OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Mother Nature saved her biggest breath for the last day of the EverStart Series Southeast event on Lake Okeechobee. Today winds howled a sustained 20 mph out of the west, making fishing difficult for the top 10 pros fishing Saturday.
For those trying to sight-fish, visibility was limited, and those who were punching mats found the winds had compressed their mats so tight that getting a bait through the canopy was more difficult than on previous days.
But the sound of howling wind was music to the ears of Brandon Medlock of Lake Placid, Fla. That’s because Medlock had the remedy for the conditions: a custom-made 1-ounce jig that was specifically designed to fish Florida’s weedy waters on days just like this.
While wind hampered other pros’ patterns, Medlock took advantage of the situation today, catching 19 pounds, 2 ounces on his dad’s custom-made jig to win the EverStart event with a three-day total of 63 pounds, 8 ounces worth $35,000.
“This is unbelievable,” Medlock said after his victory. “This is my first EverStart event, and I was just hoping for a top-10 (finish). I owe it all to my dad’s jig; it’s custom made to fish Florida lakes, especially on windy days.”
The jig – called a Medlock’s Double-guard jig and available at Fishing Headquarters in Okeechobee, Fla. – features a double weedguard protecting the hook from grabbing weeds.
Medlock used a 1-ounce model in a standard black-and-blue color, trimmed with a black-and-blue chunk and tied to 65-pound-test Power Pro braided line.
He pitched the jig to sparse, isolated clumps of reeds and cattails in the Horse Island area. Even though Medlock could not see fish on beds, he’s certain that’s what the fish were doing, given the light spots around the clumps.
The method to Medlock’s madness was to make long, accurate pitches to the clumps and get a reaction bite from unsuspecting bass. The technique was as simple as making a pitch, letting it drop one time and reeling it back for another pitch just as fast as he could.
“Fish don’t see many jigs on Okeechobee,” Medlock said. “And with the 1-ounce model, you can zip it accurately, straight to the target you want to hit, even in heavy wind. The jig flares in the fish’s face, and it’s a total reaction bite.”
During the course of three days, Medlock weighed in 28-1, 16-5 and 19-2 on the jig. Of the 16-5 day, he said the only reason it was his lightest day is because he lost two giants.
Medlock’s key area in Horse Island was only a quarter-mile long and he milked it each day, noting that he caught multiple fish off certain clumps during the event.
“I’ve fished the Horse Island area for the last 12 years,” he added. “I know where they come in there this time of year to spawn. In practice I found one little area that had a male bass on nearly every reed, and I knew the big females were not far behind. Sure enough, that’s where I won the tournament.”
Day-two leader Brandon McMillan of Belle Glade, Fla., brought in 10 pounds, 11 ounces today, but it was not enough to hold off the hard-charging Medlock.
McMillan finished runner-up with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 1 ounce worth $12,000.
While the wind had also been McMillan’s friend the last two days, piling up new mats for him to fish each day, today the strength of the wind had compacted the vegetation so tight that his efficiency of getting the bait through the canopy dwindled considerably.
“Instead of making 500 clean punches, I probably only made 200 punches,” McMillan said. “Even the small mats were so tight that I had to pitch the bait way up in the air to get it to go through instead of a nice subtle pitch and letting it slide through the mat.”
McMillan fished the North Shore area, and his key punching baits included a Gambler BB Cricket, a Crawdaddy and Bruiser Baits Swimming Shad.
Despite already having a dislocated shoulder and then losing his trolling motor to rough water this morning, Yancy Windham of Reform, Ala., sacked up 17 pounds, 11 ounces today to jump from eighth place to third to earn $10,000 with a three-day total of 54-15.
Windham dislocated his shoulder before leaving home, and when rough water destroyed his trolling motor this morning, he remained undaunted and managed to sight-fish his catch against all the odds.
“I love sight-fishing,” Windham said. “I do it a lot back home, and I win a lot of money looking at them. And the tougher the conditions, the better I like it because it makes sight-fishing a true challenge. When it’s easy, like the first day, everyone can do it. But when it gets really bad like it was today, it becomes a whole new ball game in terms of seeing the fish.”
Windham’s primary sight-fishing bait this week was a white Venom Lures Sweet Dream creature bait rigged on 65-pound-test Power Pro braid and 25-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon.
Frank Jenkins of Fort Myers, Fla., finished fourth with a three-day total of 54 pounds, 13 ounces worth $9,000.
Jenkins spent his week sight-fishing with a Sweet Beaver and swimming a Skinny Dipper over flats in the North Shore area where bass were spawning.
“This morning, it was on when I got to my primary area – they were eating it up,” said Jenkins, who weighed 14-12 today. “But once the sun came up, it was over – I mean over. The first five fish I caught in the first hour of the morning were the ones I weighed in.”
EverStart pro Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., finished fifth with a three-day total of 54 pounds, 12 ounces worth $8,000.
This marks Tharp’s sixth tournament visit to the Big O and his fourth top-10 cut.
During the week Tharp assembled a trio of techniques that included sight-fishing, swimming a big worm and mat flipping.
Today he caught all of his bass flipping mats to weigh in 11 pounds, 3 ounces on the day.
His primary flipping gear included a 1 ¼-ounce tungsten weight, a Mystic Bug, a 4/0 Trokar hook and 70-pound-test braided line.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the EverStart Southeast event on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., three-day total of 53-10, $7,000
7th: Joey Thigpen of St. Johns, Fla., three-day total of 48-11, $6,000
8th: Rodger Beaver of Dawson, Ga., three-day total of 46-5, $5,000
9th: JT Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., three-day total of 44-6, $4,000
10th: Derek Yasinski of Senoia, Ga., three-day total of 40-10, $3,000
The next stop on the EverStart Southeast schedule will be Lake Guntersville Feb. 24-26.