By Sean Ostruszka
Special to BassFan
Lake Seminole has been Mother Nature’s punching bag as of late.
Hurricane Michael was the initial blow, as the Category 4 storm ravaged the Florida panhandle in October 2018, and with it, Lake Seminole. The end result was a lake that looks nothing like what pros had seen before.
Some pros are reporting anywhere from 50-90% of the grass they used to fish is gone, along with many of the isolated sand bars that have been key in spring tournament.s
As if that wasn’t enough, Mother Nature decided to throw a cheap shot in the form of a cold front just as the FLW Tour arrived for its third stop of the season. After a week of low to mid 70s, the weather got into the 30s at night during practice, knocking back a wave of spawners that had just shown up.
Needless to say, there are plenty of new variables facing the FLW Tour field, and no shortage of unknowns. Will the spawners come back? Will the deep grass still be in play with much of it changed? Could something new emerge, be it a pattern or area of the lake?
Here's a look at the venue.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Lake Seminole
> Type of Water: Lowland reservoir
> Surface Acres: 37,500 acres
> Primary structure/cover: Hydrilla, laydowns, stumps, standing timber, docks
> Primary forage: Shad, bream
> Average depth: 10 feet
> Species: Largemouths, spotted bass
> Length limit: 12 inches
> Reputation: Regarded as one of the best big-fish lakes in the South
> Weather: Warming trend, starting in the mid 60s on Thursday and climbing to near 80 by Sunday. Sunny to start, with clouds rolling in and potential for thunderstorms by Sunday.
> Water temperature: 65-70 degrees
> Water visibility: Varies depending on location
> Water level: Normal pool
> Fish in: All depths
> Fish phase: Pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn
> Primary patterns: Flipping and pitching vegetation, moving baits in offshore grass, sight-fishing
> Winning weight: 80 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 30 after 2 days): 31 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3
> Biggest decision: Find a bite in the deep grass or stay shallow and hope the spawners come to you
> Wildcard: Consistency, be it limits or catching a kicker to offset a non-limit
Changed, but Still Seminole
You want to know about Lake Seminole, you talk to Clint Brown. A former FLW Tour pro, Brown is one of the locals on the lake. He also hasn’t seen Seminole in the state it’s in maybe ever.
“It’s certainly different,” Brown said. “The hurricane really changed the grass. There’s some places that used to have grass and now don’t, and places that never had grass but they do.
“You also aren’t seeing the big girls schooled up like usual. Normally, you can go and catch a big bag from a spot and have it replenish, especially first thing in the morning. That’s how a lot of guys have won is that key morning spot. This year, not near as many places you can do that.”
The end result has been a fishery not producing nearly what it has historically. According to Brown, a pair of recent team tournaments were won with 22 and 23 pounds, respectively. Yet, that usually wouldn’t get you even close to a check on a fishery known for producing 30-pound bags with 10-pound kickers.
In terms of what he expects out of this week – what with the cold front and changed habitat – he figures a number of different patterns should emerge.
First and foremost, Brown expects plenty of anglers to stay shallow and sight-fish, predominantly in the clear waters of Spring Creek – which is where most tournaments are won on Seminole. However, Brown doesn’t think an angler will win doing that due to fishing pressure.
Instead, he expects an offshore vibrating-jig bite to prevail, much like it did when Brett Hite won the Bassmaster Elite Series event in 2008.
There are two “sneaky” things to watch, though, according to Brown.
“I think you’re going to see one or two guys sneak into the top 10 flipping,” Brown said. “It’s been off the radar, but it could be good.
“I also think you’ll see the Flint and [Chattahoochee] rivers come into play more than usual. There’s some clear backwaters up there, and the Flint, especially, has been holding more fish in recent years.”
Following are practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
“I’m struggling, but my hope is the fish are coming to me. I really hope they do, at least, because I don’t know if I can even catch a limit. I’ve barely gotten any bites, but the bites I’ve gotten have been quality.
”Most of my hydrilla spots are gone from that hurricane. What’s left is just dead and stringy. There’s some grass that’s coming in that could be good, but there’s not enough of it yet.
“Overall, it’s going to be a grind.”
"It’s been tough, and I think it’s a combination of the hurricane, weather and being between moon phases. That hurricane really tore some spots up. I’ve got some little hidey holes I can’t even get into anymore because there’s like 14 trees blocking them.
“That said, I think I have two deals figured out. I don’t know the quality, because I haven’t caught any good kickers yet, but 2 1/2- to 3-pounders are going to be big in this event.”
Brandon McMillan has had success at Seminole in the past and could be a factor again.
“So far it’s pretty well sucked.
“When we first got here there were a ton of fish up on beds, but the cold front knocked them off. Honestly, I was really excited and only expected to sight-fish. Now, I don’t know.
“This has never been a lake where you get 20-30 bites a day, but usually you get more than I have been. Of course, I’ve only had one tournament here where I brought in a limit all three days, even when I won.”
"I had a decent day and a half of practice and then it slowed down quite a bit as it got chillier.
"I think this is going to be an upward-trending tournament, though, with this weather. The weather warming up, you’re going to see weights increase every day, I think.”
"Practice has been pretty decent for me, which from the sounds of it, I’m one of the few.
"There are fish in every stage of the spawn, and I think by the start of the tournament you’re going to see some pretty big weights. There are just so many big fish here, and hopefully I tie into a few more of them like I have in practice.”
A Few to Keep an Eye On
Here are a handful of anglers who might fare well considering the way that Kissimmee is set up this week.
> Bryan Thrift – Arguably the top angler in the sport, Thrift finished 2nd here in 2017 and 25th in 2018.
> Brandon McMillan – The elder of the McMillan brothers has a pair of wins on Seminole and another top 30, with one of those victories coming in March.
> Buddy Gross – One of the best grass fisherman on the circuit is looking to be only the second FLW Tour pro to win back-to-back events, and he’s attempting it on a fishery he’s won on in the past.
> Bryan Schmitt – He's quietly done what most expected, in that he’s reaped the benefits of the first two fisheries on the schedule featuring plenty of grass. Seminole makes it three in a row, and he should be a player.
> Wes Logan – He's only fished two events on Seminole, but he’s finished 21st and 7th. He’s worth watching.
Anglers will take off the first three days at 7 a.m. EST from Bainbridge Earle May Boat Basin, located at 100 Boat Basin Circle in Bainbridge, Ga. They’ll launch at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday. Weigh-ins on days 1 and 2 will be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Weekend weigh-ins will also be held at the marina, but will begin at 4 p.m.
The FLW Live on-the-water program will air from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on days 3 and 4. The broadcasts will be live-streamed on FLWFishing.com, the FLW YouTube channel and the FLW Facebook page.
> Thurs., Mar. 7 –Sunny - 65°/42°
- Wind: From the ESE at 4 mph
> Fri., Mar. 8 – Partly Cloudy - 72°/52°
- Wind: From the S at 7 mph
> Sat., Mar. 9 – Mostly Cloudy - 76°/63°
- Wind: From the SSE at 10 mph
> Sun., Mar. 10 – Thunderstorms - 78°/58°
- Wind: From the SSW at 13 mph