CLEWISTON, Fla. – While Lake Okeechobee remains one of the premier black bass destinations in the world, the truth of the matter is that she can be a bit fickle. Under the right conditions, Okeechobee can deliver the 30-pound stringers anglers dream about. Under the wrong ones, the 450,000-acre lake can frustrate even the most talented of fishermen. Despite scattered reports of poor prefishing, the conditions are beginning to get “right,” which could translate into another season-opening slugfest.
The official Walmart FLW Tour practice started Sunday on the cool and breezy side. That had many of the 175 pros singing the blues. But the weather has stabilized and both the air and water temperatures are steadily climbing, which could energize the lethargic females.
“It seemed to me that late Tuesday afternoon it really started to pick up,” said Clewiston, Fla., pro Brandon McMillan. “There were a lot more fish around in some of the better areas and they were active. I think fish are moving in and things are picking up.”
Recent dock talk notwithstanding, Okeechobee wasn’t all that bad to begin with. Ask any local and they’ll unequivocally state that the lake has been on an up cycle the past few seasons. For proof, look no further than the 100 pounds EverStart pro Randall Tharp wrangled up each of the past two years. While Okeechobee still possesses that kind of quality, the difference this year is an influx of water. The lake now sits roughly 1 1/2 feet higher than at the same time last year. That has repositioned some fish and made those that are spawning much more difficult to see. In short, it has changed the lake.
That being said, Okeechobee will once again be dominated by the same two patterns – flipping and throwing buzzing topwaters. In terms of the spawn, there are fish in all three phases. And while a new moon is set to arrive for the weekend, a huge wave isn’t expected (like the 2011 event). The winter has been so mild in south Florida that the bass have staggered up to the bank in nearly symmetrical numbers – making a mad rush unlikely this time around. But that doesn’t mean sight-fishing is totally out of the question.
“I’m seeing bucks on beds,” said Debary, Fla., pro John Cox, who finished second at last year’s Okeechobee event. “It’s almost like the big girls want to be on beds, but the water is already so warm. I’m hoping something happens, because practice was pretty awful for me.”
McMillan thinks those same anglers that were singing the blues at Wednesday’s registration meeting could be posing for fish pictures this afternoon.
“There will definitely be guys that stumble on some bed fish tomorrow; there always is this time of year on Okeechobee,” said the 2011 champion. “I saw beds yesterday that weren’t there on Sunday. But I don’t think you can just sit in one area and sight-fish all day. I think about half the guys that make the cut will be throwing buzzing baits and the other half will be flipping. And I still think this tournament is going to be won flipping a jig.”
Even the flipping game has changed dramatically. The warm weather has the bass roaming a bit, instead of tucked under thick mats, seeking shelter. In addition, some of the better grass has been sprayed, making reeds more prominent than they were in the past, hence why jigs are playing more than Texas-rigged creature baits.
“I’ve really only gotten a few bites flipping,” added Cox. “But we all know we just have to find that perfect little spot. It could be the size of a truck bed or it could be a little more than a foot by a foot. Surely they are stacked up somewhere. Someone’s going to stumble on them.”
McMillan thinks the warmer weather won’t affect the top of the leaderboard as much as the middle-check range.
“Instead of a lot of 10- to 12-pound bags, there will be a lot more 12- to 14-pound bags. I still think about 25 pounds will be enough for a check and 75 to 80 pounds will win it. There are going to be some 25- to 30-pound sacks, there’s just only going to be a couple of them. It’s improving, but in my opinion fishing was still better last year at this time.”
Anglers will take off from Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort located at 920 E. Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday morning and from the Clewiston Boat Basin at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday morning. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-ins will also be held at the marina beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s final weigh-ins will be held at Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans will be treated to the FLW Expo at Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public.
In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday’s weigh-in and the top-10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days.
On the Web
For those who can’t catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio.
In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com is offering real-time updates from the water throughout each day of the Lake Okeechobee event. Simply click on the “On the Water Coverage” banner from either the FLW or FLW Tour home pages.
Sunrise: 7:05 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 66 degrees
Expected high temperature: 81 degrees
Water temperature: 68-74 degrees
Wind: SSE at 12 mph
Maximum humidity: 64 percent
Day’s outlook: partly cloudy