Story by Curtis Niedermier, FLW
Buddy Gross says his experience on Lake Toho in Florida for the final round of the FLW Tour event last weekend was nothing but a blessing. Gross rolled down to the spot that produced 14 of the 15 keepers he brought to the scale to get into first place coming into today, and he quickly banged out about 18 or 19 pounds in the rain. There were some slow periods mixed in for Gross, but not slow enough to stop him. The Chickamauga, Ga., pro culled his way up to 23 pounds, 12 ounces to cap off an 85-12 performance to handily finish his second FLW Tour victory by a margin of 4-10 over John Cox, who led the first two days.
“I still can’t believe they were there like that,” Gross says. “It was crazy, dude. I am not but kidding you it was the craziest thing I’ve seen.”
Gross came down to Toho to pre-practice before the cutoff and spent the entire time graphing the grass to learn and how it all set up. He pieced together enough good-looking spots that it took him three days of official practice to fish them all. During that time, Gross found about 10 spots where he could get bit, but only the one really paid off for him. He did catch one kicker from a shallow ditch on the way in on day three.
The winning spot was on the main span of Lake Toho just north of the lock at the lake’s southern end. It was identifiable on the surface by a V-shaped notch in a grass mat. The notch was about 30 yards wide and jutted into the mat by about 50 yards. However, it’s what was below that was really key to Gross’ success.
“[It was] two ditches with clumps in the middle,” Gross says. “Those fish were sitting in the clumps, but there was 20-foot gaps in between each clump. They’d set up in them [the clumps]. I’ve never seen this before: I could take a swim jig and my swimbait, and usually if you come out of a clump you get bit, but this particular place here I’d throw it up on top of the farthest clump away from me, reel it through the open water where there’s no grass, and as soon as I’d hit the other clump, almost like a dead-end stop, they’d eat it right off the clump. The first day that I caught them it was in the ditch. After that everything was on the clumps.”
Though Gross describes the area as having two ditches, he says the “ditches” weren’t any deeper than the surrounding area. They were just open lanes with no grass. The entire spot was about 7 feet deep.
The spot produced both prespawn and postspawn fish. Interestingly, in a tournament that will be celebrated for its parade of 8-plus-pounders, not a single one of Gross’ keepers weighed more than 5 1/2 pounds in four days. He found giants in practice, but none in the tournament.
In the end, his victory was due to consistency and finding a spot that would reload with fish every day.
“Yesterday, I thought it was done, and I went there this morning and they fired,” Gross says. “It was a whole other school of fish. This thing was loading every day. It loaded yesterday more with postspawn fish. Today was all for the most part prespawn. I had one skinny [postspawn] fish there. If that thing had had a body on it, it would’ve been a 7-pounder.”
In practice, Gross fished a homemade swim jig exclusively. It was a 1/2-ounce model with a black-and-blue skirt and a green pumpkin Zoom Z-Craw trailer. The package was a perfect bream imitator.
“If you go out here on a calm day every clump of grass on this lake has got 5,000 bream in it, and they’re all sitting on top of it [the grass]. If you throw something close to them they just go everywhere.”
Gross left the dark bream imitator in his rotation and used it to try to get the fish to fire again when they stopped biting, but for whatever reason they would only bump it during the tournament.
His money-winning baits were the same swim jig with a white skirt and a 4-inch Scottsboro Tackle Co. Swimbait in the natural light color as a trailer, plus a 5- or 6-inch Scottsboro Tackle Co. Swimbait in the natural light color rigged on an 8/0 Owner Beast Flashy Swimmer 3/8-ounce belly-weighted hook, which has a small blade on its underside. The 5-inch bait was far more productive than the 6-incher. Gross figures he caught one keeper in the tournament on the dark swim jig, and the rest of his fish were split equally between the big swimbait and the white swim jig.
“When they quit biting the swimbait, it was almost like tricking them. It’s the craziest thing I ever saw,” he says. “The days they wouldn’t bite the swimbait, they’d crush the swim jig. The days I couldn’t get bit on the swim jig, they’d crush the swimbait.”
Unlike typical grass fishing, Gross didn’t have to rip his baits through the grass to get bites. He used the opposite approach and employed a slow-rolling presentation. When he made contact with grass, Gross just kept the bait coming. Erratic presentations didn’t produce any results.
To get bass out of the grass and into the boat, Gross fished with 50-pound-test braid on a Daiwa Tatula SV reel (7.3:1). He fished the swimbait on a 7-foot, 3-inch Fitzgerald Rods All Purpose Series extra-heavy rod, but dropped back to the same length and series in a heavy-action rod for the swim jig.
With another win already on his resume, Gross is just now getting into the real groove of the 2019 FLW Tour schedule for him. Next up is Lake Seminole, where he won a 2017 Costa FLW Series event. Then later in the spring are stops on two east Tennessee reservoirs: Cherokee and Chickamauga. Gross lives on Chickamauga.
It could be a big year for Buddy Gross.
“It [the win] is just going to carry a lot of momentum for me because I love Seminole,” Gross says. “If I have a favorite lake, even though I live on Chickamauga, my favorite lake is Seminole. It sets up good for me. It’s got a lot of the stuff I like to fish. I’m looking forward to it. I may not cash a check there, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Cashing a check would be great, but even if he doesn’t, Gross is already in good shape for the year. He’s $100,000 richer, and he’s the Lake Toho champion.
Top 10 pros
Buddy Gross – Chickamauga, Ga. – 85 – 12 (20) – $102,700
John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 81 – 2 (20) – $30,600
Darrell Davis – Dover, Fla. – 78 – 7 (20) – $25,000
Tommy Dickerson – Orange, Texas – 76 – 14 (20) – $20,000
Josh Douglas – Isle, Minn. – 72 – 8 (20) – $19,000
Wade Strelic – Alpine, Calif. – 71 – 4 (20) – $18,000
Joseph Webster – Winfield, Ala. – 66 – 0 (20) – $17,000
Scott Martin – Clewiston, Fla. – 65 – 10 (20) – $16,000
Aaron Britt – Yuba City, Calif. – 64 – 7 (19) – $15,000
Tyler Woolcott – Port Orange, Fla. – 64 – 3 (20) – $14,000