January 9, 2014 by Rob Newell
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. - As a jam-packed tournament field of 226 boats headed out towards Lake Okeechobee this morning for the season opener of the Rayovac FLW Series in Florida, some anglers were wondering if they were still in the Sunshine State.
"Looks like Seattle to me!" one angler hollered to another through the persistent drizzle that qualified as rain at times. "No sun today, but at least it's warm!"
Perhaps the "polar vortex" is to blame, but indeed Rayovac FLW Series anglers will fish in dreary, balmy and rainy conditions today, a large departure from normal Big O sunshine.
Earlier in the week, a blast of cold air did truck all the way down through South Florida, dropping night time temperatures into the upper 30's on the top end of Okeechobee. As a result, the water temperature took a substantial hit, dropping some 15 degrees. Those who are ice fishing in Minnesota today may chuckle at a drop in water temperature "of some 15 degrees," but at Okeechobee, that's a serious decline for Florida bass.
Since then the air temperatures have moderated back into the 60's and 70's, but it's the sunshine that's needed to get the water temps back up out of the high 50's. And that's not going to happen today.
"It's been a while since we've had a cold front like this down here," said former Okeechobee FLW Tour and Rayovac FLW Series winner Brandon McMillan. "All last year we never really had any real cold weather to speak of, so it's a bit of a surprise to these bass."
The good news, according to McMillan, is that such cold water temperatures tends to bottleneck the spawn a bit more, creating bigger "waves" of fish that will come in at one time when the biological clock resumes with warmer temperatures.
"When it's warm all winter, these fish can just kind of meander around and spawn anytime they want," McMillan said. "When we get some real cold weather, it tends to put more fish on the same spawning schedule. Some of the best years we've had down here involved some pretty cold weather during the winter to bunch the fish up to come in at the same time."
"But we really need some sun to get the water warmed back up and I don't think that will happen today," he added. "Maybe by Friday afternoon or Saturday it will warm back up into the mid 60's. For that reason I think weights will actually increase as the week goes on. If we had a full moon coming in it would be awesome - that's the perfect storm down here - cold weather and then a warm up that coincides with the full moon."
Okeechobee icon Mike Surman says despite the cold water and lack of sun, big bags will still train to the scales this week.
"Everyone likes the sun down here because it helps the sight-fishing and flipping bite," Surman said. "But the casting and reeling game with soft swimmers like the Big EZ's is still a force here. It hasn't been a factor the last couple of years, but things are setting up right for that kind of bite in this event."
Surman predicts that by this afternoon's weigh-in there will be a limit or two in the 25- to 28-pound range and a limit or two in the 23- to 25-pound range.
"I also think you'll see a lot more limits in the 18-pound range, which has been rare here the last few years," he said. "Normally you'll have a few bags over 20-pounds then there is a gap down to about 16 pounds. But this year there seems to be a lot more of that 3- to 4-pound class fish that can land you in that 18-pound category."
Anglers will take off from C. Scott Driver Park located at 10100 W. Highway 78 in Okeechobee, Fla., at 7:30 a.m. daily. Weigh-ins will be held at the launch site beginning at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Saturday's final weigh-in will be held at Gilbert Chevrolet located at 3550 U.S. 441 in Okeechobee at 4 p.m. Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public
Sunrise: 7:14 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 64 degrees
Expected high temperature: 74 degrees
Water temperature: 58 degrees
Wind: NE 5 to 10
Day's outlook: cloudy, rainy with thunderstorms late