Van Soles Wins Lake Toho BASS Southern Open

Van Soles has been on a big-time roll at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in recent months. The 32-year-old insurance agent from Haines City, Fla. has caught a lot of big fish and pocketed a lot of cash in local events. He notched his biggest triumph to date over the weekend as he rallied from 6th place on the final day to win the Lake Toho Bassmaster Southern Open. The victory represents the fulfillment of a lifetime goal - all he has to do is show up for the two remaining derbies on the circuit to claim a berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. He was in 30th place after day 1, then made massive moves on the succeeding 2 days to finish with a 50-15 total, which was 1-13 better than the mark posted by runner-up Phillip Cury. His 21-09 haul on the final day was the second-biggest of the event, topped only by Todd Auten's 22-10 stringer on day 1. Fish that weighed in excess of 9 pounds anchored his day-2 and day-3 sacks as he bested a 200-angler field dotted with tour-level pros and local heavy-hitters. In addition to the Classic slot, he went home with nearly $50,000 in cash. Soles practiced on the Sunday and Monday before the event, and then put in a half-day on Tuesday (Wednesday was devoted to his day job). "I was able to find some key areas on those days that I ended up catching some fish in," he said. "It gave me an idea of what I needed to be looking for and helped me focus in on some of the little details that ended up making a big difference." His primary takeaway was that he needed to concentrate on heavy cover, as it was obvious that the water temperature would remain in the 50s throughout the event. The chilly weather that the Sunshine State was experiencing was undoubtedly the primary reason why the overall weights for the tournament were considerably lower than anticipated. "On that chain, when it gets over 60, the fish tend to be a little more active and they'll try to get into the spawning mode. Under 60, they'll just hunker down under the thickest cover they can find." That meant he'd spend his competition days either pitching to or punching matted vegetation, mostly in Lake Kissimmee. All 15 of his weigh-in fish were enticed by the same bait presented on the same setup.

Competition:

Soles got off to a sluggish start on day 1 and it resulted in his lightest bag - by far - of the event. "It took me awhile to get into the rhythm of the day," he said. "There were a few jitters there and I was in one of the early flights, and I think I was a little bit overexcited. "I also didn't anticipate the heavy winds (in excess of 20 mph from the northeast) and they muddied up some of my primary areas. But I said a few prayers and the next thing I knew, the wind laid down." He got two 5-pound-class bites that day, but only one made it into his livewell. "The other one broke me off and I thought that was really going to cost me. Thankfully it didn't make a difference in the end." The wind was even stiffer on day 2, so he shifted his focus to some protected areas that he knew would contain relatively clean water. His first fish of the day was a 10-pound brute and he picked up another keeper before encountering a 3-hour dry spell. He ran to another locale and caught his third keeper, then got his fourth from yet another place a short while later. He eventually had to leave Kissimmee and head back to Toho with only those four in the box, but fortunately managed to fill out his limit with a 13-incher from near the launch ramp with 5 minutes to go. He moved up 24 places on the leaderboard, but knew he'd need even more weight on day 3 to have a shot at the win. "I had to have 20 pounds, at least, so I just decided to go out and do all I could and leave it all on the lake," he said. "I went to an area that I hadn't fished at all in the tournament because it was getting beaten up by the wind, but the wind let up on day 3." That place, which featured a lot of hydrilla, didn't produce. However, some nearby locales did. "I saw some other matted vegetation on the shore that looked really good. The first fish I got was a 9 and I caught them really good there. By 10 o'clock I had a really nice bag of fish." He tried to improve upon it throughout the remainder of the day while also aiding his co-angler, but was unsuccessful. "I would've liked to have had a little insurance, but I wasn't able to do that. I had a few on, but I lost them. "I thought I had a decent shot (at winning) just based on how low the weights had been. I figured I has as good a chance as anyone."

Winning Gear:

Pitching/punching gear: 7'11" heavy-action Halo XXX flipping rod, Lew's Speed Spool casting reel (7:1 ratio), 65-pound PowerPro braided line, 1 1/2-ounce Elite Tungsten weight (pegged by Jethro Baits bobber stop), 3/0 Cobra Heavy Cover Flippin' Hook, Gambler BB Cricket (emerald blue, black/blue flake or Bowen silver shadow).

Main factor: "Just slowing down. On day 2 I realized I was fishing too fast when (his co-angler) caught a 5-pounder and a 3 behind me. I had to really pick everything apart - pitch to a spot, and then pitch 10 inches to the right or left of that spot until I'd covered the whole area. I need to remember that when I think I'm going slow enough, I need to go even slower."

Performance edge: "The most useful tools I had were my Power-Poles. They allowed me to stop the boat and make those pitches without having the wind blow me all over the place. I couldn't imagine fishing in those conditions without them."

Toho Open Winning Pattern Bassfan 1/29/14 (John Johnson)