CLEWISTON, Fla. – As a full-time firefighter and paramedic for the city of Smyrna, Ga., Marty Brown is used to dealing with intense and nerve-wracking situations on a daily basis. But luckily for him, today was not one of them. Using a total three-day catch of 52 pounds, 1 ounce, Brown sailed to victory in the biggest fishing tournament of his career, easily outdistancing the competition on the day when it mattered most.
“This is great,” said Brown, shortly after securing the hard-fought tournament title on Lake Okeechobee. “I’ve been fishing with this organization for a long time and had a lot of close calls. But to win a tournament like this is just wonderful. This is probably the best moment of my fishing career.”
While Brown ultimately won the event with plenty of weight to spare, that didn’t mean that it was easy. Although the day started off calm and warm, a nasty cold front moved through the area around midday, bringing torrential rains as well as a significant drop in temperatures that shut down the bite for the majority of the field.
“At one point I was standing in the front of my boat in the rain and the cold wondering what the heck I was doing,” said Brown. “But then I remembered that there was probably a good check waiting for me at the end.
“I was really hoping that the water would warm up today, but that didn’t really happen,” Brown continued. “But I didn’t make any mistakes, and that’s what needs to happen if you’re going to win a tournament like this.”
“I probably culled about three or four fish after that,” said Brown. “But my big fish didn’t come until around noon. It was a tough day out there. At one point my co-angler wanted to change areas, but there was no way I was going anywhere. With the weather, I knew that the weights would be down. But heading back to weigh-in, I still didn’t think I had enough to pull off the win.”
Brown said that he relied primarily on one fishing area, a spot that served as a gateway for spawning fish heading to and from the shallows.
“I haven’t been to this lake in about 10 years, so I tried to keep things simple,” he said. “I had two Castaway flipping sticks that I used all week. And I caught most of my fish on a Zoom black lizard.”
As a co-angler on the FLW Tour last season, Brown said that one of the most important things he learned from his pro partners was the value of remaining patient during tournament days.
“I used to be a run-and-gun type of guy,” he said. “If the fish didn’t bite, I’d get impatient and go to a new area. But I saw how the pros did it. If they knew fish were in the area, they wouldn’t leave even if they weren’t getting the bites. And today, that helped me. Instead of moving to where I thought the fish would be, I waited for the fish to come to me.”
And come to Brown they did. In the end, Brown walked away with nearly $25,000 in winnings as well as the most important victory of his career.
McMillan snares unlikely second-place finish
Heading into the finals on Lake Okeechobee, Jeff McMillan of Belle Glade, Fla., was sitting in sixth place, nearly a full 10 pounds off the lead. While it appeared McMillan was in line for a nice check, it didn’t seem likely that he’d be able to challenge for a tournament title. But that’s exactly what he did.
After turning in the biggest sack of day three – a 13-pound, 7-ounce stringer – McMillan sat back and watched as one pro after another struggled to bring a double-digit bag to the weigh-in podium. And before he knew it, there was only one angler – Marty Brown – standing between him and a tournament title.
While Brown quickly produced the winning weight, McMillan’s effort was not lost on the crowd.
“It was a great tournament,” said McMillan. “It could have been a little better, but the weather really got us. But, overall, I had a blast.”
McMillan said that he targeted most of his fish in grass in about 2 to 3 feet of water using a combination of Reaction Innovation Skinny Dippers and Senko worms.
“If I missed a fish on the Skinny Dipper, I’d throw the Senko and catch it nine times out of 10,” he said. “For me, the key was finding clear water. It was OK if it was a little bit dirty, but if it was chocolate, you might as well move on and not waste your time.”
McMillan, who ultimately recorded a three-day catch of 46 pounds, 6 ounces, walked away with a runner-up finish and nearly $8,400 in prize money. And although he had a few minor regrets, he said the overall experience is one that he’ll remember for a long time.
“This is my first-ever American Fishing Series event, so I feel pretty good,” he said. “I lost a good fish on Thursday, another one on Friday and had a 3-pounder come unhooked at the boat today. And those fish would have helped me. But, overall, I had a fantastic time.”
DeMott nets third place
Like many of the top 10 finalists, day-one pro leader Don DeMott of Boca Raton, Fla., really struggled with the last-minute weather change that descended upon Lake Okeechobee during the final day of competition. Although he appeared poised to make a strong run at a tournament title, his final-day catch of 5 pounds, 10 ounces ultimately derailed his chances.
“The water temperature really changed overnight, and I think that’s why the weights came down a bunch today,” said DeMott. “I really needed the water temperatures to be in the low 60s, and that didn’t happen. When the weather changed, it really hurt my fish. I guess Florida fish really don’t like weather changes that much.”
Throughout the tournament, DeMott had been running all over the lake, targeting as many as 15 different spots and fishing a variety of Gambler ribbon-tail worms, flapping shads and a new bait, the Gambler Big Easy. However, despite his lack of success in the finals, DeMott said he had no regrets.
“Any time you make the top 10, you’re making good decisions,” said DeMott, who ultimately recorded a total weight of 46 pounds, 5 ounces. “It was definitely a lot of fun to compete against the caliber of fishermen here. Overall, I’ve been really blessed this week. I had a great time.”
For his efforts, DeMott walked away with nearly $6,000 in winnings.
Fitts grabs fourth place
Plagued by boat problems all week, it was a near miracle that Jeff Fitts of Keystone Heights, Fla., even qualified for the finals. Throw in the fact that he entered the final day of competition in ninth place, and it was easy to see why Fitts was more than pleased with his fourth-place finish.
“I’m so excited to be here,” said Fitts, who turned in a three-day catch of 45 pounds, 14 ounces. “It’s unbelievable. It’s been a trying week for me for sure.”
Fitts, who lost his lower unit earlier in the tournament, said that he targeted bass by using a combination of Strike King tube baits, Zoom Brush Hogs and sight-fishing techniques.
“What a week,” said Fitts. “It was tough. But, overall, I’m happy with how things turned out.”
For his efforts, Fitts netted nearly $5,000 in prize money.
Best of the rest
Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn., used a total catch of 45 pounds, 8 ounces to finish in fifth place. Horton also walked away with a check for $4,400.
6th: Koby Kreiger of Okeechobee, Fla., 44-11
7th: Kevin Long of Clewiston, Fla., 42-15
8th: Roger Gonzalez of Hialeah Gardens, Fla., 40-7
9th: Aymon Wilcox of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., 38-13
10th: Ronnie Watts of Florence, S.C., 36-15
FLW American Fishing Series Southeast Division action resumes on Lake Seminole, scheduled to take place April 29-May 1 in Bainbridge, Ga.