Mention Lake Toho to just about any avid bass angler and he thinks of giant largemouth, sunny skies, warm weather and memorable trips easily come to mind.
The famed lake in Kissimmee is one of central Florida’s most well-known among tournament and recreational anglers. It’s often cited as one of the prime destination lakes, along with Okeechobee, Guntersville, Kentucky, Fork, Falcon, Clear and Erie, among others.
History abounds at these lakes and Toho definitely has a solid chapter among them. Even before tournament fishing became popular, the Kissimmee River impoundment was a getaway for anglers seeking big bass along with big catches of crappie and sunfish. Its natural beauty and near year-round warm climate only add to the experience.
The Professional Anglers Association will make a visit to Toho for the second time in three years when the PAA Tour Team Challenge takes place Jan. 23-28. Going out of Lakefront Park in Kissimmee, top pros will team up for three days on Toho in a special event filled with fun, strategy and big bass.
Tournament days are Jan. 26-28, with weigh-ins at Lakefront Park the first two days. The final weigh-in will take place at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World on International Drive in Orlando.
Tour Team Challenge teams must have at least one PAA Tour-level angler, with the other being a Tour- or Advantage-level member. The Advantage member can be a family member, friend or sponsor, or two Tour members may fish together.
The winning team will take home cash and a fully-rigged Nitro Z-8 with a Mercury 225 Optimax and T-H Marine Atlas jack plate, while the second-place team will win cash and a Nitro Z-7 with a Mercury 150 Pro XS and T-H Marine Atlas jack plate. Tour members also will receive points toward the PAA Angler of the Year title. Tournament highlights will be broadcast on FishPAA Television later in the year.
Among the teams registered or committed to participate are Guy Eaker and David Hendrick, Todd Auten and Marcus Malucelli, Dean Rojas and Terry Seagraves, Gerald Brown and Bobby Lane, Gary Clouse and John Kremer, Terry Scroggins and Gerald Swindle, Russ Lane and Derek Remitz, Shaw Grigsby and Paul Elias, Fred Contaoi and James Watson, Jeff Kriet and Jason Reyes, Pete Ponds and Takahiro Omori, Mike McClelland and Jared Lintner, Jeff Hager and Brian Snowden, and others.
Here’s a look at some of the notable tournaments in Toho’s history:
2009 PAA Tournament Series
The inaugural PAA Tournament Series event was held Jan. 15-17 on Toho with 145 anglers competing in the organization’s first tournament.
Ben Matsubu of Texas jumped out to the first-day lead with 23.15, with Florida native Shaw Grigsby right behind with 22.10. Grigsby hauled in the biggest bass caught in a PAA Tournament Series event to date, a 13.36-pounder, and ultimately finished 10th in what became a test for the field as nippy January weather conditions played a role.
Brian Snowden of Missouri prevailed with three consistent days of 15.47, 19.22 and 17.75 to win with 52.44 pounds. Steve Kennedy of Alabama was second with 48.70 and Todd Faircloth of Texas was third with 48.68.
Clausen wins 2006 Classic
Going wire-to-wire, Luke Clausen of Washington claimed his first Bassmaster Classic championship with a then-record weight of 56 pounds, 2 ounces.
Cold rain and aggravating winds pummeled the field and wreaked havoc on the final day. Clausen eeked out a third limit of just 11-13, but it was enough for the championship. He became the seventh angler in Classic history to lead all three days and win the tournament.
Rick Morris of Virginia was second with 51 pounds, while Ron Shuffield finished third with 47-14 in his final Bassmaster tournament before moving to the FLW Tour.
Morris turned some heads with his use of the Chatterbait vibrating jig, at that time still a relatively unknown lure. It had mostly flown under the radar until the Classic and a few other tournaments, and then burst into the scene to grab a spot as one of the hottest baits among the pro and recreational ranks.
Swindle gets first win
Alabama veteran Gerald Swindle had competed in 167 Bassmaster events without a win, but Toho yielded his first hardware when he claimed the Bassmaster Southern Open title Jan. 22-24, 2011.
A year later, to the week, the PAA Tour Team Challenge will take place on Toho. Similar conditions could exist for the teams that Swindle and the Open anglers found last year. Spawning and pre-spawn bass, along with prospects for an offshore bite, could give the field just about everything it wants.
Swindle threw a Lucky Craft lipless crankbait and a Carolina rig for a three-day total of 80-13 to win the Open.
He was hotly pursued by Florida native Bobby Lane, who finished second with 77-13. Lane pitched Berkley Chigger Craws to bedding fish and brought in 26 pounds on the final day to make a surge.
Hite blows ‘em away
When the FLW Tour opened its 2008 season a bit later than usual, in March, on Toho, Brett Hite of Arizona took charge with a blistering start.
Hite amassed a total of 38-9 in the final two days of the event, easily winning by more than 20 pounds in an FLW Tour record margin. He fished in Lake Kissimmee all week, targeting shallow lanes in thick vegetation with a Phenix vibrating jig.
Hite’s performance was so dominating, he could have skipped the final day. He brought in a limit weighing 13-7, however, to cinch the title.
Rojas goes bonkers
Rarely do the stars align for what transpired during the 2001 Florida Bassmaster Top 150 on Lake Toho.
But the stars, planets, comets and anything else in the universe were in perfect symmetry that week – 11 years ago this week, to be exact.
January can be fickle in Florida. Sunny during the afternoon, chilly at night. Chilly in Florida means the Florida-strain largemouth can get moody. It’s often one of the most aggravating aspects of the state, although it can flip on a dime with just a few degrees of warmth to make everything get sparky.
During the third day of practice, many in the field were checking spawning areas for bedding fish. In the morning, nothing was happening. But that afternoon, literal waves of bass swimming in and moving into the spawning areas were spotted. The first day of the tournament was going to be a donkeyfest.
Dean Rojas of Arizona capitalized the best, bringing in a limit weighing 45-2, a record that still stands. He brought in 39-2 the next day, and won the tournament with 108-12. It was mind-boggling.
Twenty-one bass topped the 10-pound mark, and Mark Davis of Arkansas brought in a limit weighing 41-10. Davis finished second with 93-10. Aaron Martens of California was third (85-15), followed by Jay Yelas of Texas (80-1) and Shaw Grigsby of Florida (75-4).
About the PAA
The Professional Anglers Association is a non-profit organization that gives
professional anglers a unified voice in order to aid in the growth of the
sport of professional bass fishing. The PAA also aims to administer
educational programs to the average angler, to increase enjoyment of the
sport, and to embrace sound conservation practices to further the future of
the sport. Web: www.FishPAA.com