By Justin Brouillard | Photos by Tanner & Travis Lyons and Rob Connors
John Soukup added 22-pounds, 10-ounces to his total for his second win in just three events in the inaugural season on the National Professional Fishing League. With a total of 61-pounds, 15-ounces, Soukup increased his weight all three days of the tournament and dominated on Showdown Saturday.
“One thing people don’t know about me; I spent the last 13 years on a grass lake flipping like 4 days a week. This week I practiced offshore but I could never make it happen. By default, I went to the bank and it turns out the big ones like big weights.”
Big bass do like big weights and Soukup’s 7-pound, 6-ounce lunker anchored his second 20-pound bag in a row. Like other, Soukup employed a reaction style bite in the morning opting for a chatterbait to catch his fish. Once the sun came up, Soukup would pull out the big stick and go to work.
“I used my electronics to be my eyes under the water. I was punching a 1.5-ounce weight with a Big Bite Baits BFE Creature and a Trick Stick and a ¾-ounce weight to hit the edges of the Kissimmee grass. I was using 25-pound Sunline Meter fluorocarbon and the big fish just stop it, there is no bite. On Day two, I did catch two key fish and I tried the frog today for a little bit but I went back to the Denali 7’ 8” Denali IN 3 Series XH Flipping stick.”
With two wins now on the NPFL trail, Soukup proves he can win under any conditions. Utilizing his electronics helped seal his victory on Lake Eufaula and now this Florida win will keep Soukup within the top five in the Progressive AOY Standings with just three events remaining.
“I was fishing around guys in Big Harris all week and the key to getting the bigger bites flipping was understanding the fish and bait. When it was calm, you have to have needlefish and bluegills. If there was some chop, you had to be in an area with balls of shad. That’s where the electronics came in as I could see the bait fish. Every day I fished new water and rotated some of the better stretches.
I want to thanks The Bass Tank, XPress boats, Yamaha, Denali Rods, Sunline, Big Bite Baits, Spro, Gamkatsu Hooks, and Daiwa Reels and all of my sponsors.”
Jake Boomer began the day as the leader on the Harris Chain with 40-pounds, 7-ounces. With his limit of 13-pounds, 12-ounces, Boomer rotated between offshore and shallow bites to finish in 2nd place with a total of 54-pounds, 3-ounces. Boomer was reluctant to share too much information too soon despite leading both of the first two days. With a very specific game plan, any additional pressure on his sweet spot would have changed to protectory of the week.
“My biggest concern was that I was fishing an extremely popular area on a grass flat across from Johnson Point. They had sprayed most of the grass but I had located two smaller isolated patches that had not been sprayed. I would cast a crankbait around and check the grass that came back on the trebles. I could see how dense it was on the Humminbird 360 and there were some key fish there.”
Speaking of “key fish,” after only catching two 3-pounders in a few casts in practice. On day one, Boomer was able to wrangle a 6.5 and 4-pounder to anchor his first day catch. On day two, two more giants later in the day kept the Spokane Valley, WA angler in the top spot going into Showdown Saturday. Although day three yielded no more big bites on the grass flat, Boomer knows how important that sweet spot was for his tournament.
“I knew that spod had them but it got harder and harder every day. In practice it was easy to get bit, but each day it seemed like you had to be even more specific. I tried to keep it quiet cause one angler going through there and this event is way different for me. On day two, I got three bites, and I had to change the chatterbait or they wouldn’t eat it. I got one on a Strike King Thunder Cricket, one on a Jackhammer, and one on a Stealth Jackhammer. I only could get 2-3 bites a day and you had to have the perfect cast. You could tell they were smart and used to pressure. Those fish carried me for the event, and I wouldn’t have even had a shot without that grass bed.”
Boomer also rotated through flipping grass and had isolated brush piles as well. The pressure on those areas with lots of competitors and locals around, took its toll. After several guys watched him catch a 6.5-pounder on the second day, the leader never got another bite there the rest of the event.
“On the final day, the sun actually came out but we didn’t have the wind we were supposed to. I stuck with my ‘junkin’ plan and flipped with everyone else. I caught a 6-pounder flipping, it wasn’t on live, I caught it just after the stream went down and that was the $20,000 fish – it anchored my whole day. I fished behind guys all three days.”
Pressure on the Kissimmee grass also caught up with not only Boomer but several of the top ten guys. Boomer opted for a heavy weight and with lot of guys flipping senkos, he opted for a smaller bait – a Jaboom Baits Beaver Ballz.
“I didn’t name that bait to be clear,” laughed Boomer. “That smaller profile and bigger weight was key to getting some of those grass fish. I could see them up in the mats and the quick fall would trigger them. The other thing was, when you flipped in there, if you hit the grass, you may as well reel it up and move on. They were so smart but that last day I really needed a big bite and I caught that one.”
Boomer had two rods this week and both the chatterbait and flipping presentation were using his own Alpha Angler rods.
“I threw the chatterbaits on the Alpha Chatterbound 7’2” rod with a 7.0:1 reel and 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon. The flipping deal was an Alpha Heavy Hitter, 7.5:1 reel, 50-pound Suffix Performance Braid and a ¾-ounce weight. It was an awesome week.”
Starting the day in the 10th spot, Keith Carson added 16-pounds, 15-ounces to his total for a three-day total of 50-pounds, 4-ounces. Carson worked the shallows of the Harris Chain combining a flipping bite and topwater bite to finish in 3rd place.
“My plan coming into this event was to fish Kissimmee grass like a lot of guys but the wind blew and they just didn’t bite. I ended up leaving to find some calmer water and went to catch 12-pounds and survive and cut a check.”
Fishing pockets and creeks on the South end of Lake Harris, Carson mixed between flipping a Berkley Creature Hog and buzzing a Berkly Wind Up across shallow grass to catch his fish.
“That worm is kind of something different and it really fired them up. It’s a reaction bite compares to slower topwater baits and they have only a second to decide if they want to bite or not – they smash it. I had about 40 bites a day but only hooked 10 to 12 bass.”
With a low catch ratio comes lots of swings and misses. Carson will take it as his goal of 15-pounds a day this week tuned into almost 19-pounds on day one, 14.5-pounds on day two, and almost 17-pounds on day three.
“I kept rotating creeks every day and covering water. I was throwing that worm on a 7’ 6” Abu Garcia Fantasista with a high speed Revo Premier reel spooled with 40-pound Berkley X5 braid. It’s absolutely huge to have a top ten finish before headed to the Texas and Lake Lay Roberts to fish the Bassmaster Classic.”
With his lowest weight of the week, Bryan Smith caught 13-pounds, 6-ounces on the final day to finish the event in 4th place with a total weight of 5-pounds, 4-ounces. Utilizing a mix of techniques, Smith capitalized on his bites and fished his strengths this week for a top five finish.
“I fished the same area today and first thing this morning I got fortunate to pull up to fish busting shad. I picked up a Strike King swim jig and went to work around that Kissimmee grass. I caught 3 keepers quick and one good one.”
When the bite died, it was back to business with the crankbait. Smith spent all three days starting his morning covering water with a Strike King 1.5 squarebill crankbait. Targeting hard targets shallow, the Roseville, California pro would get a solid limit before getting back to the flipping bite.
“I was basically fishing docks, walls, and cypress trees with that crankbait and it was frustrating as you had to make multiple casts. Every now and then you could get one to get it but it was great to have that to start each day. I was able to finish my limit this morning on the crankbait but the flipping bite totally died on me.”
Smith opted to spend his event in Harris fishing shallow after the offshore bite yielded lots of small fish in practice.
“I do similar stuff on Clear Lake back home and I am just very comfortable with it. I tried fishing offshore but after catching only small fish, I opted to stay shallow all week. For the squarebill, I went with a bigger rod this week – a Dobyns Champion 764CB with 15-pound fluorocarbon. We are in the land of the giants and I wanted to have as much control over the bigger fish and that longer rod allowed me to do it.”
For the Progressive AOY Leader Nick Prvonozac, the first two days of competition will be easy to forget about. Weighing in bags of 14-pounds, 2-ounces and 13-pounds, 2-ounces, Prvonzac smashed 21-pounds, 12-ounces on the final day to finish the event in 5th place.
“The first day, I had 14-pounds but I lost two big ones and easily could have had 19-pounds. Day two, I fished the day stuff but I got in a bad rotation. I spoke to some other anglers who were fishing some of the same areas and it seems like they caught them before I got there.”
Third time is a charm, right? The Warren, Ohio pro kept his cool and went back to work on day three in a big way. Starting shallow with a chatterbait to begin each day, when the sun came up around 11AM, Prvonozac got to flipping and broke 20-pounds for the first time this week.
“Today, I did the exact same thing, same rotation, and I didn’t lose any fish. I stayed in Harris all week and was using the chatterbait and flipping a Yum Christie Craw. Today I had a 6-pounder, a 5-pounder, and another one that was around 4-pounds.”
With AOY on his mind, Prvonozac set a goal before the event and rallied in a big way to take some of the pressure off. After landing in the 20’s on the leaderboard after the first couple days, a big Showdown Saturday was an answered prayer.
“I was thinking about AOY for sure. I just wanted to stay within check range and not bomb. If you finish in the 50’s or 60’s against these guys, there is no way. I was thinking before the season that the top 20 in each event would probably get it done. This week, I prayed a lot and the lord blessed me. I am headed to Pickwick after the event and I’ll get to work again. I have a little history fishing offshore there and I am looking forward to it.”
David Gaston began the day in second place and adds 8-pounds, 5-ounces today for a three-day total of 48-pounds, 7-ounces to finish in 6th place. Although today was the slowest of all three days , Gaston is happy how the week played out.
“I was making the trip to Lake Griffen all week and it was about an hour. I scrapped my practice and went shallow to throw a frog. The first two days I had some chop on the water and those big fish just ate it. Today, I had one big bite and lost it, and ended with 5 rats. I anticipated a breeze today and when I got down there it didn’t blow at all. I am happy to finish where I did after practice.”
See the Full Leaderboard, here.
Best of the Rest:
7th Dale Prinkey 47-Pounds, 9-Ounces
8th Robby Frazier 47-Pounds, 9-Ounces
9th Bryan Tyler 47-Pounds, 6-Ounces
10th Joel Willert 46-Pounds, 11-Ounces