LEESBURG, Fla. – The Harris Chain of Lakes did not disappoint on Day 1 of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southern Division event. In all, nine limits crossed the stage topping the 20-pound mark, Big Bass was 9 pounds, 10 ounces and the 25th place cut line landed at 16 pounds, 9 ounces. Some would argue that a Florida lake in the peak of the spawn with warming water should look better on paper, but considering the Harris Chain was covered with a full field of 260 boats, those stats are not too bad.
Leading the way after Day 1 is Eric Panzironi with 28 pounds, 1 ounce. Panzironi is a hammer in Florida Phoenix Bass Fishing League events, and he knows a thing or two about outsmarting huge tournament fields on Sunshine State waters. In this event, he knew previous fishing pressure, plus the number of boats currently on the water, needed to factor into his equation. So, he went off the beaten path, keeping away from the clearer waters that have been drawing the most attention.
“I’m basically blind pitching in off-colored water,” he said. “The fish are on beds, but I can’t see them at all. I got bites in practice and marked the precise locations where I got the bites. Today I revisited those spots and got them to bite again. I can tell they’re spawning because I have to really needle them into biting; it’s not like they thump it on the first pitch. I have to pitch it over and over again to get them to bite. It’s a slow, tedious process.”
In all, Panzironi marked 20 beds in practice and believes he used up about eight of them today.
“Once I caught my weight, I left,” he said. “I left plenty of marks that I didn’t even pitch to. These bass tend to lay quick and leave, so I hope they’ll stick around for a few more days. That full moon coming Sunday should help the cause.”
Among the Top 10 anglers, a host of varying techniques and lakes are being utilized, from sight fishing to dragging offshore to punching reeds. Case in point, pro Cory Johnston mixed techniques and lakes to grab the runner-up spot with 27-3 on Day 1.
“I didn’t fish one specific area or pattern today,” Johnston said. “I just mixed it up between a couple of different lakes. I found two decent bedding fish late yesterday afternoon and went and plucked them quick. But once the boat traffic got heavy in there, I switched up lakes and went to offshore shell bars and caught two big ones and another decent one.”
Though a lot of Florida fishing experience can be beneficial in Sunshine State tournaments, sometimes those who have no preconceived notions are the ones that find unturned stones. Take the case of Ken Thompson, from Roaring Springs, Pennsylvania, as an example. Thompson traveled from the Northeast to find warmer weather and fish his first Toyota Series event and now sits in third with 24-13.
“I’ve fished here before, but it’s been such a long time ago and these lakes change so fast from year to year with the grass, I just decided to come down here and start over,” Thompson said. “I gave myself eight days of practice, but I spent the first three riding the lakes and looking for the best grass on the graph.”
Thompson eventually settled on the lake he felt had the healthiest grass on it. He started with an offshore approach in the healthy grass, but eventually ended up pitching reeds.
“I think the fish I’m catching are spawning,” he said. “I can’t see them, but I have to pitch to the reeds and let it sit there for like 10 to 15 seconds before one swims away with it. I got 14 or 15 bites that way in an hour during practice. I caught four or five of them today in about an hour-and-a-half and then left.”
Incidentally, Thompson lost 2 pounds of his total weight due to a culling error today. He brought in six fish, which means he lost his smallest fish and was assessed a 2-pound penalty.
“It was just a dumb mistake,” he said. “When I caught my fourth fish, it was a big one and I didn’t put a cull tag on the fish. That left me with two cull tags and four fish in the well. I totally forgot about it and used the two cull tags on two other fish, so I actually had six fish in the well. In 15 years of tournament fishing, I’ve never done anything like that.”
Kennie Steverson caught the biggest bass of the day on the pro side weighing 9 pounds, 10 ounces. The mammoth kicker anchored his 24-pound limit, which put him in fourth overall. Steverson was boat No. 2 this morning and he put his early draw to good use, making hay before the fishing pressure got bad.
“I was just dragging around on some offshore stuff and that was my fourth fish of the day,” Steverson said. “After I got that one in, I knew if I could catch one more solid keeper, I’d have a really good bag.”
Rounding out the top five after day one is Chad Mrazek of Montgomery, Texas, with 23-14.
1. Eric Panzironi – 28 – 1 (5)
2. Cory Johnston – 27 – 3 (5)
3. Ken Thompson – 24 – 13 (5)
4. Kennie Steverson – 24 – 00 (5)
5. Chad Mrazek – 23 – 14 (5)
6. Tyler Sheppard – 23 – 3 (5)
7. Jared Lintner – 22 – 9 (5)
8. Casey Marsh – 21 – 1 (5)
9. Darold Gleason – 20 – 15 (5)
10. Hunter Weston – 19 – 12 (5)
Erik Kraft of Port St. Lucie, Florida, caught 21 pounds, 9 ounces to take the top spot in the Strike King co-angler division on Day 1.
1. Erik Kraft – 21 – 9 (5)
2. Bryan Ray – 18 – 7 (5)
3. Denny Cook – 18 – 5 (5)
4. Billy Charland – 16 – 8 (5)
5. Alan Hults – 15 – 11 (5)
6. Lee Frye – 14 – 14 (5)
7. Davis DiMauro – 14 – 13 (5)
8. Brian Turner – 14 – 8 (5)
9. Michael Pasternak – 14 – 5 (5)
10. Justin Foster – 14 – 00 (5)