2019 BFL Season Kicks Off This Weekend - Major League Fishing
2019 BFL Season Kicks Off This Weekend
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2019 BFL Season Kicks Off This Weekend

Toledo Bend, Lake Okeechobee host season-opening Bass Fishing League events
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January 22, 2019 • Curtis Niedermier • Phoenix Bass Fishing League

While much of the northern United States is locked in a deep freeze, Southern bass anglers will be kicking off their 2019 T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League season with the Gator Division tournament at Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Fla., and the Cowboy Division tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Many, La.

Okeechobee and Toledo Bend are legendary bass fisheries rated among the best in the country, and their respective contingents of BFL anglers are some of the most experienced and capable in the league. 

Here’s a taste of what we can expect to see at the BFL’s opening events.

Lake Okeechobee tournament details

Toledo Bend tournament details

Complete FLW tournament schedule

 

Lots of factors in play at Okeechobee

Okeechobee is probably the most famous tournament fishery in the Sunshine State, and this year, according to well-known Florida angler Robert Crosnoe, there will be a number of interesting conditions for Gator Division anglers to deal with.

First, the water level is down to 12.28 (as of Jan. 21), which is several feet lower than this time in 2018. The low water will make navigation in some areas tricky and change up the dynamics of the lake’s vegetated areas. 

More critical to the fishing, however, is Mother Nature’s role. The region is just starting to see temperatures recover from a cold front that landed at the end of last week and led to lows plummeting into the upper 40s, and it’s still cold by south Florida standards. There’s another cooldown possibly in the works for the end of the week, too. 

“The fish are wanting to spawn really bad, but these cold fronts are going to be a huge, huge factor in it,” says Crosnoe. “It all depends on if a wave moves up. If we had prime weather it would be fishing unbelievably good. Every fish in the lake is wanting to come in and spawn. You might see unbelievable weights if we have stable weather – high 60s or low 70s for highs.”

Crosnoe expects fish to be caught with the usual spawning patterns of pitching jigs and Yamamoto Senkos to isolated reeds and in traditional spawning areas, but he figures the cool weather might also halt some bass in prespawn waters where anglers will need to throw lipless crankbaits, swim jigs and other open-water presentations.

As of late afternoon Monday, Crosnoe wasn’t sure of the exact water temperature at Okeechobee, but he says his home waters on the Harris Chain have water temps in the 60s and trending down. He thinks it might dip as low as the upper 50s in the next day or so and wouldn’t be surprised to see similar conditions, give or take, at the Big O.

“Fish like 68 to 72 degrees for a major wave to spawn on the Harris Chain,” he explains. “It’s way too cold for that.”

The winning weight at Okeechobee should still be decent for this time of year. It is Florida, after all, and Crosnoe thinks we might see 27 pounds or so win it. He’s just not expecting a parade of 20-plus-pound bags like would be on tap if south Florida was in the grips of a late-winter warming trend. 

 

Toledo Bend might see a 2016 repeat

This is only the third time since 2011 that the Cowboy Division has opened at Toledo Bend. In 2011, the opener was held in February. The Jan. 23, 2016 tournament is a better barometer of what to expect. That derby saw eight limits of more than 20 pounds and two more 19-plus bags. It took 13-12 to get a check. 

Like in 2016, the water level at Toledo Bend is right at or a hair above full pool, which is 172 feet. Compare that to 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 when it was around 168 this time of year.

A cold front is going to impact the region midweek, bringing more rain to the already drenched area and forcing lows into the 30s, which should last into the weekend. That’s one major challenge. Another is that the water was about a foot and a half higher a couple weeks ago, and lake managers sucked the excess out pretty quickly. According to Louisiana pro Randy Deaver, that can sometimes pull muddy water into the main lake and hinder the deep bite. 

Deaver’s team partner, Nick LeBrun, the 2018 BFL All-American champion and fellow Toledo Bend stick, isn’t fishing this derby, but he predicts a pretty typical mix of tactics will factor into the outcome.

“The water is probably going to be normal, if not high, and when it is normal or high you can always expect there to be a bush bite, a shallow bite,” LeBrun says. “I think you’re going to have guys north of Pendleton Bridge fishing stained, muddy water, flipping the bushes or throwing a ChatterBait or even a swim jig.

“The other phase of that is they have been generating a lot of water trying to get the high water down. That’s going to have some fish schooled up offshore somewhere. There’s going to be some prespawners down south on ridges or points. A guy doing that can get right in a hurry.”

LeBrun says that shallow-up-north, offshore-down-south split is “how it is” this time of year, with the Pendleton Bridge bisecting the lake at its north-south center and separating the two main sections of the fishery. 

The results from January 2016 back up his claims. LeBrun finished fifth by flipping bushes up north. Tournament winner Cody Pitt, a local, won the tournament south of the bridge throwing an under-spin with a swimbait trailer and a Strike King 10XD. He fished the backs of ditches and the sides of humps near flats, as well as some deeper wintering areas.

More importantly perhaps than specific fishing conditions this weekend, LeBrun, an FLW Tour rookie this season, encourages BFL anglers to focus on the bigger picture of what’s at stake, starting with the 2019 openers.

“The BFL is a good start for where things can lead. I was a BFL guy who worked his way up,” LeBrun says. “That’s how I cut my teeth. And now I’m living the dream.”