CLEWISTON, Fla. – Daryl Deka, a 33-year-old landscape contractor from Wellington, Fla., won the first EverStart Series event of 2005 on Lake Okeechobee Saturday with a two-day final total of 32 pounds, 6 ounces.
Deka left the dock this morning in seventh place after bringing in 10 pounds, 10 ounces Friday.
When he returned this afternoon, he rocked the weigh-in crowd at the Wal-Mart parking lot with five bass weighing 21 pounds, 12 ounces.
“This feels good,” Deka said after collecting a certificate for a fully rigged Ranger Boat and $10,000 cash. “Winning is the high we’re all out here for.”
Deka, who has fished Okeechobee regularly for the last 10 years, had a carefully crafted strategy for fishing the Big O this week. The foundation of the plan was to see if he could make the cut fishing reeds in the north end during the first two days. If he made the top-10 cut, he would switch ends of the lake and fish down south on Friday.
But the kingpin of his scheme was an isolated stretch of matted hydrilla on the east side of the Monkey Box that he would not touch until the final day.
The first two days, everything went according to plan. Deka caught 24 pounds, 15 ounces and 11-8 on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Those fish came on a 10-inch Gambler worm in a black-grape/green-flake color.
But on Friday his plan began to crumble a bit when his run to South Bay didn’t pay off with a big bag.
“The south end has been muddier than I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “I think the hurricanes this year really hurt it down there.”
Deka’s only saving grace was the lone stretch of matted hydrilla in the Monkey Box that he had stayed away from during competition.
“I know there were a lot of people in the Monkey Box, but for some reason everybody was fishing the west side,” he said. “In fact, what probably helped me most was all those fish being caught over there (on the west side) the first day; that made people migrate that way even more.”
When Deka arrived to his hydrilla mats Saturday morning, he had them all to himself. He went to work flipping a Gambler Crawdaddy – Bowen Blue and Shadow Blue – with a 1-ounce tungsten weight tied to 25-pound-test Big Game line.
“A lot of guys use those big 1 ½-ounce tungstens, but I like the smaller 1-ounce (ones), because I’m looking for creases in the hydrilla, places where the bait can slip through easily – those are the caverns where the fish are sitting. I’m not interested in penetrating thick clumps that are attached to the bottom.”
He caught 10 keepers Saturday. Three were in the 6-pound class, which enabled him to win.
After breaking two EverStart records this week, J.T. Kenney of Frostburg, Md., came 3 pounds, 2 ounces short of winning the whole kit and caboodle. Despite a 17-pound, 12-ounce rally today, he finished second with a two-day total of 30 pounds, 12 ounces.
“I really lost this tournament yesterday when I lost several big fish,” Kenney said of his runner-up position. “I had a much better day today. I didn’t lose any, but I let this one slip away yesterday.”
Kenney spent the entire tournament in the Monkey Box. He was committed to the area from day one.
“Once I got in there, I never cranked my outboard,” he said. “I did that for four days in a row.”
Except for two keepers caught on a ½-ounce Lil’ Hustler spinnerbait [golden shiner], Kenney caught everything else on a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver with 1 ½-ounce tungsten weight tied to 25-pound-test Big Game line.
“It was different every day,” he said. “And I had to fish around in there awhile to figure out what was going on. Like today, I was pitching as far back into the mat as possible – sometimes 20 to 30 feet back into the thickest stuff I could find. Then I would just bump the bottom of the mat with the bait to get a bite.”
Edward Guice of Decatur, Ala., got the unofficial award for the most unique pattern in the top 10.
He caught a two-day total of 27 pounds, 11 ounces to finish third by cranking and Carolina rigging grass-lined ledges in main-lake canals.
“I was keying on staging fish that were bunched up on breaks in the canals,” Guice said. “I would crank a crankbait down the sides, trying to hit grass in 2 to 8 feet of water.”
He caught 20 pounds, 7 ounces on the pattern yesterday, but only brought in 7 pounds, 4 ounces today.
“There is not a whole lot of that kind of water on this lake,” he added. “I only had a few places like that, and I think a lot of my fish moved up the bank to spawn.”
Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., finished fourth with a two-day total of 24 pounds, 15 ounces.
“I’ve had a great week,” said Kennedy. “This week I’ve caught the biggest stringer of my life [27-5 on Wednesday] and the biggest fish of my life [8-12 on Thursday]. This place is awesome.”
Kennedy reported catching a majority of his fish in South Bay by flipping a Gambler Craw on a 1 ½-ounce weight tied to 65-pound-test braid.
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., finished fifth with a two-day total 23 pounds, 15 ounces.
He also spent the entire tournament in the Monkey Box fishing a spinnerbait and flipping.
“I started each day fishing a ¼-ounce Terminator spinnerbait with double willow blades,” he said. “Then I’d pick up a 1 ½-ounce tungsten weight with a Beaver or Gambler Cricket [shadow blue] and begin flipping the thick matted stuff.”
Today he caught a couple of keepers on a Senko.
“It’s been getting warmer each day, and I think they started to get on beds more today, so I switched to a Senko for a while,” he added.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers were Sandy Melvin of Boca Raton, Fla., in sixth place with a two-day total of 23 pounds, 1 ounce; Chad Morgenthaler of Coulterville, Ill., in seventh place with a two-day total of 21 pounds, 15 ounces; David Williams of Maiden, N.C., in eighth place with a two-day total of 20 pounds, 12 ounces; Flash Butts of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., in ninth place with a two-day total of 14 pounds, 13 ounces; and Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., in 10th place with a two-day total of 12 pounds, 3 ounces.
The next Southeast Division tourney is scheduled for Santee Cooper lakes near Manning, S.C., March 2-5.
The next EverStart Series event is the Western Division opener at Lake Havasu near Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Jan. 26-29.