Cifuentes on top after Day 1

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Cifuentes on top after Day 1

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Lake Toho covers approximately 18,810 acres, but Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., needed only a sliver to bag a limit of 28 pounds

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Lake Toho covers approximately 18,810 acres, but Joey Cifuentes of Clinton, Ark., needed only a sliver to bag a limit of 28 pounds, 10 ounces and lead Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open at Kissimmee Chain.

Cifuentes’ bag, which ranks in the Top 15 single-day weights in Bassmaster Opens history, gives him a lead of 6-11 over Cole Sands of Calhoun, Tenn., who caught 21-15.

Describing a blistering start to his day, Cifuentes anchored his bag with a 9-5 that leads the Phoenix Boats Big Bass standings. That fish bit around 8 a.m. and shortly thereafter Cifuentes had his leading weight.

“It was first thing this morning, and I was done at 8:15,” he said. “After I got my limit, I left the spot. I tried to get my co-angler his limit, so I spent the rest of the day flipping.”

Noting that he threw Berkley reaction baits, Cifuentes attributed his success to finding a magical spot in Lake Toho where a large group of big bass were ready to eat. Targeting offshore grass outside spawning areas, he located what he believes is the kind of hard sand spot that prespawn bass favor.

“I had a terrible practice and I had a limited practice because I was coming from another tournament,” Cifuentes said. “In the last two hours of my practice day, I just drifted through this area and several fish were trying to eat my bait. I shook it out of two fish’s mouths on one cast — they were all trying to eat it.

“It was just one of those places you dream about. It was literally the size of my boat. I pulled up today and it was a one-cast deal. It was just by the grace of God.”

Cifuentes said his spot was in 8 feet of water. The bass were likely parking on an attractive area where they could feed up while awaiting the next full moon phase to trigger their spawning movement.

Cifuentes is hopeful that leaving his fish early will allow him a similar opportunity on Day 2.

“These fish are pretty far offshore, so I don’t think they’re going anywhere,” he said. “I don’t know if there will be any more coming to me, but they’re just hanging out there. It’s just a typical prespawn, Toho spot.

“So many times, these tournaments are one-cast deals and that’s how they’re won. Those are the kind of places you hope to find.”

Sands spent his day in Lake Toho and focused on bass that were occupying key staging areas. A tough practice left him with little to go on, so he decided he’d fare best by maximizing his fishing time.

“It’s all grass related, and I never caught two fish off the same spot,” Sands said. “A certain depth seemed to be the deal and I have a certain bait figured out. I fished around boats all day, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who caught fish in that area.”

Sands said he employed two reaction baits and had to work hard to coax bites.

“I started this morning with a Yo-Zuri jerkbait and caught a couple of fish on it,” Sands said. “As the day went on, I made a switch and caught several of the fish I weighed in.”

“It seems like you have to force these fish to bite,” he said. “They’ve seen a lot of baits and they’ve been stunned by (recent cold fronts) so they’re not biting really well.”

Cole Drummond of Effingham, S.C., is in third place with 17-9. He targeted prespawn bass in mid-depth grass where he caught them on a slow presentation with a plastic bait.

“It seems like the longer my cast, the greater my chances of getting bit,” Drummond said.

Drummond ran down to Lake Kissimmee, but while waiting for the lock, he fished a spot in lower Lake Toho and caught a 3 1/2-pounder. He filled his limit, including a 6-8 in Kissimmee, and then made a final cull at 4:15 right outside the weigh-in site.

Ron Shakespeare of St. Cloud, Fla., leads the co-angler division with 13-8. Fishing Lake Kissimmee, Shakespeare caught his fish on a Texas-rigged CPF Lures trick worm in the dirty Albright color — named for Shakespeare’s team partner, Jerrod Albright, of Kissimmee, who holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 7-11.

“I used a small weight, fished it slow and let the trick worm do its magic,” Shakespeare said. “They were eating the bait funny, which was surprising because of (this week’s) warm up, so you definitely had to let them eat it.

“The first few just picked it up and put it back down, then I made a conscious effort to make sure they ate it for about three seconds before I set the hook. I caught two fish on back-to-back casts around 11:30 and then on my last cast, I culled.”

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for Big Toho Marina (Kissimmee Lakefront Park) at 7 a.m. ET. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3 p.m.

After Friday’s weigh-in, only the Top 10 pros will advance to Saturday’s championship round. The co-angler championship will be decided Friday.

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