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When word came that the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup would be held on Florida's Lake Istokpoga, most observers immediately penciled in Floridians Bobby Lane and Shaw Grigsby as pre-tournament favorites.
Not so fast says Grigsby, who lives in Gainesville.
"I fished here one time with my dad back in the early '90s," said the nine-time winner on the B.A.S.S. tournament trail with nearly $2 million in career earnings to his credit.
"But literally, in modern times, no, I haven't been here. (That experience) was over 20 years ago."
But even without any recent personal experience on Istokpoga, living in the Sunshine State, Grigsby admits that he's very aware of the 28,000-acre lake's reputation.
"I do know that it's an incredible bass lake," said Grigsby, a Championship Round finalist earlier last fall at New York's Chautauqua Lake.
"(It's only) next to Okeechobee or maybe it is even better than Okeechobee, so you've got two great, great lakes right here and I'm excited about getting out there."
Especially given the fact that these fish should be moving towards pre-spawn and feeding actively.
"It is (almost pre-spawn) and they'll start spawning here (soon)," said Grigsby. "In fact, over at Okeechobee, I'd suspect that there's fish spawning right now, that have just started. They'll pull up some (here) on the new moon that's coming up.”
Grigsby said the spawning season in southern Florida can literally go on for months.
"They'll start as early as October (down here) and go as late as June," he said. "I've even caught one on the Fourth of July spawning in Florida. So yeah, they're pre-spawn."
Unlike the previous MLF events where big fish never really came into play, Grigsby suspects things could work out differently here.
"It's going to be a really good time (to fish)," he said. "The likelihood of catching a giant is there and of it being really big is there so I'm kind of excited."
With so much experience fishing in Florida, does that help Grigsby or hinder him against anglers who may hit the water at Istokpoga with more of an open mind?
"I don't know," he said. "I would hope that it helps, that's the way that I would look at it. You hope it helps but you never know. You may think that one thing is going to work and get out there and it's not (working).
"We'll just have to find out when (I) get out there."
Since he knows Florida bass so well, will Grigsby pay any extra attention to the leader board and what the rest of the first round field is doing?
Grigsby says perhaps so.
"They pretty much have their strengths and everybody in here, I've pretty much fished against for years and years," he said. "I know their strengths and hopefully that will help out. If somebody is catching them, I'll probably have an idea of what they are doing."
Zone 6: 8.4 miles primary shoreline, 0.9 miles island shoreline, 5,836 acres
If Grigsby has little to no experience on Istokpoga, that can't be said for the other Floridian in the field, Bobby Lane of Lakeland.
"Yeah, I've got a lot of experience on this lake," said Lane, a one-time winner on the B.A.S.S. circuit. "It's not my home lake, but it's about an hour from the house."
In fact, it seems clear that the Floridian loves this lake and believes that MLF commissioner Don Rucks and other Major League Fishing officials made a great decision with this tournament location.
"I was just glad," said Lane. "It was a lake that I knew. If they were going to go to East Lake or Toho, that's not a real good lake for me because I fish Kissimmee (all the time)."
Other than his home water or Okeechobee, Lane says he couldn't have been more pleased with the pick of Istokpoga.
"If I would have had one pick other than those two other lakes, it would have been Istokpoga," he smiled.
One reason for that big grin is the chance of catching a really giant Florida bass.
"This is a lake that when you want to come catch a great big fish, you come to Lake Istokpoga," said Lane.
"If you want to catch numbers and quality of fish, you go to Okeechobee and of course my home lake of Kissimmee. It's just all in all a great chain of lakes around here."
How will Istokpoga fish in late October?
"I'm pretty sure we're going to see some big fish today," said Lane. "It's not ideal time of the year to be here but it's the right time of the year to catch some good fish. We've got a little cooler weather, a little wind blowing and that's ideal conditions for fishing conditions for Florida (in the fall) and I think (it will be good)."
Maybe for the rest of the field, that is, but Lane says not necessarily for himself.
"The zone that we're going (today) is one of the zones that I've actually never done well in," he said. "Or maybe it's just that I don't fish it much. I don't know what's there this year. I normally fish about every other spot in the lake except the zone that we're going to today."
But Lane isn't worried and plans to fall back on his vast experience at mining big bass out of Florida fisheries.
"I know how to fish Florida, I enjoy fishing Florida, so I'm looking to have a good day," he said. "And I think these other guys will be surprised when we get out there.
"Hopefully we can get to see what this lake has got the potential of having."
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