee. On the final day, anglers will weigh-in at 3 p.m. at Bass Pro Shops, 5156 International Drive, Orlando.
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.