By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan

It was hyped up as a bed-fishing beatdown. Unfortunately, it never quite lived up to the billing.

Whether it was the falling water in Toho, the rising water in Kissimmee, the wind in Tiger or the clouds and rain over the weekend, the last big wave of Kissimmee Chain spawners never fully came in as expected during the FLW Tour event.

That didn’t mean bedding fish didn’t play a key role, though. A bunch of 8s, 9s and even 10s crossed the weigh-in stage through four days, with the majority of them being spawners.

Here’s a look at how the 2nd- through 5th-place finishers navigated the spawning dilemma, along with the what-ifs that came along with it.

2nd: John Cox

> Day 1: 5, 31-9
> Day 2: 5, 17-14
> Day 3: 5, 8-11
> Day 4: 5, 23-10
> Total = 20, 81-02

No angler may have had a more up-and-down week than John Cox.

One of the best sight-fishermen in the sport, Cox was well familiar with the chain’s best spawning spots, having won a BFL there as a teenager.

Sure enough, he sampled all four lakes throughout the event looking for bedding fish, while tossing around a Berkley PowerBait Wind Up during his search. The plan worked the first day to perfection, as he plucked an 8-pounder first thing off a bed, and cracked a 10-pounder on the Wind Up in the afternoon for his mega-bag.

Yet, the allure of sight-fishing ended up being his downfall. He never found any big ones on day 2 and day 3 was “just awful.”

The final day he scrapped sight-fishing and fished shell beds in Kissimmee and Cypress before heading shallow in Toho to do some flipping and winding.

“I didn’t miss any fish,” said Cox, who battled a nasty cold throughout the event. “I just made the wrong call on day 3, and it cost me.”

> Sight-Fishing gear: 7’3” heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 40-pound braided line, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General (green-pumpkin).

> Shallow worm gear: 7’6” heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod, same reel and line as sight-fishing, Berkley Fusion19 Superline EWG hook (rigged weightless or with a 1/16-ounce bullet sinker), Berkley PowerBait Wind Up (watermelon).

> Deep worm gear: same as shallow rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/2-unce Dirty Jigs Pivot Point Football Head, Berkley PowerBait Wind Up (junebug).

> Main factor in his success – “Just covering water and getting lucky with those big bites.”

FLW/Kyle Wood
Photo: FLW/Kyle Wood

Darrell Davis parlayed his knowledge of the fishery into a 3rd-place finish.

3rd: Darrell Davis

> Day 1: 5, 14-05
> Day 2: 5, 20-14
> Day 3: 5, 25-12
> Day 4: 5, 17-08
> Total = 20, 78-07

Darrell Davis had waited a long time for conditions to set up right for him to “make some real money” out of Tiger Lake. Unfortunately, he just didn’t fully capitalize.

As soon as Davis saw the conditions begin to improve, he knew he was going to target spawning fish he couldn’t see in Tiger.

“I’d been waiting and waiting for [Tiger] to have just enough water,” says Davis of Tiger. “It can be really hard to get into when it’s low. I checked it the first day of practice and had 35 bites. I knew I wasn’t leaving after that.”

Tiger is stained like Kissimmee, and thus he simply put himself on whichever side was the calmest and went to work tossing around a soft-plastic topwater and flipping into open patches he thought might hold a spawning female.

The plan worked perfectly, but he lost an 8 on Saturday before losing two 5s and another 8 on Sunday.

“I was on the fish to win, no doubt about that,” Davis said. “I just didn’t capitalize. You have to fish clean to win, and Buddy [Gross] did.”

> Flipping gear: 7’4” heavy-action Denali KOVERT Lite Series casting rod, Ardent casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 50-pound Sunline FX braided line, 3/8-ounce tungsten weight, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (junebug).

> Topwater gear: 7’4” Denali AttaX Series casting rod, Ardent casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 50-pound Sunline FX braided line, 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook, Reaction Innovations Screwed Up Bullet, Reaction Innovations Trixie Shark (shiner).

> Main factor in his success – “My experience on the fishery and my knowledge on how to fish for those bedding fish you can’t see. A lot of guys just don’t know how to do it right.”

FLW/Kyle Wood
Photo: FLW/Kyle Wood

Tommy Dickerson finished 4th on his first-ever visit to the Kissimmee Chain.

4th: Tommy Dickerson

> Day 1: 5, 13-05
> Day 2: 5, 16-13
> Day 3: 5, 24-01
> Day 4: 5, 22-11
> Total = 20, 76-14

Tour rookie Tommy Dickerson signed up for the season for one reason: The first three venues all were lush with hydrilla.

“I understand fishing and cranking hydrilla,” said the Texas native.

Having never been to the Kissimmee Chain, Dickerson started off idling around in Toho looking for irregularities or open patches. Sure enough, he came across what he eventually realized was a random shell bed roughly the size of his boat flanked by a pair of large hydrilla clumps that happened to be just around the point from where Buddy Gross won the tournament.

Unfortunately, the first two mornings he stopped on it and never got bit on a lipless crankbait. So he had to scrape and grind just enough to make the top-30 cut flipping the bank.

However, the weekend brought wind, and once he had that Dickerson knew his spot would fire.

“I pulled up Saturday morning and it was 6-pounder, 6-pounder, 6-pounder,” Dickerson said. “They’d only bite for 45 minutes every morning, but they really bit when they did.”

> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action iRod Genesis II Andy’s Light Flip/Junk casting rod, Shimano Curado DC casting reel (7.2:1 ratio), 80-pound braided line, 3/4-ounce tungsten weight, Reaction Innovations Kinky Beaver (black and blue).

> Lipless crankbait gear: Same rod as flipping gear, same reel (6.2:1, 7.2:1 and 8.2:1 ratios), 12-, 15-, and 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Spro Aruku Shad 75 (gold with black back).

> Main factor in his success – “Being able to adapt and learn as I went. I knew I could catch plenty of bucks up shallow flipping if my crankbait bite didn’t go, and that’s what got me into the weekend.”

FLW/Kyle Wood
Photo: FLW/Kyle Wood

Josh Douglas lives in Minnesota, but nonetheless considers himself a "Kissimmee rat."

5th: Josh Douglas

> Day 1: 5, 19-09
> Day 2: 5, 22-10
> Day 3: 5, 18-00
> Day 4: 5, 12-10
> Total = 20, 72-08

He may hail from Minnesota, but Josh Douglas considers himself a “Kissimmee rat.”

“I’ve fished tournaments on the chain a few other times, and something about Kissimmee always fit with me and how I like to fish,” he said.

Knowing that, he didn’t spend any time in practice in a lake other than Kissimmee, eventually settling in on the very southern side of the lake due to it having all the right ingredients to hold spawning females.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one in his area, as he shared it with fellow top-10 angler Tyler Wolcott and top-30 finisher Casey Scanlon.

Douglas was able to finish the highest among them by dragging a stickbait through clumps of lily pads the first two days when the sun was out. He said usually the smaller clumps were better, as they were easier to pick apart with the stickbait, but he caught some of his bigger fish out of a larger pad field.

Unfortunately, when the sun disappeared over the weekend, so did much of his bite. Instead, he had to adjust, tossing a vibrating jig and swimming worm around the area to amass the rest of his weight.

> Worm gear: 7’5” heavy-action G. Loomis GLX 894C JWR casting rod, Shimano Metanium MGL or Shimano Curado DC casting reel, 50-pound PowerPro Super 8 Slick V2 braided line to a 25-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon leader, 1/4-ounce WOO! Tungsten weight, 4/0 Owner Jungle Flippin’ Hook, BioSpawn ExoStick (black/blue) or Zoom Speed Worm (junebug).

> Vibrating-jig gear: 7’2” medium-heavy Shimano Expride glass casting rod, Shimano Curado DC casting reel, 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer (white), Gambler Little EZ swimbait trailer (shad colors).

> Main factor in his success – “Staying focused and not letting the pressure or conditions get to me. We had some really good guys in there with Tyler, Casey and even the McMillan brothers. We were all catching big fish, so you just had to stay focused.”

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