“I know what they do when it’s cold”

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“I know what they do when it’s cold”

Zach Goutremout would rather be smallmouth fishing.That's not surprising, given he lives in upstate New York where those feisty bites are king.But i

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Zach Goutremout would rather be smallmouth fishing.

That’s not surprising, given he lives in upstate New York where those feisty bites are king.

But in central Florida, largemouth bass rule the day. Every day.

So Goutremout was pleasantly surprised with the 16-pound, 2-ounce limit he caught Thursday on Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. It wasn’t the biggest bag of
the day, that honor going to Arkansas’ Joey Cifuentes III who hooked a haul of 28-10, but it put Goutremout in sixth place, a great start to the first Open tournament of the 2022 Bassmaster season. More importantly, it proved he could employ his offshore strengths on a fishery that’s vastly different from the 1,000 Islands/St. Lawrence River water he calls home.

“Florida has kicked my butt the past few years,” he said, shortly after weighing on Day 1 at Big Toho
Marina. “And honestly, this was the best practice I’ve ever had down here…I fish in the cold. I know
what they do when it’s cold.”

It certainly wasn’t cold in the Sunshine State on Thursday, with temperatures hovering in the mid 80s. But last weekend brought the first freeze in recent memory, and that threw the Florida bass bite for a loop. Nearly every angler said practice was difficult at best, pitiful at worst.

Fishing on Day 1 turned out much better than expected, but it wasn’t dominated by the usual spawn bite seen in January and February in these parts. Goutremout was one of many competitors who caught fish offshore on Thursday, his luck turning on one special area he found during the final practice round a day earlier.

He also drew Boat No. 3, which allowed him lock down into the chain’s lower lakes, thereby escaping the crowd on Toho. A total of 225 boats are on the water in the Southern Open. “I knew I was fishing offshore either way, and I really wanted to go back to that spot I found yesterday,” he said. “With my boat number, I figured ‘Why not?’ Good choice.

“I had a limit by about 9 a.m. and I caught my second biggest, another 4-pounder, on the last cast of the day,” Goutremout said. “I only culled three times.”

Most anglers with early take-off times chose to lock down into lakes Kissimmee, Hatchineha and Cypress, the other major lakes in the Kissimmee Chain. It got them out of the knot of boats that choked Toho on Thursday, but with a 45-minute run one way through the lock, it wasn’t an easy commitment to make.

Georgia pro Logan Shaddix drew Boat 5. He locked down, eventually catching a 14-14 limit in Hatchineha, good enough for 12 th place overall. “As of yesterday, I was going to stay on Toho which had been real tough in practice. But I was with the first group in the lock this morning, and we caught all our fish within the first hour and half of fishing.”

Like Goutremout, it was a run he almost had to make.

“That cold front over the weekend hit them in the head everywhere,” he said. “I felt like I had to make the run. If I’m not Boat 5, I probably fish in Toho all day and I had absolutely no luck there in practice.”  That was the mantra repeated by almost every angler during practice, but then Cifuenetes and others started catching lunkers in Toho on Thursday. With an apparent bounty only minutes from the marina, anglers may change their thinking.

Longtime pro Charlie Hartley is not one of them. The Ohio resident winters in central Florida and said he’ll take his chances on Toho, regardless of angling pressure. He’s off to a solid start, with a 13-11 limit, placing him 18 th of 225 anglers in the boater division.

“I had a 20-pound bag in Toho last Wednesday in a local tournament,” he said. “I’m still fishing offshore.  My first spot today didn’t work out, but the second spot did. As soon as we got there, it was on. And I think it might be again tomorrow. Someone’s gonna’ hit them big before this one is over.” Cifuentes already did, and now the rest of the field will try to follow suit.

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