KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Maryland pro Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Maryland, brought four bass to the scale Saturday weighing 18 pounds, 2 ounces – including a 9-pound, 2-ounce kicker – to win the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. at Lake Toho Presented by Googan Baits. Schmitt weighed in 15 bass over three days of competition totaling 66 pounds, 10 ounces, besting second-place angler Mikey Keyso of North Port, Florida, by more than 8 pounds. For his victory, Schmitt earned the top payout of $51,500 in the first tournament of the 2021 Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Southern Division.
The victory was the sixth career Toyota Series win of Schmitt’s career and moved him to No. 1 for the most Toyota Series wins all-time. Schmitt had been in a three-way tie with Randy Haynes (5) and Koby Kreiger (5), now tied for second-most.
“I am so blessed,” Schmitt said. “I am blessed to have grown up fishing the Potomac River where I had no choice but to learn all the intricacies of grass fishing if I wanted to compete. Those lessons have served me well over the years.”
This week the puzzle started with a long, narrow vein of grass that ran out across a vast flat of bare sand and shell in about 6 feet of water. The thin strip of hydrilla was about ¼ of a mile long and terminated into a huge and shallower grass bed in about 3 or 4 feet of water.
“The band of grass grew up about 2 or 3 feet off the bottom and it was clumpy the whole way.” Schmitt said. “When I first found it in practice, I knew fish had to relate to it in some way.”
On the first day of the tournament, Schmitt figured out exactly how they related to it.
“I graphed the entire length of that narrow strip several times and finally found the mother lode where the strip ran into the shallow grass flat,” he said. “There was like an intersection right there.”
His suspicions were confirmed when he began using his LiveScope to scan along the clumpy grass strip and saw big dots swimming everywhere. With that, he picked up SPRO Aruku Shad 75, in a color aptly named wild shiner, tied to 15-pound test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon and the rest is history.
Schmitt guesses that he saw about 70 percent of the fish he caught on LiveScope before casting to them. On several occasions when he saw fish meander up close to the boat, he pitched the Aruku Shad to the fish, let sink, ripped it up and watch the fish annihilate it on his screen.
He also watched fish take a swipe at the rattle bait on the screen, but never touch it. When that happened, he would resort to a couple of back up lures, including a Missile Baits Quiver Worm (junebug) Neko-rigged on a Hayabusa Weedless Spin Muscle Wacky Hook. He also caught a few on his namesake ½-ounce swim jig called the Lil’ Schmitty (river special) trailed with a Missile Baits Shockwave (shrapnel).
“I caught a lot of big fish on that Aruku Shad this week,” Schmitt went on to say. “I put fresh Hayabusa trebles on it: a #4 on the back and #5 on the front. The very first fish I hooked this morning was that 9-pounder and she stayed pinned the whole way.”
The top 10 pros on Lake Toho finished:
1st: Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Md., 14 bass, 66-10, $51,500
2nd: Mikey Keyso of North Port, Fla., 15 bass, 58-8, $20,000
3rd: Bobby Bakewell of Orlando, Fla., 15 bass, 50-15, $14,250
4th: Steven Hatala of Harrison Township, Mich., 15 bass, 43-4, $12,250
5th: Eric Conant of Lakeland, Fla., 13 bass, 42-2, $11,250
6th: Trevor Fitzgerald of Belleview, Fla., 15 bass, 42-2, $9,125
7th: Eric Panzironi of Longwood, Fla., 15 bass, 38-11, $7,900
8th: Jared McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., 15 bass, 37-14, $7,900
9th: Samuel Whitmire of Babson Park, Fla., 11 bass, 35-6, $5,900
10th: Cole Hewett of Orange Park, Fla., 14 bass, 34-3, $4,500
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Whitmire won Thursday’s Berkley Big Bass Award after bringing a 11-pound, 11-ounce lunker to the scale. Friday’s Berkley Big Bass Award went to pro McMillan with a 9-pound, 13-ounce largemouth. Each angler won a bonus of $150.
McMillan took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF5 Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF5 Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.
Jeffrey Baffa of Frankfort, Illinois, won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a three-day total of nine bass weighing 35 pounds, 15 ounces. Baffa took home the top prize package of a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.
The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Toho finished:
1st: Jeffrey Baffa of Frankfort, Ill., nine bass, 35-15, Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat w/115-hp outboard
2nd: Benton Peoples of Bardstown, Ky, 11 bass, 34-2, $6,125
3rd: Ricky Grant of Inverness, Fla., 11 bass, 32-3, $4,900
4th: Theron Asbery of Longwood, Fla., 10 bass, 30-9, $3,950
5th: Frank Kitchens Jr. of Blairsville, Ga., 12 bass, 28-11, $3,450
6th: Todd Classon of Camilla, Ga., nine bass, 27-15, $2,950
7th: Clinton Lacinak of Homosassa, Fla., 10 bass, 24-2, $2,450
8th: James Littich of Davidson, N.C., eight bass, 20-3, $1,975
9th: Troy Johnson Jr. of Carrabelle, Fla., five bass, 18-2, $1,590
10th: Joe Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., six bass, 16-5, $1,350
The Toyota Series at Lake Toho was presented by Googan Baits and was hosted by Experience Kissimmee – Kissimmee Sports Commission. It was the first of three regular-season tournaments in 2021 for Southern Division anglers. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will take place on Feb. 16-18 – the Toyota Series at Lake Guntersville presented by Googan Baits in Guntersville, Alabama. For a complete schedule, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.
The 2021 Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and Western – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International division. Anglers who fish all three qualifiers in any of the eight divisions and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship for a shot at winning $235,000 cash, including a $35,000 Phoenix MLF5 Bonus for qualified anglers. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.
The 2021 Toyota Series Championship Presented by A.R.E. will be held Oct. 28-30 on Pickwick Lake in Counce, Tennessee, and is hosted by the Hardin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For complete details and updated information visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Toyota Series presented by A.R.E. on the MLF5’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.