Heavy Hitters set to provide fresh look at Florida - Major League Fishing

Heavy Hitters set to provide fresh look at Florida

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Most of the Kissimmee Chain's big bass are expected to be offshore when the Heavy Hitters field arrives. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
May 16, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

The best big-bass anglers on the Bass Pro Tour are headed to the nation’s big-bass epicenter, Florida, for the fifth annual General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops. Major League Fishing’s big-fish-focused all-star event is returning to the fishery where it was born in 2020, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. 

Unlike a normal Bass Pro Tour stage, the goal for the 30 anglers who qualified for Heavy Hitters will be two-fold. The winner of the event, which will run Saturday through Thursday, will receive a $100,000 paycheck and the coveted Heavy Hitters title belt. But there’s also $150,000 in big-bass bonuses up for grabs. The biggest fish caught in each of Group A and Group B during the Qualifying Round will earn $10,000; the biggest of the Knockout Round will earn $30,000; and the big bass of the Championship Round will net the angler who catches it $100,000. 

All six days of the event will be streamed live on MLFNOW!. Watch the action from 7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. ET each day on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app. 

All four lakes could play

Jordan Lee won the first ever Heavy Hitters belt by fishing brushpiles in Lake Toho. Photo by Garrick Dixon

As just about every bass fishing fan knows, the Kissimmee Chain is loaded with lunkers. But how anglers pursue them might look a bit different this week than traditional, early-spring national tour stops in Florida. Marty Mann, who oversees the Kissimmee Chain in his role as a freshwater biologist for the Florida Wildlife Commission, expects anglers to employ a wide range of tactics, from throwing topwater baits for schooling fish to using forward-facing sonar to target offshore grass edges and brushpiles to flipping and punching heavy cover.  

Which techniques anglers employ will depend in part on which lake they choose to target. The 65,000-acre chain is comprised of four lakes: Cypress, Hatchineha, Kissimmee and Toho. The latter two are the largest and have produced the most tournament success; Chris Lane won the first event of the 2023 BPT season from Kissimmee, while Jordan Lee won the inaugural Heavy Hitters in June of 2020 fishing brushpiles in Toho. 

Mann expects Toho to be the most popular of the four lakes this week. It has the healthiest hydrilla, which, in Florida, tends to equate to the biggest population of bass. However, he expects a few anglers to do well in Kissimmee and didn’t rule out a high finish out of Cypress or Hatchineha. 

“You could go out on Toho even if you haven’t pre-fished and probably have a pretty decent day,” Mann said. “Go on Kissimmee, you gotta put a little more work in, find them, and have a pretty good day. Cypress and Hatchineha is even a bigger hurdle because there’s not a lot of opportunity, but someone will find it and will shock people.” 

MLFNOW! analyst and Florida native JT Kenney is especially bullish on Cypress. Although it’s the smallest of the four lakes, he’s heard rumblings about several winning bags being caught there in local tournaments. 

“There could be something happening in Cypress,” he said. “That’s a very real possibility. The grass looks really good there, the water looks really good in it. I haven’t fished it much, but I’ve got a couple of buddies, they’ve been winning a lot of local tournaments, and that’s where they’ve been fishing.” 

Offshore options abound

Expect to see a lot of offshore fishing from Bryan Thrift and the rest of the Heavy Hitters field. Photo by Josh Gassman

It’s been a hot spring in Florida, and as a result, Mann and Kenney said the water in the Kissimmee Chain is unseasonably warm and low. They believe that will prompt most anglers in the field to venture offshore in search of bass. 

For anglers in Toho, that will likely involve plying outside grass lines and holes in the hydrilla with bladed jigs, lipless crankbaits and various soft-plastic rigs. Mann also noted that, despite the lack of current flow in the chain right now (which would have helped predictably position fish), he’s heard reports of solid schooling activity on Toho. Those bass can be targeted with walking topwaters, with the bite sometimes lasting all day. 

“There’s some pretty good fish in the schoolers, too,” he said. “They’re not all little, dinky fish. So, you may find a guy that’s fishing schoolers all day, and typically in the summertime we’ll have it happen in the morning and then it shuts down by 10 in the morning, the sun comes up and they’re done. But that hasn’t been happening lately. Here they’ve been biting almost all day long.” 

The other offshore cover sought out by anglers will be hard spots, such as shell beds, and brushpiles. While planting brush in public lakes is illegal in Florida, there are a handful of manmade piles in each of the four lakes. Kenney also noted that a bunch of natural debris blew into Kissimmee during a recent tropical storm, which could make for some sneaky habitat. 

“There is a load of brushpiles in Lake Kissimmee from a storm that we had about two years ago,” Kenney said. “It really blew a bunch of tree branches and stuff that are making brushpiles. It floats out there for a couple days, and then it sinks where it sinks, and some of it sinks in the right spot, on top of shell beds and stuff like that.” 

Look for anglers to fish brush with jerkbaits, crankbaits, worms and, of course, finesse offerings like the jighead minnow. Kenney expects forward-facing sonar to play a significant role this week – perhaps even in ways we’re not used to seeing during Florida tournaments. 

“When Jordan Lee won a couple years ago down here, there was a little bit of forward-facing sonar stuff used then,” he said. “But guys are learning so well how to use this stuff, I’m kind of interested to see the best guys in the world come down here and see what they do.” 

Hunting for a $100,000 bite

Jacob Wheeler, who finished among the Top 10 the last time Heavy Hitters took place on the Kissimmee Chain, will try to add a title belt to his extensive trophy collection. Photo by Phoenix Moore

While both Mann and Kenney expect the majority of fish (and likely the winning total) to be caught offshore, that might not necessarily be where the other $100,000 payday is earned 

Mann said he wouldn’t be surprised to see a few anglers flipping submerged hydrilla or punching matted vegetation. It might be difficult to keep pace with the offshore bite in the every-fish-counts format while doing so – especially in the early rounds, as the variable minimum weight will be 2 pounds during the Qualifying and Knockout Rounds then jump to 3 pounds for the Championship Round. But an angler who feels comfortable about his position relative to the cut line or who is all-in on catching the $100,000 fish on the final day might opt to break out the big stick in search of a big bite. 

“Over the last 30 years of fishing, it seems like most of the bigger bass that are caught – especially in the late spring, summer, through early fall – they’re caught flipping,” Mann said. “They get hunkered down underneath that thick stuff, and they just sit there, and you gotta drop it on their head, and they’ll grab it from a reaction strike.” 

Mann expects most, if not all, of the big bass award winners to top 8 pounds. Kenney thinks the biggest fish of the tournament will hit double digits, although Mann isn’t quite as sure. 

“This time of the year, the big bass fishing has slowed down quite a bit,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some 8-pounders, but if we get a 10-pound fish or bigger, that will be a pleasant surprise. I think 6-, 7-, 8-pounders could be pretty expected.” 

As for how much weight it will take to win the Championship Round, the every-fish-counts format and 3-pound minimum make it difficult to predict. In 2020, Lee routed the field with 52-9 on the final day, 19-6 clear of Bryan Thrift in second. The 50-pound mark will likely be a good place for anglers to set their sights.