KISSIMMEE, Fla. – If you were looking for a picture-perfect example of what a largemouth spawning wave in central Florida looks like, you needn’t look any further on Friday than the field of reeds stretching in front of the bow of the blue-and-white-wrapped Bass Cat of Bass Fishing Hall of Famer Mark Davis.
Highlighted by a big-fish flurry of incoming prespawners in the second period where he landed a 6-pound, 14-ouncer and two 7-pounders (7-8 and a 7-5) in a 28-minute window on Lake Kissimmee, Davis finished the Knockout Round of B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Grundéns with an impressive best-five-fish total of 34-10. That gives the Strike King pro a hearty 10-pound lead over Ott DeFoe (24-10) heading into Saturday’s Championship Round, where he’ll take aim at his first tour-level win since he claimed a Bassmaster Elite 50 event on Smith Lake in April of 2005.
“I didn’t see this coming, to be totally honest,” Davis admitted. “I know I’m fishing the right way and with the right lure, and I know you can catch big ones in Florida fishing slow. You’ll go a long time without a bite and hit a little flurry – I guess my flurry was more than a little one.”
Davis plinked his way through the first period, picking up a 6-10 midway through the period fishing isolated reeds (“buggy whips” as Davis calls them) with a blue craw/red flake Strike King Ocho on a 3/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten jighead, hovering below the cut line with just over 12 pounds as the second period began. He added a 2-pounder just before noon, and then started on his big-fish surge just before 1 p.m. as the wind picked up and the temperature crept into the mid-80s, part of a three-day warming trend that has been tickling the Kissimmee Chain’s spawn-ready largemouth.
“I really hadn’t figured it out until the second half of the day; how to set the boat up so I’m casting with the wind so my bait can get down,” Davis said. “I’m fishing a 3/16-ounce weight. I can’t get bit as good with a heavier weight, so you have to position your boat just right so your bait can get down where it needs to be. Every day you learn a little more and today everything kind of clicked.”
Davis finished the second period with 32-7 on SCORETRACKER® and kept hammering his buggy whips through the final 2 ½ hours of the day, weighing four fish for 20-12 in the final period and culling up more than 2 pounds thanks to a pair of 6-pounders in the last hour before he finally stopped fishing. Davis made a nod to the new moon and a developing Friday-night weather change that could change the bite on Championship Saturday.
“With this new format where we combine the weights (of the Knockout and Championship rounds), I would’ve kept going to 40 pounds if I could,” he said. “We (had) prefrontal conditions today, it’s warm and the wind is blowing out of the southeast. The new moon is coming on and a front is coming in. The new moon is within the next couple of nights and there’s always a little spawning movement on the new moon. None of these fish I’m catching are spawned out, they’re full of eggs.
“But at about 1 a.m. tonight, it’s going to start blowing hard out of the north. It’ll be colder (Saturday) – not real cold but in the 60s, and that’s cold for Florida. Things could be a lot harder tomorrow. I’d like to think with a 10-pound lead, fishing is going to be tougher on the whole field tomorrow.”
The nine anglers pursuing Davis in Saturday’s Championship Round have a tall task, no doubt. He owns a 10-pound lead on DeFoe in second place and a 16-pound lead on 10th place (Brent Ehrler with 18-11). But the long-simmering Kissimmee Chain appears to be ready to boil over with big, incoming females. The field weighed more 6- and 7-pounders in the Knockout Round than any of the previous four days of competition, and the biggest egg-laden female of the day came late in Period 3 when Jesse Wiggins connected on the Berkley Big Bass (an 8-0) with just 13 minutes remaining.
“We’ve had sort of the perfect lineup of weather,” said MLFNOW! analyst JT Kenney, a longtime Florida resident and a tour-level winner on the Kissimmee Chain. “As the tournament progressed, it warmed up and warmed up – heading into Friday, we had three nights of the lows in the 60s. That’s going to spell ‘SPAWN’ in Florida in February. We saw Mark collide with a wave of big ones, but there could be more of that to come.”
Joining Davis in the Championship Round are: DeFoe (24-10); Chris Lane (23-2); Wiggins (21-8); Andy Morgan (20-15); Jeremy Lawyer (20-15); Mark Rose (20-5); Jordan Lee (19-4); Dylan Hays (18-14) and Ehrler (18-11).
Saturday’s Championship Round – and the race for the $100,000 winner’s check – begins with lines in at 8 a.m. ET. Takeoff at Big Toho Marina is at 7:30 a.m., and live-streamed coverage of the final day begins at 7:45 a.m. at MajorLeagueFishing.com
Kissimmee-area locals are encouraged to attend the postgame show and final trophy award ceremony at 5 p.m. at Big Toho Marina.