Howell leads after explosive day on rapidly improving Kissimmee Chain - Major League Fishing

Howell leads after explosive day on rapidly improving Kissimmee Chain

Warming weather kick-starts bite heading into Friday Knockout Round
Image for Howell leads after explosive day on rapidly improving Kissimmee Chain
Randy Howell held back today, but still managed to place first. Now he's holding nothing back in the upcoming Knockout Round. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Randy Howell.
February 16, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The bite is heating up with the warming Florida weather at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Grundéns. By every measure, the fishing on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is getting better by the day after an early-week cold front passed through, and the fourth day of competition at the 2023 season kickoff was easily the most productive so far.

Alabama’s Randy Howell was the best of the bunch, leading Group B into Friday’s Knockout Round with 36 pounds, 2 ounces over two days. Howell began the day in second place with 23-14 and added 12-4 while primarily searching for new areas.

The number of big bass caught and 20-pound-fish totals is the best yet this tournament and signs point to a continuation of that trend for the 40-angler Knockout Round. Seven anglers cracked over 20 pounds Thursday, and the 537 pounds on SCORETRACKER® is the best so far. There were also four 7-pounders and Takahiro Omori’s 9-8, the biggest bass caught this week.

Howell plans to “burn it down” for Knockout

Starting Thursday with a big cushion over 20th place, Howell knew he would only need to catch a few pounds to advance and he spent most of the day looking to expand on his primary area and pattern. Even though his weight was roughly half of what it was his first day of fishing, Howell isn’t concerned as he didn’t hit his primary stretch; his goal for the day was to catch a few fish and advance.

“I knew I’d only need to catch a couple of fish, so I went to an area perfect for the light winds we had this morning,” he said. “There was a lot of bass and shad in there, and I caught my first limit for around 10 pounds to settle me down. I knew I wasn’t hurting myself for tomorrow because they were smaller fish.”

All bets are off for the Knockout Rounds as weights zero. Howell said he’s not going to hold anything back and plans to “burn down” his primary areas and catch all he can.

“I fished all new water today, but not too far away from my main stretches,” Howell said. “I worked to expand the zone and try to get to know every little nook and cranny around there.”

Howell feels confident about his best areas and punching pattern, but says anything can happen in Florida.

“So many places on these lakes are really good and have big fish in them; it all comes down to timing and being there when they’re biting,” he admitted. “I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and just hope the wind doesn’t blow too hard, so I can fish effectively.”

Ehrler starts slow, but part of the parade of 20-pound bags

The first period wasn’t kind to California’s Brent Ehrler, as he failed to land a keeper. But, Ehrler finished strong and ended the day with 23-2, with a 6-8 and 5-9 bolstering his bag. Those two kickers came after the clock struck noon and has him feeling good about Friday, even though he admits that he didn’t time things perfectly today.

“I wouldn’t say I have everything figured out because what I did today will be hard to duplicate with those big bites,” he said. “I’m fishing an area with a good mix of hydrilla, pads, reeds, and all of the standard issue stuff you want to fish in Florida. Today, they just bit for me. I fished through the same stretch yesterday and only caught one little one.”

Ehrler didn’t have a simple answer for his slow start this morning, but believes the fishing is improving as the water temperature rises.

“I couldn’t catch anything this morning, and I think I just got them when they wanted to bite in the afternoon,” he said.

Four fish in Ehrler’s limit came from one area, and on different lures.

“I caught some winding a couple of different baits and some flipping,” Ehrler said. “It’s not a deal where you grab one rod and go; it’s more of fishing what looks good in front of you with the best bait for the cover.”

20-pound bags galore

Casey Ashley had 23-1 on Day 2 for a total of 35-10 and a third-place finish in the Qualifying Round. Photo by Phoenix Moore

A 20-pound bag is often the mark to hit in the five fish world. In the first three days of competition, four such totals eclipsed that magic mark; on Thursday, there were nearly double that.

Besides Ehrler, Casey Ashley (23-1), Dylan Hays (24-9), Edwin Evers (20-4), Takahiro Omori (21-3), Kevin VanDam (20-8), and Tommy Biffle (20-1) caught over 20-pounds.

Hall of Famers rally

Among those with big days were bass fishing legends VanDam and Biffle. Each began the season with abysmal results, sitting in the last two places on SCORETREACKER® in Group B after a day of fishing. They each caught over 20 pounds on Thursday and made big jumps, but their deficits were too much to overcome.

Just hours after announcing his retirement from tournament fishing, VanDam caught three for 5-2 to finish 39th after Group B’s first day of fishing. Today, his big bag allowed him to finish 23rd. Biffle started the tournament with just one keeper for 1-7 on Day 1 but jumped to 30th after catching 20-1.

What’s next for Stage One

The Knockout Round begins Friday morning when the top anglers from both groups return to the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. The 10 best anglers on the day will advance to Saturday’s Championship Round.

Coverage begins at 7:45 a.m. ET at and lines go in at 8 a.m. ET.

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