Keyso does it old-school for breakthrough win at Harris Chain

Keyso does it old-school for breakthrough win at Harris Chain

At long last, Mikey Keyso finished in first in a Toyota Series event. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Mikey Keyso.

MARCH 21, 2024 • JODY WHITE • TOYOTA SERIES

LEESBURG, Fla. – The final day of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event on the Harris Chain of Lakes was stressful for everyone in the hunt. On the run back to the ramp, most of the top five probably thought they’d given away a chance at a win. But, while nobody slammed the door, Mikey Keyso did enough, building on a huge Day 2 to earn his first Toyota Series win after three runner-up finishes.

Weighing in 13 pounds, 7 ounces on the final day, Keyso totaled 51-4 for the win, finishing ahead of Conner DiMauro and taking advantage of Bobby Bakewell’s stumble. For the win, Keyso pocketed $44,000 as well as qualification to the lucrative Toyota Series Championship this fall.

Keyso uses Griffin, Dora and Eustis

Each morning, the whole field was faced with difficult decisions about where to run. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Heading into the event, many predicted that no one lake would dominate competition. If it was easy and quick to get to Lake Apopka, things may have been different, but considering all the factors in play, it looked likely the winner would need to cobble it together. Keyso did it to perfection – starting in Griffin, he did his Day 2 damage in Dora and ended up icing the win in Eustis.

“I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew with the wind blowing like it was, I had to make a decision the first day,” he said. “So, I went to the lake I know best, and was able to survive that day. Then, I was able to get to my stuff the second day. Today, I decided to stop short of it and catch some fish, and thank God I did, because there were guys all over the stuff I fished yesterday.

“When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, I guess,” he said. “I’ve been on better fish. I’ve thought I was going to win a few times, and this one I was totally not expecting (to win). I was thinking 10 or 12 pounds a day, and get out of here, and it’s the one I won.”

Classic tactics produce

Mikey Keyso made good decisions each day to earn the win. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Day 1, Keyso fished offshore grass with a Reaction Innovations Machete Worm in tramp stamp and junebug on either a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce weight. Worming offshore grass is a classic Florida technique and something Keyso was able to do with his eyes closed and no forward-facing sonar.

“I got to hit my stuff the second day and did the same thing again,” he said. “I used the Machete Worm again and caught every bass I caught on it. The eelgrass tapered off the bank a bit. When I would fish the edge of it, I’d use the heavier weight. I’d use the lighter weight in the thicker stuff.”

On Day 2 in Dora, Keyso’s 24-14 bag put him in contention, and he dialed in the game plan in practice with side imaging.

“I found all that stuff on side imaging and realized the fish were starting to come; there’s another wave of fish about to spawn,” he said. “They were using the eelgrass by the bank to stage up. Once I figured that out, I scanned the whole lake and found every good eelgrass clump in front of a spawning flat I could find.

“Yesterday was one of the days where everything just went right,” he said. “Some days a little goes right and a little goes wrong. Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had as far as everything going right. I had 20 pounds pretty easy, and then I caught an 8-pounder. It was pretty wild – I think I culled a 4-pounder with an 8-pounder. It was unbelievable.”

Come Day 3, perhaps feeling some jitters or maybe simply sniffing the win, Keyso stopped on a shad spawn spot in Eustis on his way to Dora.

“It was Kissimmee grass and balled up, old, dead hydrilla they were spawning on,” he said. “I just decided to stop on it this morning because I felt like I had to catch some bass to get my head right, and thank God I did. I fished Eustis one entire day in practice, because everybody was saying it was so bad. I thought if I found something in Eustis, I could win. I practiced Eustis the entire day and it paid off.”

Throwing a golden shiner-colored Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer trailered with a Reaction Innovations Little Dipper in Houdini, Keyso knocked out a quick limit. It ended up saving him when his juice from Day 2 didn’t pan out.

“I went back there today and one of the guys in the tournament was on it,” he said. “I didn’t catch a single fish there. It was a little frustrating, but thank goodness I laid on them like I did the second day.”

On the final day, it didn’t take a huge bag to win. Instead, it took consistency and being in the right place at the right time. Photo by Rob Matsuura

On the way back, after so many second-place finishes, Keyso thought he was headed for another silver.

“I definitely, 100%, thought I was going to be second,” Keyso said. “I wanted to believe I was going to win, but I thought Bobby was going to catch them. He’s probably the best out here on this chain – I don’t get out there much. To beat the best guy on the chain is pretty cool – I hate it for him because he’s got some seconds, too, but his win is coming. It won’t be long.”

Keyso is also extra proud of the win because the only transducer he has on his trolling motor is a Humminbird MEGA 360.

“LiveScope didn’t win today,” he said. “I’m old-school, so it was kind of good to see the LiveScoper not win. I love the kid to death, but I’m old-school. If there’s a bird on a point, I fish it, that kind of deal. The gameplan actually worked out. I just made all the right decisions – it’s crazy how it worked.”

Top 10 pros

1. Mikey Keyso – 51 – 4 (15) – $44,000

2. Conner DiMauro – 47 – 4 (15) – $17,000

3. Nicholas Hoinig – 46 – 8 (15) – $12,750

4. Robert Camp – 46 – 5 (15) – $11,250

5. Bobby Bakewell – 46 – 1 (13) – $10,250

6. Tyler Sheppard – 45 – 4 (15) – $8,375

7. Hunter Weston – 41 – 15 (15) – $7,300

8. Casey Warren – 39 – 13 (14) – $6,300

9. Britt Myers Jr. – 38 – 2 (15) – $5,300

10. Jessie Mizell – 37 – 3 (15) – $4,200