OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Win a major bass tournament once on a particular lure or technique and it gets a little attention. But win the same tournament two years in a row on the same lure and technique and suddenly you have garnered a lot of attention.
Such is the case with 29-year-old Brandon Medlock of Lake Placid, Fla., who has now won the EverStart Series Southeast event two years in a row with the same lure.
In last year’s January event, Medlock posted weights of 28-01, 16-05 and 19-02 for a three-day total of 63-08. This year he outdid himself with weights of 17-8, 35-7 and 15-3 for a three-day total of 68-2.
“The first time I won, I was in shock,” Medlock said. “And to win again, now I’m even more in shock. I just don’t know what to say.”
Medlock’s main lure is the same lure he used last year – the Double-Guard Jig – a big 1-ounce jig made by his dad, which features a large 6/0-hook defended by a double weedguard for extra balance and weedlessness. Medlock accentuates the big profile of the bait with a huge hunk of plastic. Last year he used a big salty chunk; this year he favored a Gambler Ugly Otter. He ties the jig to 65-pound test Suffix braided line on a Carrot Stix extra heavy flipping stick. When the package is complete, it constitutes a bait that is built for one thing: giant bass.
Medlock’s winning secret lies, not so much in the bait itself, but in his absolute confidence to throw it all day. It’s a confidence rooted in fishing many team tournaments on Lake Isokpoga with his dad who convinced the younger Medlock to focus solely on big fish in tournaments.
“Istokpoga is a big fish lake,” Medlock said. “In order to win tournaments there you have to fish for big bass all the time. And this lake is very similar. I could go out here and throw worms, topwaters, buzzing plastics and catch a bunch of bass, but only two or three of them might be big ones. With that jig I fish for eight bites a day – that’s my target. If I get eight bites on that jig, five are going to be big ones. When I come to these tournaments, you won’t find those other lures out on my deck. I know from many years of fishing with my dad that if we could get eight bites on that jig, we would probably win the tournament because they’re going to be big ones that bite it.”
Medlock’s arsenal for the week included his dad’s jig and a Gambler Cricket, which he used to punch mats. And here is where a clarification needs to made: Medlock does not use the big jig to punch through mats. Instead he uses the jig to pitch into holes and gaps around grass. However, knowing when to punch the Cricket and when to pitch the jig is a critical part of the game.
Medlock is fishing the upcoming FLW Tour Open in a couple of weeks and understandably does not want to say exactly where or what he is pitching to. But he did say that knowing when the conditions get just right for the jig is imperative.
“The first day I actually punched mats with the cricket – that’s how I caught the 17 pounds,” he explained. “But yesterday and today I used the jig. A lot of it has to do with the water temperature. When it’s cold, punching is the way to go. But once it warms up, the jig is the better option for me. And this event kind of landed right on a transition period. The water was still cold in practice and punching was better. But with the warming water on the first day, more fish started to move onto beds and that’s when the jig became better.”
EverStart pro Randall Tharp of Gardendale, Ala., made a hard charge at Medlock today with the second biggest limit of the event, 28 pounds, 14 ounces, moving him up from fifth to second with a three-day total of 62 pounds worth $12,300.
This is now the fourth time Tharp has been runner-up in major tournaments in a 12-month period. This finish also marked his sixth top-10 in a row in events held on Lake Okeechobee.
“Four times in less than a year,” Tharp said of being second. “If I keep putting myself in position I’ll win one. I fished really well this week and today was just one of those magical days you live for out here. But after Medlock caught 35 pounds yesterday, that’s pretty hard to recover from.”
Tharp relied on his favorite game, flipping and pitching, to produce the monstrous bag. He used a variety of plastics under a 1-1/2-ounce tungsten weight tied to 70-pound test Samurai braid to do the damage.
The difference between yesterday and today, in his opinion, was fishing pressure, or lack thereof.
“Everyone found the best place on the lake with the biggest fish in it,” he said. “The last two days there have been 30 boats milling around in there punching those mats. There have been so many boats in there cutting up the vegetation it doesn’t even look the same as it did five days ago. And these fish are not stupid – they’re not going to come in there with an armada of boats around. Today there were far fewer boats in there and some new big ones moved up.”
Amazingly Tharp caught the three biggest bass in his limit in about five minutes.
“I caught all my big ones in less than an hour and three of them came within a span of about 50 feet,” Tharp explained. “And that’s the way this place is – when they move up like that you can hurt them in a hurry. Okeechobee is just a magical place and that’s why I love this lake so much.”
Keith Fels of Ocala, Fla., caught a closing round limit of 17 pounds, 15 ounces to finish third with a three-day total of 55 pounds, 10 ounces worth $10,000.
While others punched and flipped, Fels made the casting game work for him.
“Flipping is just not my style, so I stayed with the moving baits most of the week,” Fels said. “Mostly casting a Gambler Big E-Z and a ¼-ounce swimming jig. I basically burned a lot of gas and covered a lot of water.”
Brian Holder of Gastonia, N.C., finished in fourth place with a three-day total of 48 pounds, 14 ounces worth $9,000.
Holder caught most of his fish punching “blown-in” mats of mixed vegetation consisting of reeds, eelgrass and hyacinths.
His primary bait for the week was Lake Fork Craw Tube on a Trokar hook under a 1-ounce tungsten weight fished on 65-pound test Spiderwire braid.
Bryan Honnerlaw of Moore Haven, Fla., rounded out the top five with a three-day total of 47 pounds, 6 ounces worth $8,000.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the EverStart Series event on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Kent Ware of Wadmalaw Island, S.C., three-day total of 42-9
7th: Clent Davis of Montevallo, Ala., three-day total of 41-14
8th: George Kapiton of Inverness, Fla., three-day total of 41-6
9th: Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., three-day total of 40-12
10th: Jeff Fitts of Keystone Heights, Fla., three-day total of 39-12