Panzironi backs it up to cross the 50-pound mark, Steverson hot on his heels - Major League Fishing

Panzironi backs it up to cross the 50-pound mark, Steverson hot on his heels

Image for Panzironi backs it up to cross the 50-pound mark, Steverson hot on his heels
February 2, 2023 • Rob Newell • Toyota Series

LEESBURG, Fla. – Right now, there are two forces at work at the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southern Division event on the Harris Chain of Lakes. One is the immense fishing pressure of 520 anglers being applied on small lakes. The other is a growing moon and warming water temperatures that have the biological clock ticking on big female bass. For the second day in a row, the two forces collided – bass trying to spawn in a shower of lures.

On Day 1, nine limits over 20 pounds came to the scales in the pro division. Today, that number climbed to 14 limits over 20 and four of those were over 24 pounds. Yesterday, the Big Bass in the pro division was 9-10. Today it was 9-11.

Navigating both forces like a Jedi Knight is Eric Panzironi of Longwood, Florida, who now leads the event with a two-day total of 52 pounds, 10 ounces. Panzironi caught the tournament’s largest bag of 28-1 on the first day and followed it up with 24-9 today.

Taking it slow was the key to his success. To watch how slow Panzironi is fishing to catch his giant limits would make Master Yoda say, “A patient one, you are.”

“I’m putting the Poles down and just sitting still, soaking every pitch,” he said. “They’re in the reeds spawning. I can’t see them, but I have to leave it there like I would if I could see them. I caught them pretty quick again today and left early.”

Panzironi seems to be on track to notch his first Toyota Series win, however, he does have a small wrinkle headed his way tomorrow in the form of clouds, rain and wind. Of the three, the threat of wind bothers him the most.

“I feel like there are still some big fish in there,” he said. “But if the wind blows in on my best place tomorrow, it could hurt it. I have some other places holding fish that will be protected, but I would like to really push my best area tomorrow to see what I can catch out of it.”

Kennie Steverson is right with Panzironi for the lead.

Right on Panzironi’s heels is Kennie Steverson, another Florida pro who is also hungry for his first Toyota Series win. Steverson brought in 24 pounds even yesterday and bested that with 27-11 today, the biggest limit on Day 2.

Steverson is fishing some offshore stuff and pitching reeds as well. His two biggest fish today came from the pitching game. When describing his fishing, Steverson’s language sounds similar to Panzironi’s in terms of going at turtle speed. In some ways, tomorrow might be a showdown of who can slow down.

“I’m fishing slow,” Steverson said. “So…slow. Like, put the Power-Poles down and don’t pick them back up for 45 minutes, slow. Just making the same pitches to the same places and letting it sit there. There has been so much pressure here, you have to do that. They’ve seen so many baits dropped in and out in these places, they know what’s up.”

Steverson is also concerned about the wind forecast tomorrow, which calling for breezes of 10 to 15 mph out of the west.

“I might have to tuck inside a little farther to get out of it,” he said.

Johnston’s plan coming to fruition

To give some idea of how good the fishing has been on the Harris Chain this week, Cory Johnston caught 27-3 on Day 1 and 22-4 on Day 2 and fell back a spot to third place with a two-day total of 49-7.

For the last two days, Johnston has been mixing offshore fishing with sight fishing just to earn a ticket through the locks on the final day.

“I just didn’t want to go through either lock the first two days with 260 boats out here, it just costs too much time,” he said. “I’ve got places in both Griffin and Apopka I want to fish. I told myself if I made it to the final day with just 25 boats, I would lock then. So, we’ll see.

“This weather will ultimately determine what I do,” he said. “If it’s raining and cloudy, sight fishing might be pretty difficult, and I might lock and do something else.”

Nelson rebounds with 27-7

After catching 16-4 on Day 1, Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Michigan, rocketed to fourth place with a 27-7 limit on Day 2. Nelson caught the massive bag sight fishing, but not from one spot.

“I lost two great big ones sight fishing yesterday,” Nelson said. “I wasn’t too happy about that, so I went back for some redemption today. I didn’t catch either of the ones I lost yesterday, but found some new big ones today.”

Nelson reveals that all the giant bass were not in one area or grouped together. Instead, he is running and gunning across several lakes to catch big ones.

“I’m looking on flats, inside weed lines and some canals,” Nelson said. “Today, of the five I weighed, two came from one lake and three from another. The first two fish I caught were a 4 1/2 and a 5 1/2. Those were like a jump-start to the day and really let me settle down and take the time to fish for the other big ones I found.”

Nelson will also be playing the incoming weather tomorrow.

“If it gets cloudy and windy, I might have to scratch sight fishing and go do something else,” he said.

Sheppard negotiating pressure

Despite being in the most crowded lake in the chain the last two days, Tyler Sheppard of Yulee, Florida, has managed to sack up 23-3 and 18-5 for a two-day total of 41-8, putting him in fifth place.

Sheppard has several premium offshore spots where he is using ActiveTarget to spy fish when they float up above the grass long enough to be seen.

“I’m fishing out a little deeper on places they’re using to move in and out of the spawning flats,” he said.

In doing so, Sheppard has become a student of the fishing pressure in his areas and how to work around them.

“I’m watching my best areas all the time,” he said. “When I see one that a boat has not crossed in a while, I’ll slide over there and see if any fish have set back up on it. It’s more about looking for voids in the pressure and knowing how long the fish need to set back up.”

Kraft leads co-anglers

Erik Kraft of Port St. Lucie, Florida, leads the Strike King co-angler division with a two-day total of 35-2.  On Day 1, Kraft caught 21-9, the biggest limit in the co-angler division, so far.

“Yesterday was a special day for me,” Kraft said. “It was my mother’s birthday – she passed away in 2014 – but she must have been looking down on me smiling when I caught that big limit.”

Kraft said most of his fish have come on reaction lures thrown on a Scenko Stix ChatterBait rod.

Top 10 pros

1. Eric Panzironi – 52 – 10 (10)                 

2. Kennie Steverson – 51 – 11 (10)        

3. Cory Johnston – 49 – 7 (10)               

4. Ron Nelson – 43 – 11 (10)     

5. Tyler Sheppard – 41 – 8 (10)             

6. Chad Mrazek – 40 – 2 (10) 

7. Rodger Beaver – 38 – 8 (10)               

8. Ken Thompson – 38 – 7 (8)                

9. Bobby Lane – 37 – 4 (10)    

10. Jared Lintner – 36 – 7 (10)

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