Brandon Palaniuk advanced to the Knockout Round thanks to five quality fish. Photo by Garrick Dixon.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Now that the field of 80 has been reduced to 40 at the MLF Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole, the “what happens next?” questions can begin in earnest.

Question 1: Will Central Florida’s warming trend kick in quickly enough to bring some of the Kissimmee Chain’s pre-spawn largemouth into play on Saturday when the Knockout Round is contested?

Question 2: How will the game of “practice cat-and-mouse” play out on Lake Toho and Lake Kissimmee?

First, the things we do know: Anthony Gagliardi carried his roll from the Shotgun Round into today’s second Elimination Round, adding 29 pounds, 10 ounces to his previous 41-14, finishing as the Phoenix Boats Daily Leader with 71-8 over two days. And not surprisingly, Marty Robinson, Jacob Powroznik, Greg Hackney, Fletcher Shryock and Jason Christie also stayed in the Top 10.

But the storylines that intrigue the most are playing out a little deeper inside the SCORETRACKER numbers.

Still waiting on the weather

The biggest X-factor of the week has been the mercurial central Florida weather, which has kept the Kissimmee Chain’s pre-spawn females locked down and unwilling to bite. Water temperatures have slowly – too slowly, if you ask the anglers – crept up into the high 50s through the first four days of competition, but they’re still shy of that magical 63-plus-degree mark that will make Toho, Kissimmee and Cypress a big-fish fest.

“We’re still a few degrees off,” admitted Bobby Lane, who was the final man into the Knockout Round with 33-9 (he squeezed past Todd Faircloth by 1-8 in the final 30 minutes of competition). “We just haven’t had enough consistently warm, sunny days to get those females to move. It’s coming, but we’re not there yet.”

Practice time & the numbers game

That said, most of the anglers who entered the morning in the Top 10 and comfortably above the elimination line spent the majority of the day looking for new spots (as did their Elimination Round 1 counterparts). But regardless, many of the anglers who advanced out of both Elimination Rounds are surviving just fine by playing the numbers game on aggressive schools of smaller offshore fish.

Terry Scroggins, who has one of the field’s most prolific big-fish histories on the Kissimmee Chain, racked up 21 fish for 41-7 today. Gagliardi switched up from a jerkbait to a small Berkley Power Swimmer, adding 20 more fish to his SCORETRACKER total.

“I don’t know who else from Group A might be fishing in the area I’ve been fishing, but there are more than enough fish to go around,” Gagliardi said. “I know that nobody is going to hold anything back tomorrow – we’ll see everybody’s best (spots).”

Brandon Palaniuk was the clear exception to the numbers game. The Idaho pro connected with only six scorable largemouth today, but they were the right size: five of Palaniuk’s six fish were 3 pounds or better (3-5, 3-9, 3-10, 3-11 and 3-14). Palaniuk junk-fished his way around the upper end of Lake Toho for most of the day, but finished in a spot that he hopes will kick-start his Knockout Round.

“I found one little deal in the third period that I’ll probably start on tomorrow,” Palaniuk said. “I caught the 3-11 and 3-14 on it, and I feel like it just has good fish in it. And I think it’s a place that could reload with more fish.”

Knockout format

Weights zero for the Knockout Round, which means that Saturday is a single-day shootout to make it into the Top 10. The Championship Round will move to Lake Garcia, which was one of the venues for the 2018 General Tire World Championship.

Quotable

Bobby Lane (20th/33-9): “I have to go somewhere new tomorrow and try something new. I’m going to go back to my old stomping grounds and have fun down there on the south end of Kissimmee. I think I beat up every fish in that little 2-mile stretch I fished the past two days.”

Gerald Swindle (19th/33-12): “It seems like this was the worst fishing day we had. We had a warmer night last night and I figured it would be a better day all around today. It warmed up good, but it seemed like I just struggled all day. I never could get any momentum, couldn’t get a pattern going. I’d catch one here and there, but I struggled today to get bites. There’s going to be some learning to compete in this format, it’s just a different strategy. I’m going to work on not having those long dead times, those are key. You can’t go dormant for three hours, you have to stay in the game.”

Where & how to watch

Live, official scoring via SCORETRACKER begins Saturday morning with lines in at 7:30 a.m. EST. The MLF NOW! live stream begins at 10 a.m., continuing through the day until lines out at 3:30 p.m. The Berkley Postgame Show starts at 5 p.m. daily.

All of the above can be viewed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and on the MLF app on your smart device.