OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Before the EverStart Southeast Division event on Lake Okeechobee began, many pros agreed on one thing: someone, somewhere would land on a big wave of Big O brutes moving in to spawn and have a magical day that could push the 30-pound mark.
Today, that magical day happened to pro Ben Todd of Pierson, Fla. Todd took off this morning with an empty livewell and returned with a box brimming over with big bass – 31 pounds, 7 ounces worth of bass to be exact.
“I’m still in shock,” said an elated Todd after weighing in. “That’s the biggest bunch of bass I’ve ever caught in my life – not just in a tournament – but ever.”
Todd’s magical day started with a 9-1, his first fish of the day, and the big bass in the Pro Division. He finished a limit and just when he thought he was perfectly happy with his catch, he finished up the day with an 8-1 and then another one around 6.
“When I caught the 8-pounder this afternoon, I was like, this is crazy!” he said. “Then when I caught the 6-pounder, I was like, this is stupid! When it happens, it just happens. I can’t explain it.”
While Todd understandably is hesitant to give up his lure of choice, he did reveal he is catching his bass on an outside reed edge.
“It’s area specific,” Todd said. “I ran to my area, set down and never put the boat on plane again until it was time to go. I think these fish are spawning – I can’t see them, but the way they are biting, I think they’re on beds.”
As for his area, Todd is confident he can catch a decent bag again.
“I’m not saying I can catch that weight again,” he said with laugh. “But I caught about 15 bass today and culled some decent ones, so I feel like there are still plenty of fish in the area.”
While most of the top bags came on the short line today, at least one pro in the top five is employing the cast and wind method for his catch.
Chris Brill of Lehigh Acres, Fla., took the second spot after day one with a five bass limit weighing 24 pounds, 1 ounce.
Brill made a “long run” this morning, caught a single keeper right off the bat and endured a long lull during the day before his bite turned red hot in the last 30 minutes of the afternoon when he did most of his damage.
“I fished the same 1/8-mile area all day,” Brill said. “It seemed when the wind died this afternoon and it got calm, they went Donkey Kong for it. When the wind was blowing, they didn’t bite at all.”
Brill, too, was guarded about his lure choice, but did say it’s a Gambler product in a one-of-a-kind color called McMillan’s Magic, named in honor of the late Jimmy McMillan.
After spending much of 2012 staring at a graph in 20 feet of water and enjoying a new-found passion for ledge fishing, JT Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., dusted off his flipping sticks this week and proved he still has a penchant for the short string with a 22-pound, 5-ounce catch for third place.
Kenney iterated that he is doing the usual thing in the usual place – punching mats in the North Shore area with a big weight.
“It’s no secret,” Kenney said. “There are a bunch of boats up there. I caught a couple of big ones there early and then bailed to some more out-of-the-way stuff to finish my limit.”
“The one thing that worries me is all the fish are black – they have been under those mats for while and to me it means they’re the remnants of an old wave. I’d like to see some big ones with white bellies move in up there to give me a hint of a new wave coming in – I think we’re due for a new wave – but if it doesn’t happen I could very well have 11 pounds to tomorrow.”
Kyle Monti of Okeechobee, Fla., landed in fourth place after day one with a five-bass limit weighing 21 pounds, 5 ounces.
“I’m starting the day by casting and reeling just to get a limit in the box and settle me down,” Monti said. “After that, I’m flipping reed clumps and some mats the rest of the day. I ended up keeping one of my casting fish from this morning and the rest I culled out flipping.”
Monti said he had 20 keepers on the day.
“I think there is a little bit of a timing thing between punching the mats and pitching the scattered reeds,” Monti added. “I am kind of jumping back and forth between the two depending on the time of day."
Derek Yasinski of Senoia, Ga., rounds out the top five pros after day one with a five bass limit weighing 20 pounds, 15 ounces.
Yasinski also relied on the short string for his catch today, alternating between reeds and mats.
“I caught more fish pitching to reeds, but my two best fish came from mats at the end of the day,” he said.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the EverStart Series event on Lake Okeechobee after day one:
6th: Trevor Fitzgerald of Belleview, Fla., five bass, 20-11
7th: Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., five bass, 20-10
8th: Paul Malone of Pleasant Valley, Iowa, five bass, 19-15
9th: Keith Fels of Ocala, Fla., five bass, 19-13
10th: George Kapiton of Inverness, Fla., five bass, 19-12
Wood leads co-anglers
Wood’s limit was anchored by a 6-pound, 14-ounce bass.
“I caught about 11 or 12 fish on the day,” Wood said. “And most of them came from one 30-yard stretch. The bait I was throwing is something I have not thrown here in about five years – it’s kind of an old Okeechobee throwback from several years ago. I have not thrown one in a long while here, so I pulled one out this morning and they were eating it.”
George Saliba of Lakefield, Ontario, is in second place with five bass weighing 17 pounds, 5 ounces.
Raymond Guerra of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., holds down the third place spot with 17 pounds, 1 ounce.
Donnie Dodd of Guntersville, Ala., is in fourth place with 17 pounds, 1 ounce.
Curtis Merriman of Cullman, Ala., rounds out the top five with 15 pounds, 14 pounds, 13 ounces.
Maurice Cobb of Kuttawa, Ky., caught the big bass in the Co-angler Division on day one weighing 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 co-anglers in the EverStart Series event on Lake Okeechobee after day one:
6th: Byron Botdorf of Albany, Ga., five bass, 14-10
7th: Douglas Conklin of Harmony, Fla., five bass, 14-6
8th: Jim Austin of Lithonia, Ga., five bass, 14-5
9th: Richard Predmore of Bainbridge, Ga., five bass, 14-1
10th: Maurice Cobb of Kuttawa, Ky., five bass, 13-6
Day two of the EverStart Series Southeast on Lake Okeechobee will begin Friday at 7:30 a.m. at C. Scott Driver Park.