KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The 2023 Bass Pro Tour season started with a bang at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Grundéns, highlighted by Chris Lane’s dramatic last-minute catch to seal the deal. While it was a surprise ending to the competition, the fishing proved to be classic Florida, with many of the state’s historically good patterns and baits producing for the Championship Round anglers.
Here’s a look at how the Top 10 caught ’em.
Lane’s dramatic catch of 5 pounds, 5 ounces with a minute to go won the event for him, but his years of experience growing up fishing the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes played a significant role.
“I fished all over and had to keep looking for new water every day and would only repeat areas if I got multiple bites close to each other,” he said. “The main key was areas with harder bottoms and isolated vegetation, either pads, reeds, or sticks. I covered a lot of water in both Kissimmee and Hatchineha.”
One of the highlights from the first event of the year was Mark Davis’ massive 34-10 bag that he caught during the Knockout Round. That memorable day was thanks to a slow approach with the same bait he used throughout the event, a blue craw Strike King Ocho in 5- and 6-inch sizes. Davis rigged it with a 5/O BKK offset round bend hook and added a 3/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten weight.
“That bait was it for me the whole week, and I fished it around isolated pad patches,” he said. “I fished Kissimmee the whole time and focused on the west side to start the event and changed areas on the final day.”
Davis’ remarkable limit included catching a 5-3 and 6-0 that didn’t even make the cut for his best five.
“I knew the area was going to get blown out with the way the wind was, so I was catching everything I could that day,” he said. “It got all muddy on the final day, and I had nothing else, so I just went fishing new areas.”
Except for the first morning, Ott DeFoe spent his time in Lake Kissimmee. He began fishing a canal because of the remnants of a lingering cold front that came through during practice and the event’s start.
“It was still cold and being the first tournament day of the year, I wanted to get started by catching a few and got a decent start with a small limit,” he said. “Then, I focused on the west side of Kissimmee, fishing shallow lily pads because the wind was coming from the west and it was most protected. I stayed on the west side until the final day when the wind switched.”
DeFoe said the shallower, the better for the lily pads and he caught fish in areas as shallow as 18-inches, primarily with a 3/8-ounce black blue purple Terminator Heavy Duty swim jig with a Bass Pro Shops Swim-N-Elite Chunk trailer. He also mixed in a Bass Pro Shops Stik-O Worm in black with blue flake.
He also caught a 6-3 on the final day on a ½-ounce double willow Terminator P1 Pro Series spinnerbait in the retro gill color.
To make the final day and finish in 4th, California pro Brent Ehrler primarily stuck with a pattern of winding a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait in the 3/8-ounce size. It was green pumpkin with a matching Yamamoto Zako trailer.
“The bulk of my fish came fishing around hydrilla and lily pads in both Cypress and Kissimmee,” Ehrler said. “Most of the guys were in Kissimmee, but Cypress was where I started, and I was able to catch fish there each day.”
“I was keying on the reed heads and pitching it way back in there to catch them,” he said.
Posting over 20 pounds on both of the final two days of fishing, Tennessee’s Andy Morgan had a one-two punch depending on what was in front of him. Switching from punching the thicker cover to pitching the isolated cover.
“I locked down with the rest of the field and it was the first time I’ve ever seen every single boat lock; usually, at least a couple stay in Toho,” Morgan said. “Those fish were pulling up to spawn with the moon after the cold front on the lake’s northern end.”
When pitching isolated pads and other vegetation, he used a black and blue Zoom Zlinky stick worm on a ¼-ounce weight and when fishing the thicker stuff, he used a ¾-ounce weight and a Zoom Brush Craw in South Africa Special. In between, he also mixed in a Strike King Tungsten Thunder Cricket.
The season started on the wrong foot for Dylan Hays, where he caught just three bass for 6-9 the first day, but he bounced back with a 24-9 limit to get into the Knockout Round. Then, he posted two consistent days in the upper teens to total 36-10 and he did it all with two lures on Lake Kissimmee.
“I was fishing offshore hydrilla, catching fish staging up to spawn,” he said. “My fish out there were mostly on a Zoom Magnum Ultravibe Speedworm in junebug fished on a 1/4-ounce Mustad tungsten weight and a 6/0 Mustad GripPin round bend hook.”
Hays caught quite a few away from the bank but also ventured closer to shore.
“Near the bank, I was fishing isolated pads, reeds, wood, and whatever I could with a 3/8-ounce black and blue Brazalo Swim Jig with a Zoom Z-Craw Jr. on the back. A lot of those fish were up shallow, either guarding fry or spawning.”
Jeremy Lawyer was the best in Group A after two days totaling 35-7. Then, he stayed steady by catching 36-0 in the final two rounds. His consistency was thanks to fishing isolated lily pads for fish looking to spawn in the 2- to 4-foot range.
“I never made it out of Lake Kissimmee any of the days and tried to focus on areas that were the least windy and most protected,” Lawyer said.
The bulk of his catch came by fishing a redbug Zoom Magnum Ultravibe Speedworm on 3/16 and ¼-ounce Bullet Weights tungsten weights, alternating depending on the wind, and a 5/0 Gamakatsu Superline EWG hook. He added BaitFuel to his baits for added attraction.
“The wind shifted the last day and stained up the water, and I switched to a spinnerbait, a ½-ounce chartreuse and white Freedom Tackle Speed Freak with a white 3.8-inch Zoom Z-Swim as the trailer,” he said.
Jesse Wiggins was the outlier as he caught his fish on shell beds in the canal between Cypress and Hatchineha with a crankbait and shaky head. It was something a little off the beaten path, but only after he explored other options.
“I tried fishing grass like everyone else and could catch plenty of fish, but no big ones,” he said. “I idled the mouth of Cypress and marked a bunch of shells about half the size of your fish. I stopped and caught a big one there in practice and ended up fishing there every day.”
Wiggins had solid weights throughout the event, including some big fish. Among those was an 8-0 he caught in the Knockout Round on a crankbait.
“I fished a couple of different crankbaits depending on how deep it was, either a Jackall Bling 55 for the shallow stuff and a Rapala DT-10 for the deeper sections,” Wiggins said and added that they were both shad patterns. “My shaky head was a 5/16-ounce head and a Jackall Flick Shake 6.8 in green pumpkin candy.”
Jordan Lee fished thick, matted vegetation on Lake Kissimmee to get to the Knockout Round. As the weather warmed, he switched gears to throwing isolated lily pads, bouncing around with several other anglers at the lake’s northern end.
“It was still warming up from the cold front we had in practice, and I was catching them in the thick stuff with a Berkley Powerbait Crash Craw in the GOAT (black and blue) color,” he said. “I was fishing it with a 1.5-ounce weight and a 4/O Fusion19 straight shank flipping hook.”
He tried to continue making the punching pattern work but saw things changing with the weather.
“As it got warmer, I saw that going away and started pitching around a 5- and 6-inch Berkley PowerBait The General in black blue flake with a 4/O offset worm hook and a 3/16-ounce weight,” Lee said. “One thing that helped me get more bites was switching from braid to 20-pound Trilene 100% fluorocarbon. I think it falls differently and comes through the pads better; I’ve seen it happen many times where that makes a big difference in Florida.”
During the Knockout Round, Mark Rose was able to capitalize on clearing water in Cypress to catch a 20-5 bag. Unfortunately for him, the water did the reverse on the final day and hurt his fishing and he only mustered two for 3-5.
“The wind switched on me and my area was blown out,” he said. “In that offshore grass, the wind is like pouring coffee into a glass; it stirs everything up and takes a while to settle and clear back up.”
While he could only catch two on the final day, he stuck with the baits that worked for him all week – a Strike King Thunder Cricket, Red Eye Shad, and a jerkbait.
His Red Eye Shad was a ½-ounce model in gold black back and the Thunder Cricket was a ½-ounce size in the golden shiner color. Rose added a pearl flash Strike King Blade Minnow or Tennessee shad Strike King Rage Swimmer 3.75 as the trailer for his vibrating jig.