By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A lot of anglers in the MLF Bass Pro Tour field have significant experience on Florida's Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. None, however, have anywhere near the history possessed by brothers Bobby and Chris Lane.
The Lakeland-area natives have competed in well over 100 derbies on the venue, many of them as team partners. "I always caught the limit and Bobby always caught the big fish," Chris said.
They'll have more knowledge of the system than the other 78 anglers who'll take part in the inaugural event of the BPT, which will feature 68 pros who fished the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2018 and 12 who've crossed over from the FLW Tour. That additional familiarity could pay off next week (the event runs Jan. 29 through Feb. 3) if the weather forecast that calls for a cold front to settle in for an extended stay holds up.
Bobby won last year's Kissimmee Chain Bassmaster Eastern Open, which took place during the exact same timeframe, and said in the aftermath that local knowledge was a factor. He boxed 31 1/2 pounds on opening day, then weighed a combined 18 1/2 over the final 2 days as an impending weather system slowed the bite.
He relishes the possibility of having such a day under the MLF format, in which every fish that weighs a pound or more boosts an angler's total.
"I let 10 or 15 fish go that day that would've weighed another 30 pounds, and that was laying off of them," he said. "Now I don't have to lay off – all those 2-pounders will count."
Big Ones Might be Shy
The WeatherChannel.com forecast for the event is less than ideal for catching giant bass in Florida. Starting tonight, it predicts eight consecutive nights with lows of 50 degrees or cooler – a condition that never sits well with Sunshine State lunkers.
"I don't think it's going to be a slugfest," Chris said. "There's going to be a lot of fish caught, and a lot of good fish caught, but I don't think you're going to see a whole lot of the 5- to 10-pounders just because of the weather.
"When the nights get into the 40s, it keeps the water temperature cold and there's not enough time in the day for it to heat up long enough. It might be different as it moves into the last two days. If you can make it that far, you might have a shot at some really big ones."
Chris Lane said the big-fish bite at the Kissimmee Chain could heat up for anglers who advance to the final rounds.
He said nobody in the field should find it impossible to get bites – there will be plenty of those to go around.
"It'll be a fun event with the catch-all-you-can format – it's Florida at the end of January and even with a little cold front, they're still going to bite. In a regular event you might have guys weighing five fish for 8 pounds, but when every scoreable fish counts, those guys should be able to catch 18 pounds.
"A guy who goes out trying to catch four 5-pounders or something like that is liable to get smoked. But the neat thing is, how many times do you see a guy in a tournament catch a 2-pounder and be (angry) when he throws it back because it doesn't help him? Now that catch is scoreable."
No Holds Barred
Bobby Lane, a former MLF World Champion, made it clear that regardless of the weather, he'll be on the hunt for big bites.
"If I'm on a pattern I can run all over the place and there's a bunch of 1 1/2-pounders piled up, then sure, I'm going to catch every one of them," he said. "But if catch an 8 or a 9, then the guy catching 1-pounders has to catch eight of those to get to where I am. If I catch two big ones like that, then he has to catch 16.
"I've fished MLF for seven years and I've approached every event the same way – by trying to catch the biggest fish that I can. Anybody thinking they're going to catch a bunch of 1-pounders and have success in MLF is going to get absolutely crushed. To be honest, I've never seen a guy who just excels at catching tiny fish keep moving forward and advancing to the next round.
"A 3- or 4-pounder will eat the same bait that a 1-pounder will."
> Other anglers in the field who've triumphed on the chain include Luke Clausen, the winner of the 2006 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Toho, and Kevin VanDam, who won an Elite Series event there two years later.
> J.T. Kenney, now an MLF broadcaster, won the 2015 FLW Tour event at Toho. BPT competitors Wesley Strader, Clausen and Mark Daniels Jr. finished 3rd, 5th and 9th, respectively.