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Last fall was an amazing time for bass fishing legend Denny Brauer.
To start with, the newly minted Texas resident - transplanted there after a lifetime of Missouri winters - called it a career shortly after the Chautauqua Lake event.
Just days after Brauer's latest triumph, he told the angling world that he was "semi-retiring" and riding off into a Lone Star State sunset near his Del Rio home on Lake Amistad.
Fans of Jack Links' Major League Fishing will remember that Brauer victory very well.
That's because Brauer put on a dock-fishing, flipping-bite clinic to win in going-away fashion on New York's Lake Chautauqua at the 2013 General Tire Summit Cup.
A win that should mean that Brauer has nothing to prove on southern Florida's Lake Istokpoga, right?
Think again pardoner.
Because even after a total of 19 tournament wins (MLF Summit Cup, 17 B.A.S.S. wins, and one FLW win); a total of 90 career Top-10 finishes; some $2.7 million in combined career earnings; 21 Bassmaster Classic appearances and the 1998 Classic title; the 1987 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title and the 1998 FLW Angler of the Year title; and being the first pro angler to ever have his picture on a box of Wheaties cereal; Brauer still has a burning desire to win when he puts his boat in the water.
Particularly in the state of Florida where Brauer has zero wins and only two Top-10 finishes.
"Well, normally, Florida and I don't get along pretty good," laughed Brauer. "We normally have wintertime tournaments (down here) and early spring tournaments and you're dealing with so many fronts."
But the longtime Strike King pro did manage a smile as he recalled some of his limited successes in the Sunshine State.
"The couple of times I have fished in Florida (in the fall), it has treated me real well," said Brauer. "(I'm) looking forward to this event because of the past experience I do have here in the fall. That was mainly on Okeechobee, but I'm sure this will fish very similar."
Brauer can certainly hope so since he finished in sixth place at the October 2003 B.A.S.S. Southern Open event on Okeechobee with a total of 46.15 pounds.
Zone 4: 6.6 miles primary shoreline, 2.5 miles island shoreline, 4,211 acres
Like Okeechobee, this event’s locale of Istokpoga is loaded with thousands of acres of good looking water.
Because of that, Brauer says that the key for him is to eliminate unproductive spots quickly.
"That's the toughest part of fishing in Florida because you've got so much habitat and they're not going to be everywhere," he said.
"They are going to be in those little bitty areas (that are good). The only way you can find them is to fish, fish, fish until you get a bite and then you can sit down in that area and be very, very thorough."
Brauer said that isn't always the easiest thing to do ... unless you're from Florida and understand the fisheries and how to successfully mine them for bass.
"Some of these Florida guys (can) pick out those little areas that look different," he said. "To (the rest of) us they look the same. (But they) do well because (they figure out) those little bitty things (that make a difference) down here."
What are those little bitty things that Brauer is speaking of?
"It can be (something like) a couple of different types of vegetation that meet," he said. "So it is very, very hard to figure out."
Because of those subtle nuances, Brauer says that Florida is among the most difficult water that the pros launch their boats onto each year.
Unless, of course, your name happens to be Bobby Lane or Shaw Grigsby, the two MLF pros who call the Sunshine State home.
"It (Florida) is the hardest thing that we fish," said Brauer.
Brauer admits that he hasn't always felt that way.
"When I first started out in my career, I thought tidewater was the hardest (water to fish)," he said.
"But after 30-something years of fishing, Florida has probably treated me as bad as anywhere else. It's because I don't totally understand it. It's always a very intriguing deal because of all of the habitat (here)."
Given the early feeding habits of Florida bass, will first-period success prove to be much more important for the MLF pros than it did during the previous two events?
"Normally, there is a topwater bite going on (early) and you want to capitalize on that," said Brauer. "You need to get up (early) and keep going."
With the recent front and a gathering tropical system to the south of Florida, that idea may prove to be especially true on Elimination Day Two.
"The wind is usually important in Florida, but if you get too much wind, it starts to dirty up the water and you're not going to catch them in dirty water," said Brauer.
"In Florida, you need to find that clean water, so it (the wind), is kind of a double-edged sword and you need to capitalize on that early bite or you're going to be behind."
Something that Brauer, Major League Fishing's most recent event champion, doesn't plan on having happen at Lake Istokpoga.
After all, he's got a score to settle with the Sunshine State's legendary largemouth bass.
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