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Thursday, January 20, 2011
Opens: Tougher than ever

By David Hunter Jones
Senior Writer B.A.S.S. Publications

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- What do you get when you take the greatest angler of all time, put 20 Elite Series pros in a field of 193 boats and put them all on a lake that's in a prespawn funk? The first Bass Pro Shops Southern Open of 2011 on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.

This Open plays host to a slew of firsts: it marks the first tournament under new B.A.S.S. management (Jerry McKinnis is in attendance), it's the first professional bass tournament Roland Martin (winner of ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate) has fished for more than five years, and also, perhaps most importantly, the first 2012 Bassmaster Classic qualifier will be crowned at its conclusion.

Consequently, more top pros than ever are fishing the Opens for a shot at the Classic berth that goes to the winner.

While Toho is a proven big bass factory, the timing of the spawn and the event don't quite coincide. But, that depends on who you ask.

The wildcard in this event is the spawn. There are two thoughts on Toho's spawn. On one side you have the sight fishermen who want little to no winds and a hot and heavy spawn, and on the other are those who'd like the bass to keep their fins to themselves until next week. During practice, there has been evidence that supports both sides.

Elite pro and Lakeland, Fla., resident Bobby Lane is hoping for a sight-fishing slugfest. This event is being held 10 years to the week of Dean Rojas' record-setting five-bass stringer of 45 pounds, 2 ounces, which came from the north end of Lake Toho.

Rojas (not in the 2011 field) saw many of the fish that made up his famous stringer before they bit. If Lane gets his wish, there could be a Rojas-like repeat in the cards. He says that weights in the low- to mid-20s should lead after Day One, barring a mass movement to the beds in which case weights could jump several pounds.

If most of the rest of the field has its way, the bass will still be prespawn and 13- to 14-pounds will be decent, and 17- to 18-will lead.

Terry Seagraves calls Kissimmee home and guides on the lake year-round. Perhaps no one is more in tune with Toho's bass than he. Seagraves says that lake is fishing strange, thanks mostly in part to the unusually harsh winter central Florida has experienced.

"This has been one of the coldest winters I can remember," he said. "We had 20-degree weather the first of December and the water temperature really dipped down, so it's been weird.

"The last few times I've been out it hasn't been good," he said. "If the bass stay off the beds, 17- to 18-pounds a day could win it. But, if the really pull up on the beds it could be a slugfest."

Seagraves believes that confidence is the key to winning an event that has even the most knowledgeable of anglers in a tizzy.

"You're going to have to stay focused and stay in areas that you know have fish in them, and don't get discouraged with catching smaller fish," he said.

Continue to check for updates on how things are shaping up, as well as live, streaming coverage of the weigh-in and live leaderboard at 3 p.m. ET.