Back to Bass-ics

    By Steve Heisler

    Excellent bass fishing makes the Kissimmee area a perfect outing for the day.

    Time to get down to basics, or, in this case, bass-ics. Sure, you're close to the wonders of Disney, but focus on the natural wonders of Kissimmee: the fishin'.

    And we aren't just hoping to land a blue gill or crappie. We're talking bass, as in the biggest lunkers this side of Lake Okeechobee, monsters in the 13-pound range.

    OK, so shooting for the real big-'uns might be unrealistic. But from Big Lake Toho to Lake Kissimmee and beyond, there's always the chance to do battle with and land a record fish. So why not aim high?

    Best Results from a Boat

    Through Lake Toho 's shallow grass flats, with Paradise Island and Makinson Island in the distance, there's no better way to reel in a big one than from a boat. Dropping a line off Kissimmee's Neptune Road Bridge may produce results and the fish feeder off the Big Toho Marina dock located next to Lakefront Park, also in Kissimmee, provides fertile ground for land-bound families. But the best option for fun fishing is a full or half-day trip with an experienced guide.

    And on Lake Toho, of the 20 guides who ply its 22,000 acres, Skip Campbell offers the most endearing combination of fish wisdom and humor. Sunburned, with white hair spilling from beneath a baseball cap framing craggy features, Campbell looks like a grandfather - which he is.

    "I kind of specialize in kids," says the grandfather of 10. "A six-year-old kid (fishing) said 'I'm a soccer player. I fish 'cuz it makes my dad feel good.'"

    Campbell chuckles as he slows into grass flats, cormorants scattering. He yanks a shiner from the bait well in his bass boat, casts and hands me the rod.

    The bobber disappears and a pickerel gives a tug before spitting the hook. Seconds later, a seven-pound bass bites before the same result.

    "You really want to jack him good," Campbell advises. "You've got to pop them or they'll hurt you every time."

    Armed with that advice, several casts later I land a three-pounder, the sandpaper-like interior of its mouth visible before Campbell tosses it back.

    We fish the rest of the afternoon in companionable silence. As the setting sun's rays break through clouds to illuminate wheeling gulls, I catch a two-pound bass. It puts an exclamation point on the first day fishing.

    Campbell laughs about one regular, a farmer whose past success makes him hard to please.

    "He's caught a 13-pound bass," he muses. "How you gonna top that?"

    Lake Kissimmee is "Catching"

    The only way might be a visit to Lake Kissimmee. Acknowledged as the "hot lake," the 35,000-acre estuary is guide Rob Murchie's domain.

    Murchie acknowledges that some fish from the lake's banks or wade fish, although most opt for a few hours in his 20-foot light tackle bass boat. Its 150hp motor pushes us away from Kenansville's Overstreet Landing. As we troll in a circle, an alligator is visible nearby; an egret picks through the shallows.

    Coupled with a few lively shiners, rising water temperatures and better hook setting, a hectic afternoon results. I land a one-and-a-quarter-pound "buck" bass, a male, first. The rod is yanked high moments later, line flying, until a 21-inch, six-pound bass is wrestled into the boat.

    "A smaller fish you'll surf in," Murchie explains as he baits a shiner. "If you get a hit, put her at 10 o'clock and crank her for all you've got."

    Following a full day on the water, a few more stops were in order. At Richardson 's Fish Camp, boats crisscrossed Lake Toho and a few fishermen were visible casting from the shore. Anglers can also cast from East Lake Fish Camp on East Lake Toho or the point at Lakefront Park in St. Cloud.

    Despite the lure of the restaurant at East Lake, another St. Cloud landmark beckoned. The Catfish Place has featured native Florida fare and freshly caught catfish for four decades.

    Enjoying some alligator nuggets and succulent catfish I reflected on the full day's events.