Knowing when to adjust proved essential for Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., who admits he employed a disjointed fishing regimen to win the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain with a three-day total weight of 49 pounds, 8 ounces, cementing a spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk..
“I’ve said it all week, I haven’t been dialed in to one thing, it was junk fishing at its best,” said New, who earned $52,500 and claimed the early lead in the race for the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year award. “I’ve fished a lot in Florida and I’ve never been able to junk fish. But you have five lakes in this chain, and I junk fished three of them (Toho, Cypress and Kissimmee).”
New kept himself in the hunt from start to finish. He caught 21-0 on Day 1 to place second and backed that up with a Day 2 limit of 13-7 that put him in third. Catching the heaviest bag of Day 3 – a five-bass limit that weighed 15-1 – pushed him across the finish line with a winning margin of 4-6.
New spent part of Day 3 working the offshore hydrilla spot in Lake Toho where he caught part of his big Day 1 catch. The first day saw him locking down to Lake Kissimmee. But when that failed to produce anything significant for him, he decided to maximize his fishing time by spending the next two days in Toho.
The junk-fishing mentality came into play when he realized his offshore spot was not going to be enough. From there, he went shallow and bounced from spot to spot in an effort to establish consistency.
New caught his bass on a Texas-rigged green pumpkin magic Damiki Stinger, a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Z-Man ChatterBait with a green pumpkin Zoom Speed Craw and a Greenfish Tackle G2 squarebill in High Rock shad. The latter, he said, proved to be his biggest producer.
“That G2 is a balsa bait that floats a lot higher than all the plastic baits, and it’s awesome for cranking this grass,” New said. “I know a lot of people throw (lipless baits) around the grass, and I actually found my main spot by throwing a (lipless bait). But once I switched to that squarebill, I started catching bigger fish.”
After two days of warm, stable conditions, Day 3 brought cooler temperatures and blustery winds of up to 20 mph, which muddied the Kissimmee Chain. Before the big winds picked up mid-morning, New got his final day off to a strong start by catching a 6-1 around 7:18 a.m.
From there, he said keeping his head down and focusing on productivity dominated his thoughts.
“I knew it was a good start, but honestly, I had no idea how big it was,” he said. “I caught it, put it in the livewell and made another cast. It didn’t matter at the time because I knew it wasn’t enough.
“I filled my limit about 10 minutes after that and it took me a little while, but I finally culled the 12-incher that was my first fish. After that, I said let’s go try to bust the dirty-30 (a 30-pound limit), but we didn’t do that.”
Joshua Stracner of Vandiver, Ala., placed second with 45-2. After placing third on Day 1 with 19-5, Stracner added 12-10 on Day 2 and slipped to seventh. He boosted his performance in the Championship round by adding 13-3.
“I had one offshore place – a 50-yard stretch of hydrilla in Lake Toho – and I could only catch them in the first hour or two,” Stracner said. “I’d catch a few of my better fish on a ChatterBait out there and after that, they’d shut down.
“They’d start back up later in the day, so in between, I’d go to the bank and punch mats with a junebug Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver and a 1 1/2-ounce weight.”
Greg Alexander of Hebron, Md., finished third with 45-2. (Ties are broken by heaviest single day catch.) His was the biggest comeback of the Top 12, as he rebounded from a 34th-place effort on Day 1 and reached the final day in sixth. Alexander turned in daily weights of 13-7, 19-1 and 12-10.
“I tried to focus on stuff that didn’t look like everything else,” Alexander said. “There are miles of lily pads, miles of Kissimmee grass, miles of gator grass, big piles of bulrushes, big piles of reeds. So, if I saw a bunch of the same, I’d just keep on going.
“I was trying to pinpoint those areas that had a uniqueness to them, or had a really good blend of different vegetation. Then, I’d try to pick out the most isolated cover in that spot.”
Alexander caught his bass on a watermelon/green fleck Senko and a junebug Zoom Speed Worm.
Jerrod Albright of Kissimmee, Fla., won Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 10-3 largemouth.
Don Harvey of Franklin, Tenn., won the co-angler division with 28-2. Entering the Championship round in third place, Harvey added a limit of 8-12.
“I was fortunate, I got to do the same thing with my pros each day,” Harvey said. “Every fish I weighed in, I caught on a Megabass 110 Magnum.”
Harvey believes the larger profile tempted bigger bites, but he also made sure he was using an effective retrieve.
“It was a jerk-jerk-pause,” Harvey said. “Some of the people I was fishing with were really fishing (their baits) fast; I just wanted the fish to have an opportunity to see my bait.”
Jeff Queen won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with his 8-6.