CLEWISTON, Fla. – Last year at the EverStart Series Southeast Division event on Lake Okeechobee, co-angler Justin Jones led the field on day one only to zero on the second day and tumble down the leaderboard. While he had a solid 5-pound lead at this year’s Walmart FLW Tour opener, that same sick feeling returned today after several hours without a single keeper. This time, however, Jones would bear down and receive that pivotal bite.
“That fish bit in the last 45 minutes of the day,” Jones said of his lone keeper. “I was about to zero again; I was sweating bullets. I thought this is the Lake Okeechobee last-day curse.”
Fittingly, Jones has a tattoo on his arm that reads “perseverance,” and that’s exactly what it took for the 25-year-old from Apex, N.C., to pull out the victory.
All week long Jones had been flipping a Bruiser Intruder (Knockout color). With an hour left in the day, he finally gave in to the tougher conditions and switched to more of a finesse presentation – a weightless Zoom Magnum Super Fluke (Houdini color).
“I just let it sit, basically dead-sticking it, and she picked it up.”
That lone fish weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces and pushed his total weight to 39 pounds, 4 ounces.
While the Fluke coaxed the kicker, the Intruder did the heavy lifting early in the week. Jones had two different setups for the same bait. When he was punching mats, he would Texas rig it with a 1 1/4-ounce weight and fish it on 65-pound braid. When he pitched around reeds, he would downsize to a 1/8-ounce weight and use either lighter braid or 20-pound fluorocarbon.
His 9-pound, 7-ounce brute from day one went down as the heaviest bass of the tournament among the co-anglers. The Okeechobee behemoth fell for the downsized Texas-rig presentation.
For the first win of his tournament career, Jones earned $25,000.
“It feels awesome, especially after what happened last year.”
Peek rallies for runner-up finish
Richard Peek started the day in 15th and after catching a pair of kickers, nearly pulled off a stunning come-from-behind win. Along with one other small keeper, Peek’s three bass Saturday weighed 13 pounds, 9 ounces. The three-time FLW winner finished the tournament with a cumulative total of 35 pounds, 8 ounces.
“I did something different pretty much every day,” said Peek. “The first day I flipped a Tightlines UV Beaver and pitched around a Texas-rigged UVenko with a 1/16-ounce weight. On the second day we mainly fished rattletraps and I fished the UVenko a little bit too. Today we were right in the middle of the lake so the wind was terrible. I switched up to a ChatterBait and a 1/2-ounce Bo’s swim jig. I caught the 7-pounder on the ChatterBait, the 6-pounder on the swim jig and the 12-incher came on the UVenko again.”
Starting that far behind, Peek knew it was a long shot to complete the comeback. But anything is possible on a lake like Okeechobee with so many big fish.
“All day long I was thinking I need some big bites. Sure enough, I got two of them.”
Peek won an FLW College Fishing tournament on Okeechobee back in 2009.
“I’ve always enjoyed this place. And I’m happy with second. I fished clean all week; I don’t think I lost but one fish the whole tournament. At least I beat my buddy (Anthony Goggins).”
Peek’s consolation prize is a check worth $7,500.
Rest of the best
Pauley finished the tournament with 35 pounds event and earned $5,000.
Mike Comeau of Winooksi, Vt., caught a limit Saturday weighing 10 pounds, 1 ounce that pushed him up to a fourth-place finish. Comeau’s total weight was 34 pounds, 11 ounces and he earned $4,000.
“I had a flight booked for today,” said Comeau, whose hometown is buried in snow after winter storm Nemo. “But it would’ve been canceled anyway, so it’s a good thing I made the cut.”
Anthony Goggins, an old college roommate and current travel partner of Peek’s, finished in fifth place after catching a five-bass limit weighing 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Goggins, the Auburn, Ala., resident, finished the event with a total weight of 34 pounds, 8 ounces – earning $3,000.
“It’s going to be a long ride home,” said Goggins of sharing a vehicle with Peek. “I jumped off a 4-pounder 15 minutes before we had to come in.”
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers at the FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Greg Scott of Dearborn, Mich., 33-5, $2,500
7th: Greg Knick of Ansonia, Ohio, 33-3, $2,000
8th: Jim Short of Ocean Pines, Md., 32-15, $1,800
9th: Bill Cowart of Kissimmee, Fla., 32-1, $1,700
10th: Ronnie Green of Tampa, Fla., 31-14, $1,600