Wirth The Wait, Fog Delay Bears No Burden for the Kentucky Native

Kissimmee, Fla.-- After nearly six months of inactivity, anglers on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour had to wait an additional two hours to start their new season on Lake Tohopekeliga.

Heavy fog delayed the start of the 2005 tour season by two hours and 15 minutes, leaving anglers impatiently waiting for the start.

“It’s like it’s Christmas morning and your parents make you wait six hours to open the presents,” said Alabama pro and reigning Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle.

Anglers finally took off at 9:15 a.m., and Kentucky pro Kevin Wirth made the most of the abbreviated first day with a five-fish limit that weighed 15 pounds, 5 ounces, to take a narrow lead going into Friday’s second day of fishing.

“You had to really slow down out there,” Wirth said. “There are a lot of fish wadded up real close together. But you have to make them bite.”

Lee Bailey of Hebron, Conn., caught five bass that weighed 15-3 to finish second on the opening day of the season

Nearly six months have passed since the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Tour event in which many pros last saw action.

Takahiro Omori, the reigning Classic champion, picked up where he left off; catching four bass that weighed 13-6 to take third on Thursday.

He was followed by Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., who had a limit that weighed 13-3, and Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas, with a limit that tipped the scales at 13-2.

The weights of the leaders were a far cry from the record-breaking event that was held on Lake Toho four years ago, when Rojas set records for the heaviest single-day stringer (45-2) and heaviest overall weight in a four-day tournament (108-12).

However, Toho is a much different lake than it was then. Last fall, a series of hurricanes pummeled Florida in a matter of weeks. Additionally, a massive, multimillion dollar restoration project has been conducted on the lake clearing the muck and silt that covered large areas of the lake’s bottom. Though the project is ultimately expected to improve the fishery, it has in the short term resulted in less of the aquatic vegetation that has traditionally been the delight of bass anglers.

Timing is another factor in the drastic difference between the record Toho event and this year’s season opener. In the 2001 tournament, Rojas and other contenders enjoyed near- perfect timing with respect to the bass spawn on the lake. Fish moved onto spawning beds on the last day of practice, and on the first day of competition that year, many anglers posted weights better than the previous record.

This year, anglers started their practice shortly after a cold front moved across central Florida. Many anglers blamed it for pushing fish back into deeper water away from spawning areas.

But, that could change throughout this event. Sunny, warm conditions were prevalent on Thursday, and water temperatures are expected to climb higher as the tournament progresses. That means bass could move up to spawn in shallow water any day.

“They’ll make a surge in the next day or two,” Rojas said.

The field will be trimmed to 12 anglers following Friday’s 3:15 p.m. weigh-in at Kissimmee Lakefront Park. The anglers with the six heaviest weights will advance to Sunday’s final, when the champion will take home $100,000.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO 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.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Toyota, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and BankOne.

Local sponsors include Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention & Visitors Bureau Central Florida Sports Commission

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.