KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Brett Hite of Phoenix, Ariz., crossed an unseasonably-cold weigh-in stage on the edge of Lake Toho Thursday with a five-bass limit weighing 22 pounds, 6 ounces to lead day one of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour® season opener. Hite now holds a slim 9-ounce lead in the $1 million tournament featuring 400 anglers from 35 states, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Australia and Japan.
Hite and his fellow competitors faced clear skies and wind-chill temperatures near the freezing mark as they left Kissimmee Lakefront Park early Thursday morning, conditions that made fishing 22,000-acre Lake Toho and its sister lakes Kissimmee, Hatchineha and Cypress extremely tough.
“The bite was really tough today,” said Hite, who has earned more than $151,000 in career winnings with FLW Outdoors. “The water temperature dropped last night, which didn’t help at all. As the water temperature increased in the afternoon the bite started to get better.”
The unseasonably cold weather pushed water temperatures down nearly 10 degrees to 63 degrees at takeoff Thursday. This dramatic drop in water temperature pushed bass into dense grass and under floating mats of vegetation, which often hold warmer water. Hite targeted submerged vegetation with a reaction bait to catch his fish.
“I have two key areas that I am fishing in Kissimmee that are very similar. The areas have the same type of vegetation and depth,” he said. “I am throwing a reaction bait around fish that are pre-spawn and postspawn. I hope to go back to the same areas tomorrow, but I had a lot of boats around me today, so I will just have to wait and see.”
Rounding out the top five pros are Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind. (five bass, 21-13); Robert Sherry of Saint Charles, Ill. (five bass, 21-12); Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn. (five bass, 18-04) and Carl Svebek III of Siloam Springs, Ark. (five bass, 17-10).
Randy Hadden of Jacksonville, Fla., earned the day’s $750 Snickers Big Bass award in the Pro Division thanks to an 11-pound, 9-ounce bass he caught throwing a Berkley Power Worm around pads in 4 feet of water on Lake Kissimmee. If that weight holds up Friday as the heaviest of the two-day opening round, he will earn an additional $1,000.
Overall there were 607 bass weighing 1,207 pounds, 3 ounces caught by 184 pros Thursday. The catch included 65 five-bass limits.
Pros are competing for a top award of $125,000 this week plus valuable points in the hope of qualifying for the $2 million Forrest Wood Cup presented by Castrol in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 14-17, where they could win as much as $1 million – the sport’s biggest award.
Tournament pros aren’t the only ones winning big this season. With the introduction of FLW Fantasy Fishing™, which offers $7.3 million in cash and prizes, FLW Outdoors® presents anyone with the opportunity to land the catch of a lifetime. Players in the lucrative new fantasy sports league can become virtual pros by signing up for Player’s Advantage, which provides exclusive insider information that could guide them to a $100,000 victory at every FLW Tour stop and the Forrest Wood Cup. Player’s Advantage will give them an edge over the competition and increase their shot for a $1 million cash grand prize that will be awarded to the FLW Fantasy Fishing cumulative points winner. Those who visit FantasyFishing.com today can sign up for Player’s Advantage and receive a complimentary $15 Wal-Mart gift card.
Brian Talmadge of Pell City, Ala., leads the Co-angler Division with five bass weighing 13-07 followed by James Green of Lincoln, Ala., in second place with four bass weighing 11-03.
“It was a great day to fish,” said Talmadge, who is making his first appearance on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. “The success I had on the water today came from the baits I used. I was flipping a black and blue Alpha Hawg made by Open Water Custom Baits and a green pumpkin Huzzie made by the same company. These baits are something that these fish have never seen. I think they really like them.”
Talmadge took the early lead in the tournament while fishing with Lendell Martin Jr. of Nacogdoches, Texas, who is currently in 115th place with two bass weighing 4-13.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Spencer Shuffield of Bismarck, Ark. (five bass, 10-14); Derek Jenkel of Pinckneyville, Ill. (five bass, 10-01); Gil Phillips of Alba, Texas (five bass, 10-00) and Brad Roberts of Nancy, Ky. (five bass, 10-00).
Nathan Webber of Boone, N.C., earned the day’s $500 Snickers Big Bass award in the Co-angler Division thanks to a 6-pound, 11-ounce bass.
Overall there were 300 bass weighing 530 pounds, 6 ounces caught by 128 co-anglers Thursday. The catch included 13 five-bass limits.
Co-anglers are fishing for a top award of $25,000 this week.
Anglers will take off at 7 each morning from Kissimmee Lakefront Park located at 101 Lake Shore Blvd. in Kissimmee. Friday’s weigh-in will also be held at Kissimmee Lakefront Park beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s weigh-ins will be held in Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park, located at 1875 Silver Spur Lane in Kissimmee, beginning at 4 p.m.
Prior to the weigh-ins Saturday and Sunday, FLW Outdoors will host a free Family Fun Zone and outdoor show in the Exhibition Building at Osceola Heritage Park from noon to 6 p.m. each day. The Family Fun Zone offers fans a chance to meet their Fantasy Fishing team anglers face-to-face and review the latest products from Berkley, Lowrance, Ranger, Evinrude, Yamaha and other sponsors while children are treated to giveaways, fishing themed games and rides like the Ranger Boat simulator. Children 14 and under visiting the Family Fun Zone Sunday will also receive a free rod and reel combo while supplies last, and one lucky member of the audience will win a new Ranger boat during the final 4 p.m. weigh-in Sunday. Admission and parking are free, and you must be present to win.
Pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, and the full field of 400 anglers competes in the two-day opening round for one of 10 slots in Saturday’s competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for Saturday, and co-angler competition concludes following Saturday’s weigh-in. The top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from the final two days.
Coverage of the tournament will be broadcast to 81 million FSN (Fox Sports Net) subscribers in the United States as part of the “FLW Outdoors” television program airing March 30. “FLW Outdoors” is also broadcast in Canada on WFN (World Fishing Network) and to more than 429 million households in the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East through a distribution agreement with Matchroom Sport, making it the most widely distributed fishing program in the world. The program airs Sunday mornings at 11 Eastern time in most markets. Check local listings for times in your area.
FLW Outdoors, named after Forrest L. Wood, the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, is the largest fishing tournament organization in the world. In 2008 alone the organization is offering more than 90,000 anglers the chance to win over $40 million through 230 tournaments in 10 circuits targeting bass, walleye, redfish, kingfish and striped bass. FLW Outdoors is also taking fishing mainstream with the largest cash awards in the history of fantasy sports, $7.3 million.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournaments, browse FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. For more information about FLW Fantasy Fishing and Player’s Advantage, visit FantasyFishing.com.