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Team USA Bass Qualifiers Determined at ICAST Cup

The team tournament was the unofficial kickoff to trade-show week in Orlando.

Team USA Bass Qualifiers Determined at ICAST Cup

On a mid-July Florida morning that went from steamy sunshine to thunderstorms, the PDS Equipment team of Steve Weist, Christian Bellomo and Trevor Bates rode a magical morning of fishing to the 2023 ICAST Cup title. On the day, and fishing in the southern reaches of Lake Toho, the trio caught more than 30 bass and weighed in three fish at 17 pounds, 3 ounces to claim the derby's hardware. (Photo courtesy of ICAST Cup / MLF)

For some who are attending ICAST 2023 in the land of Mickey and his Disney friends, the annual trade actually means real fishing. And at one of the nation's best bass waters, no less.

The ICAST Cup, which included 46 teams vying for the championship on Lake Toho, was the unofficial start to ICAST Week in Orlando. After gathering at the Kissimmee Lakefront Park before dawn, the teams—most having three members, including media members and a few pros like Shaw Grigsby and J.T. Kenney sprinkled in—the tournament motored out of Big Toho Marina in the early morning light.

While mid-July doesn't seem like the best time to catch a lunker at Toho, Tuesday’s result proved you can catch big lunkers pretty much year-round in Florida.

This year was no different as the PDS Equipment team of Steve Weist, Christian Bellomo and Trevor Bates weighed in a three-bass limit at 17 pounds, 3 ounces, an average of nearly six-pound per fish.

A step behind was the Bull Bay Rods team of Jake Stines, Corey Ash and media rep Peter Gluszek, who finished in the runner-up spot with 15 pounds even, including the day's big bass that weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces. Rounding out the Top 5 was the Stinky Balls team in third (Aidan Olf and Scott McDonald at 13-8, including a 7-1. big bass), Rusty Hooks Tackle in fourth (Jimmy Wilson, Shane Linberger and David Winters with 12-7) and Boat Outfitters in fifth (Donnie Ewers, Christian Greico and Anastasia Patterson with 12-6, including a 6-15 big bass).

The highest-finishing team of female anglers was Rhonda Pitts and Emily Freeman, with the pair earning their spot on Team USA Bass at the 2024 Pan American Bass Fishing Championship. The two will now get ready to compete later this year alongside Jacob Wheeler, the Bass Pro Tour veteran who is the No. 1-ranked bass pro in the world according to the most recent BassFan pro rankings.

According to Major League Fishing, the opportunity for Pitts and Freeman came about after USA Bass partnered with MLF and Keep America Fishing to award the top-finishing women’s pair at the ICAST Cup a spot on the 2024 team. With a three-fish limit weighing 9-2, the pair of anglers secured their spot on the team.

According to ICAST Cup presenter Major League Fishing, the big winner in the four-hour long derby , hosted by Kissimmee Sports, was actually Keep America Fishing, the fishing industry's angler advocacy program. This year's event raised $9,200. More than $81,000 has been raised in the tpournament’s nine-year run.

tournament-winning women anglers
As the highest-finishing team of female anglers, Rhonda Pitts and Emily Freeman used a strong day of fishing at Tuesday’s ICAST Cup to earn two spots on Team USA Bass when it competes later this year at the 2024 Pan American Bass Fishing Championship. The pair earned the honor of fishing with the team and members like world No. 1 Jacob Wheeler after weighing three bass at 9 pounds, 2 ounces. (Photo courtesy of ICAST Cup / MLF)

The overall winning team of Weist, Bellomo and Bates told the crowd of onlookers how their great morning went from start to finish. “We said a quick prayer, then went out there and just put the hammer down,” Bellomo said. “It was so much fun. Thank you guys for putting this event together.”




“We came down to pre-fish yesterday and didn’t do very well, but we started out today offshore on some submerged grass and were able to start putting fish in the boat as soon as we rolled up,” Weist told MLF. “We threw a lot of different baits and were able to catch them on pretty much anything we were throwing at them – they were just ready to eat.”

Part of that may have been due to the stormy weather in central Florida, arriving just after the ICAST Cup was completed.

“We had certain bite windows throughout the morning, where we would catch three or four fish at a time, then go 20 minutes or so without a bite, then catch three or four more," noted Bates. "All in all, we ended the tournament with 30 to 35 fish and our best five would have been around 25 pounds, so it was an amazing day on the water."

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While some teams locked down to Cypress Lake, the PDS Equipment team stayed on the southern end of Toho.

“This win is just a great feeling,” said Bates. “We come to this event every year and you always hear about guys catching these ‘Florida big bags’ and you just wonder when you’re going to have one of those days – and today it was our turn.

“We come to this trade show every year, selling equipment that prints on some of the top favorite baits within the industry,” said Bates. “We started coming to the show because we love fishing and wanted to work with the companies in this industry, so being able to compete against those guys and represent PDS Equipment, and do it well, is an amazing feeling.”

On a mid-summer day, everyone in the crowd could agree with that sentiment. Because sometimes in the middle of Florida, the magic happens and dreams do come true, even for bass anglers attending ICAST.

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