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BASS anglers hook record catches on Lake Toho 24 Jan 2001
By Rick Pedone, Osceola News-Gazette Staff Writer
Dean Rojas had a great week.

The Arizona fisherman set a BASS Masters record with a total catch of 108-12 pounds to win the $110,000 first prize at the BASS Top 150 tournament on Kissimmee’s West Lake Toho Saturday.

That shattered the previous record of 91 pounds, 3 ounces for a four-day, five fish limit BASS tournament.

But, as good as it was for Rojas, the big winner will almost certainly be the local fishing industry, because four days
of record-setting catches cemented the Kissimmee chain’s place among the great places to catch big fish.

“You hear about California having all these big bass, but they don’t have squat compared to this lake,” said Rojas at Saturday’s weigh in at the Kissimmee lakefront.

It’s those comments, and plenty of others by the nation’s leading fishermen, that have to bring smiles to the faces of local tourism officials.

“These fishermen come in here with a lot of big catches, and that information is going out all over the country,” said Larry White of the Kissimmee-St. Cloud Tourism Development Council. “It was a great week. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened.”

Rojas broke the BASS record for a one-day catch with 45-2 pounds on the first day of the tournament. He pulled in over 35 pounds on the second day and held a commanding 18-pound lead going into the final day of the tournament Saturday, when the top 10 fishermen battled for first prize in the $430,000 event.

As it turned out, Rojas didn’t’t need to catch a fish on the final day, but he still brought in 15 pounds to guarantee
the victory.

Mark Davis, a two-time BASS champion, finished second and won more than $40,000 with 93 pounds, 10 ounces. That also broke the previous BASS tournament record. Davis had a 41-10 catch in the second round Thursday, and like Rojas, said he was amazed at the fishing on Lake Toho.

“I don’t think I’ve been on a lake like this,” he said. “I congratulate Dean on what he did in catching over 100 pounds. I didn’t think I would ever see that in a tournament.”

Shaw Grigsby Jr. of Gainesville, last year’s Top 150 champion, placed fifth (75-4) this year, and like the other pros,
he said that the Kissimmee Chain offers tremendous fishing opportunities.

“This is a fantastic fishery. They have done a great job of bringing these lakes back to what they used to be with
the draw downs,” said Grigsby. “This is what fishing was like when I was growing up, and it’s getting back to that again. They have done a wonderful job here.”

California’s Aaron Martens finished third at 85-15 and won $28,000. Jay Yates (80-1) was fourth, collecting $15,000. After Grigsby, the rest of the top 10 were David Walker (73-7), Timmy Horton (65-5), John Sappington (64-12), Carroll Hagood of Auburndale (64-7) and Jim Bitter of Fruitland Park (60-0).

Cloudy, cold and windy weather halted the mega-catches over the final two days of the tournament, or the records may have soared even higher. There were more than a dozen 30-pound stringers brought to the scales
during the first two days of the tournament, but none after the cold front pushed in Friday and Saturday.

“It made it a lot harder to sight fish, but fortunately I was able to find a 6-pounder and bring it in,” said Rojas about Saturday’s final round. “With guys like Mark Davis and Shaw Grigsby behind you, you can never relax. I was nervous that someone was going to find a lot of big fish and catch me.”

The tournament is scheduled to be televised by ESPN2 April 6 at 6 p.m., said White.

“It is part of the BASS series on that network,” he said. “That is certainly going to give the area good exposure.”

That publicity may translate into a large inflow of cash if more amateur fishermen are attracted to local lakes. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission estimates that fresh water fishermen spend nearly $2 billion
annually in Florida. Over $336 million in state sales tax revenue is derived from outdoors activities. The 1999 BASS Top 150, according to commission figures, injected over $800,000 into the local economy and generated 1,800 room nights at local hotels.