Umatilla's Kennie Steverson slows way down to win Toyota Series Southern Division opener at Harris Chain of Lakes - Major League Fishing
Umatilla’s Kennie Steverson slows way down to win Toyota Series Southern Division opener at Harris Chain of Lakes
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Umatilla’s Kennie Steverson slows way down to win Toyota Series Southern Division opener at Harris Chain of Lakes

Florida pro dominates on Lake Apopka to take home top payout of $102,000
Image for Umatilla’s Kennie Steverson slows way down to win Toyota Series Southern Division opener at Harris Chain of Lakes
February 6, 2023 • MLF • Press Releases

LEESBURG, Fla. – After bringing 24 pounds to the scale on Day 1 and 27 pounds, 11 ounces to the scale on Day 2, Umatilla, Florida, pro Kennie Steverson brought a five-bass limit to the scale Friday weighing 20 pounds, 2 ounces close out the win at the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats at the Harris Chain of Lakes and earn the top payout of $102,000. Over the three days of competition Steverson’s catch of 15 bass totaling 71-13 earned him the win by a commanding 7-pound, 6-ounce margin over Eric Panzironi of Longwood, Florida, who finished runner-up with a three-day total of 64-7, good for $27,500.  

Each day Steverson traveled from the launch in Lake Harris to Lake Apopka, roughly 60 miles per day, round trip, for a total of 180 miles on the week. With 260 boats in the field, and so many locking through Apopka’s tiny three-boat lock, the wait times were roughly 1½ to 2 hours to get through the lock. Each day, Steverson averaged just 3 hours of fishing time in Apopka. Since each official tournament day is 8 hours long, across three competition days he had a total of 24 hours to fish, but only fished 9 of those hours – basically just one-third of the allotted hours to fish.

“I got a bunch of bites in Apopka in practice, but didn’t set on them. So I really didn’t know what I had,” Steverson said. “But once I drew boat two on Day 1, I knew I could be the first through the lock and have first pick of the water down there. I had to go, it was like a guarantee that no one else would be on the stretch I wanted to fish.”

Anyone who has tournament fished knows that when making long runs, especially through locks, when you finally get to your water and you’re the first one there; you can’t help but be just a little jacked up when you land. With so much fishing time sacrificed, the tendency is to fish fast and cover water – but, not for Steverson.

Once he hit the Power-Poles and came to a screeching halt in the shallow reeds of Apopka, that was it. That’s where he was fishing. All told, Steverson’s best stretch was maybe 100 yards long. But he didn’t fish all 100 yards each day. Instead, he slowly digested only 30 to 40 yards of it per day.

Steverson said he needled the hay grass and reeds with a standard 6-inch Yamamoto Senko on a 1/2-ounce weight, tied to 65-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa Braid. The power end of the business was done with a 7-foot, 6-inch Fitzgerald All-Purpose rod with a  Fitzgerald Stunner reel.

“I’m a slow fisherman by nature anyway,” he said. “So, these Florida bass sort of suit my style because you can’t rush them. I’ve learned to take my time, let them get comfortable and pick them apart as slow as possible, even when I only have 2½ hours to fish.”

The Top 10 pros on the Harris Chain of Lakes finished:

1st:          Kennie Steverson, Umatilla, Fla., 15 bass, 71-13, $102,000 (includes $35,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus)
2nd:         Eric Panzironi, Longwood, Fla., 15 bass, 64-7, $27,500
3rd:         Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 15 bass, 63-14, $18,000
4th:         Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 15 bass, 63-0, $16,000
5th:         Cory Johnston, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, 15 bass, 61-11, $15,000
6th:         Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, 15 bass, 57-4, $11,500
7th:         Ken Thompson, Roaring Springs, Pa., 13 bass, 55-10, $10,000
8th:         Darold Gleason, Many, La., 15 bass, 52-11, $8,500
9th:         Rodney Marks, Apopka, Fla., 15 bass, 51-13, $7,500
10th:       Tyler Sheppard, Yulee, Fla., 15 bass, 50-12, $5,500

Complete results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

In addition to his tournament winner payout, Steverson also took home the $500 Day 1 Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division Wednesday with a chunky largemouth weighing 9 pounds, 10 ounces. On Thursday, pro Jessie Mizell of Myakka City, Florida, earned the $500 Berkley Big Bass prize after bringing a 9-pound, 11-ounce bass to the scale.

Steverson earned an extra $35,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF 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 MLF Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.

Erik Kraft of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, won the Strike King Co-angler Division Friday with a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 52 pounds, 7 ounces. Kraft took home the top prize package worth $38,500, including a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.

The Top 10 Strike King co-anglers on the Harris Chain of Lakes finished:

1st:          Erik Kraft, Port Saint Lucie, Fla., 15 bass, 52-7, $38,500 incl. Phoenix 518 Pro boat w/115-hp Mercury outboard
2nd:         Alan Hults, Gautier, Miss., 15 bass, 44-4, $8,000
3rd:         Bryan Ray, Lake Leelanau, Mich., 13 bass, 43-1, $6,500
4th:         Joseph Owens, Leesburg, Fla., 15 bass, 41-8, $5,000
5th:         Billy Charland, Lakeland, Fla., 13 bass, 39-13, $4,500
6th:         Davis Dimauro, Longwood, Fla., 15 bass, 39-0, $3,900
7th:         Nate Bloom, Winter Springs, Fla., 15 bass, 37-13, $3,250
8th:         Scott Spencer, Raleigh, N.C., 15 bass, 35-15, $2,500
9th:         Jeff Roper, Mineral Bluff, Ga., 13 bass, 35-5, $1,800
10th:       Keith Honeycutt, Temple, Texas, 15 bass, 34-15, $1,600

Dimauro was the Berkley Big Bass $150 award winner in the Strike King co-angler division, Wednesday, with an 8-pound, 11-ounce fish, while Thursday’s Day 2 $150 award went to Zack Barrera of Morriston, Florida, with a 7-pound, 13-ounce fish.

With one regular-season event in the Toyota Series Southern Division now complete, Steverson leads the Southern Division Angler of the Year (AOY) race with 260 points, while Kraft leads the Strike King Co-angler Division AOY race with 260 points.

The Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats at the Harris Chain of Lakes, hosted by Visit Lake County, Florida, was the first of three regular-season events for the Toyota Series Southern Division. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will be the Central Division opener – the Toyota Series at Lake Guntersville, Feb. 16-18, in Scottsboro, Alabama. For a complete schedule of events, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The 2023 Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and the Western Division Presented by Tackle Warehouse – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International and Wild Card divisions. Anglers who fish in any of the six divisions or the Wild Card division and finish in the top 25 will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Championship for a shot at winning up to $235,000 and a qualification to REDCREST V. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard. The 2023 Toyota Series Championship will be held Nov. 2-4 on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, and is hosted by ExploreBranson.com.

Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Toyota Series include: 4WP, 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Black Rifle Coffee Company, E3, Favorite Fishing, Fox Rent a Car, General Tire, Gill, Grundéns, Lew’s, Lowrance, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Wiley X and YETI.

For complete details and updated information visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular Toyota Series updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the MLF5 social media outlets at FacebookInstagram and YouTube.