Top 10 baits and patterns: Frogs and Florida classics dominate at Heavy Hitters - Major League Fishing
Top 10 baits and patterns: Frogs and Florida classics dominate at Heavy Hitters
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Top 10 baits and patterns: Frogs and Florida classics dominate at Heavy Hitters

Image for Top 10 baits and patterns: Frogs and Florida classics dominate at Heavy Hitters
The Berkley Swamp Lord ruled the Kissimmee Chain during General Tire Heavy Hitters, accounting for Jordan Lee's win and several other high finishes. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Jordan Lee.
May 28, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — At a time when forward-facing sonar dominates many professional bass tournaments, the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes provided some old-school fishing fun at General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops

Explosive frog blowups dominated much of the coverage and proved to be the winning pattern, but there were several classic Florida techniques in play. There was a little of everything happening on “the chain,” with the Top 10 finding multiple different ways to catch fish. Here’s a look at the top baits and patterns from Heavy Hitters.

1. Jordan Lee – 27-14 (7)

The 2020 Heavy Hitters Champion, Jordan Lee won yet another of the big-bass-focused events, and once again, it came on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Unlike his previous win, where he focused on offshore brush piles, he relied on a Berkley Swamp Lord frog this time.

Focusing on a vast area of matted hydrilla on the southern end of Lake Toho, Lee was on an incredible frog bite.

“It was insane how many bites I got when the week started. It was 60 to 80 a day, but progressively went down each day,” he said. “The mats started changing with anglers fishing, airboats and bass boats running around it.”

While it looked the same everywhere with matted grass on the surface, Lee found sweet spots among the hydrilla.

“It looks the same from above, but the best areas were hollow underneath,” he said. “It couldn’t just be laid over hydrilla; you also had to find the cheese.”

He mixed it up with several Swamp Lord frog colors and made a few modifications to get more bites.

“I always say that a brown and black frog is all you need, and I used several with those colors,” Lee said. “I started to add jig rattles where the legs came out to add some noise, which seemed to help in the thicker mats.”

2. Keith Poche – 23-10 (5)

Doing what he does best, Keith Poche found areas where nobody else could (or would) venture. He had three main backwaters throughout the Kissimmee Chain that were hard to reach and contributed to his runner-up finish.

“I was concentrating on backwater creeks and canals, which was enough to get me to the Championship Round,” Poche said. “I had one in Tiger Lake and one in Toho, and the creek in Toho that I fished the last day was somewhere I had never been.”

The Berkley Swamp Lord in MF Bluegill was his top producer, but a shad-colored popper also came into play.

“The creek I fished during the Knockout Round was very clear, and they wouldn’t hit a frog, but the popper got me enough fish to squeak into the final day,” Poche said.

3. Matt Becker – 19-4 (5)

Matt Becker caught fire at the end of the second period on the final day and made a run at the win but wound up in third place. Sticking to the area near takeoff at Big Toho Marina, he primarily punched matted hydrilla after throwing a topwater each morning.

“I started throwing a walking topwater every morning to try to get a fish or two, but the rest of the time was fishing hydrilla clumps with various creature baits,” he said. “The more isolated the hydrilla, the better. It was almost like they were using the areas like brushpiles in the middle of the lake.”

Becker fished his creature baits on a 1- to 1.5-ounce Epic Tungsten weight and a 4/O Trokar TK135 flipping hook.

“The bulk of my fish came close to the ramp around the islands, and the deeper the hydrilla clumps, the better,” he said.

4. Kevin VanDam – 18-14 (4)

While he came up short of a win to cap off his legendary career, Kevin VanDam secured $100,000 in big bass bonus cash by boating a 7-12, the biggest bass on the final day.

“$100 grand is a good consolation prize,” he said. “All week long, I was down in Cypress Lake. They had sprayed a lot of the grass down there, so whatever was left was a huge deal. I also found several bream beds and shell beds with my Humminbird 360 that came into play, including the spot where I caught the big one.”

VanDam power fished with several baits, but a 1/2-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket with Strike King Blade Minnow trailer in various shad imitators was his top bait.

“It was all power fishing, which I love to do,” VanDam said. “I also caught a few with a Strike King Hybrid Hunter and a few winding a Strike King Magnum Rage Cut-R Worm.”

5. Brandon Coulter – 12-5 (3)          

Brandon Coulter started the frog party with an excellent opening day, during which he led his group and showed the potency of the hydrilla mat pattern. He stuck with it to the very end but saw his area on the south end of Lake Toho dry up on him on the final day.

“I found that area in practice punching with a Berkley Shape 108, but halfway through the first period on the first day, I noticed getting bites high in the water column,” he said. “I picked up that Berkley Swamp Lord frog in bone and never put it back down. All but two fish I caught all week were on the frog. It was a fantastic week.”

On the final day, he noticed a change in the grass and attributed that to a tougher Championship Round.

“The grass was different the last day,” Coulter said. “I don’t know if the water dropped, but it got thicker. At the beginning of the week, you could call your shot where you would catch one, and at the end, you had to fish your way through areas and couldn’t pinpoint where the fish would be.”

6. Bryan Thrift – 8-7 (2)

North Carolina’s Bryan Thrift has a stellar record in the five Heavy Hitters events, finishing in second place on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in 2020 and catching the $100,000 big bass last year on Bussey Brake. He also has two other Top-10 finishes, including this year in Florida, where he cashed in with a $30,000 bonus for his big bass during the Knockout Round.

Thrift stayed close to the ramp and rotated through different baits among various cover.

“I had two main deals and they were both offshore,” he said. “I focused on grass, shell beds and a little brush.”

He reported catching a fish on a Carolina Rig with a Damiki Stinger, a few on a swimming worm, and the rest on a swim jig and Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait in ghost baby bluegill with a Damiki Knockout as the trailer.

“I stayed in Toho all week, fishing large flats,” he said. “One key was staying way back, making super long casts and trying to stay as stealthy as possible.”

7. Todd Faircloth – 8-1 (2)

With so much grass on Lake Toho, Todd Faircloth looked for areas with less grass. This was his primary strategy throughout the bottom section of the lake.

“I was fishing the big hydrilla mats, and there was so much of it on Toho that I looked for the bare spots where the fish had room to roam around,” he said. “The key depth was that 4- to 5-foot zone.”

He used several different baits throughout the week, but the Strike King Hybrid Hunter in ghost herring was his top producer. He said it closely matched a shiner.

“The Hybrid Hunter is a great shallow-water crankbait that you can fish around hydrilla clumps,” he said. “I also caught some fish on the edges of grass with a black Strike King finesse worm and punching with a black and blue Strike King Ocho the last few days.”

8. Brent Ehrler – 7-0 (1)

Brent Ehrler continued his success on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, booking another Top 10 after he finished fourth at Stage One last year. He kept it simple and relied on winding baits, primarily in Cypress Lake.

“It was all about the ChatterBait and swim jig for me,” he said. “I spent most of my time in Cypress but also fished a bit in Toho during the week. The main key was finding places where the grass was a little thinner because grass was everywhere.”

His top bait was a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait in 3/8 ounce with a Yamamoto Zako trailer.

“I used three different colors — a white one, a green pumpkin, and a black and blue — and rotated through them,” he said. “I also used a 3/8-ounce Buckeye swim jig with a Yamamoto Paddletail Zako.”

9. Dakota Ebare – 6-12 (2)

Dakota Ebare switched gears mid-tournament and adjusted to the changing conditions to have a successful event. He stuck to Lake Toho and the vast matted grass on the lake’s south end.

“In practice, I got a lot of bites throwing a Strike King Magnum Rage Cut-R Worm on the edges of the mats, but as the tournament progressed, the fish changed,” he said. “The sun got high and got under the mats, and I switched to the frog. I used the Strike King Poppin’ Pad Perch in the natural gold color.”

10. Alton Jones Jr. – 0-0 (0)

The 3-pound minimum hurt Alton Jones Jr.’s chance of repeating as Heavy Hitters champion, but he made yet another Championship Round. He did it with a simple approach of using a Z-Man Jack Hammer ChatterBait in Cypress Lake.    

“The whole chain of lakes was really low, and Cypress had the deepest grass besides Toho,” he said. “I was fishing a big area — 500 to 1,000 acres — but there were little key areas where you would get most of your bites. I was fishing out there with aimless casting, but there were key zones where you would get more bites.”

He fished a 3/8-ounce ChatterBait in black and blue and used several different trailers.

“I caught some with a Bellows Shad and some with a Yamamoto Zako or CrushCity Freeloader,” he added. “I had to use 3/8-ounce because the grass was higher and you couldn’t fish effectively with a 1/2-ounce.”