February 7, 2014 by Kyle Wood
CLEWISTON, Fla. - Brett Hite has found success on Okeechobee in the past but never to the extent he is experiencing this week. The Phoenix, Ariz., pro is keeping the momentum rolling as he busted 23 pounds, 8 ounces today to take a commanding lead to the tune of 12-9 that he will carry into day three.
While his day-two limit was substantially less than yesterday - over 10 pounds less - Hite is comfortable and confident with his pattern.
"Things have been going right for me this week," said Hite. "I'm feeling relaxed and fishing the way I like. Nothing has really bothered me. I have a lot of boats fishing near me but I just tune them out."
For years Hite has spent his time on the water watching media boats fly by in search of the Randall Tharps and JT Kenneys paying little respect to him. He knew that one day his pattern would produce when the time is right, and that time is now.
"There are a lot of people not fishing the same style or pattern that I am," continued Hite. "I'm really keying in on a specific thing that I think is helping me get those bigger bites.
"I still have some spots saved that I haven't fished. I'm not saying they are my best spots, but I have caught some of my bigger fish from areas I didn't think were that good. But I'm looking for places I call a salad bowl which is just a big clump of all different kinds of grass. When you find one there are big numbers of fish in it."
Hite says these "salad bowls" consist of anything from eel grass to hydrilla and anything else you can find on Okeechobee. He has waypoints in these certain areas that he focuses on but hasn't quite figured out what is holding the bass on the particular spot.
"You can go down a stretch to your waypoint and catch one right off it and leave. If you come back a little while later you can catch another one or even a few from that same area. It's crazy how it replenishes. I don't know what holds them there but it is something specific they like."
The morning (usually one of the better bite windows) started off a little slower for Hite which he attributes to the cloud cover early in the day. He says that there is generally a lull from 10 to 1 o'clock before the fish fire back up in the afternoon.
Hite is still tight-lipped about his presentations but is using three or four different baits to catch his fish.
His two-day total weight stands at 58-7 putting him well on his way to hit the century mark this week.
Honey badger makes his move
Randall Tharp is on a mission this week to reclaim his Okeechobee dominance. After a shortened day yesterday thanks to fog and mechanical issues, Tharp still managed to wrangle 23 pounds, 13 ounces worth of Okeechobee cobras (what he calls big fish). Today, after making a late-day move Tharp upgraded to 22-1 for the day - pushing his two-day total to 45-14.
"I fished some areas today and had about 19 or 20 pounds before I decided to make a move," said the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup champion. "I used up the spots I had so I went to check some places that I thought would help me throughout the rest of the tournament. When I pulled in I made like five flips and caught a 7-pounder. I made a few more flips and lost a big one and a little later I lost another giant. That told me those fish are in there, which is what I was looking for."
Losing one giant fish during the day would shake most anglers, let alone three (one he lost earlier in the day) but not the honey badger. Those fish he lost were due to the heavy cover they lived in which is the nature of the beast when flipping cover like that and Tharp knows this. His fire is fueled to get back out and hunt some more of those cobras.
"The problem with these fish is that they live in real thick areas so you got to get creative on how to cast for them. I lost several big ones today and there was nothing I could do, it's just the nature of the game. They get so tangled up no matter what you do and come unbuttoned. It's not the equipment's fault or anything like that but sometimes the fish win in that cover."
Tharp's day was actually pretty slow until he made that move around 2 o'clock. He caught around a dozen fish on the day - less than what he did on day one. Oddly, the bite has been better for him when the clouds stick around.
The Port St. Joe, Fla., resident is one of the fiercest competitors on the Walmart FLW Tour and while the lead Brett Hite carries looks deflating, Tharp is up for the challenge.
"This place is capable for 100-pound stringers over four days, and I should know because I've done it twice. I'm not on pace to hit that mark so far but I'm feeling good. I should have had a 30-pound bag today and if they are still swimming around out there, I'll find them."
Herren up to third
Steadily climbing the leaderboard is Trussville, Ala., pro Matt Herren who has been consistent over the past two days to settle in third place with nearly identical bags from days one and two - 20-6 and 20-13, respectively.
Herren is focusing on the south end of the lake and is finding numbers of fish but working hard to get the quality.
"I had a pretty good day today," said Herren. "I got fewer bites than yesterday and it was a fight to get the quality 3- or 4-pounder today."
The Alabama pro is fishing a vast area and covering it with a variety of baits.
"I have several things going - two definite patterns - but I just fish off instinct mostly. It's just a matter of the fish telling you what they want for that particular day and going with it."
Like Hite, Herren is also experiencing certain feeding windows to capitalize on throughout the day. The windows may only be an hour or so long but the fish are fired up and you need to be in the right place when they get to chomping.
Herren was reluctant to give up too many details but feels like his main area is replenishing by the day.
He sat in 14th place after day one but now his two-day total stands at 41-3 to keep him near the top.
Williams in fourth
Leon Williams of Fairdale, Ky., made a huge leap in the standings today when he went from 22nd place on day one (18 pounds, 13 ounces) to fourth with a day-two bag of 22-5.
"The wind was blowing hard this morning on the area I'm fishing," said Williams. "If the water would have been muddy I knew I was done, but luckily it wasn't. It took a little bit to figure out the fish had moved shallower into the thicker cover. Once I figured that out, it was an easy day."
Williams is sticking close by not running too far from the launch area. He has had some company there this week but thanks to the wind this morning most people vacated the spot.
The Kentucky pro's primary presentation is flipping to any cover he can find within his main area. It worked well enough that he culled three limits of bass from there today alone.
Williams will carry his two-day total weight of 41-2 into day three. He is hopeful that his spot will continue to produce despite the abuse it has seen this week.
Bohannan down to fifth
Kellogg's Pop-Tarts pro Greg Bohannan knew that today could be a struggle. He had to scramble on day one to find an area with fish - when he did he had to lean hard on it to pull his limit of 27-2 from it. The pressure took its toll as Bohannan could only manage 13-11 today which was still enough to keep him in the top five with a two-day total of 40-13.
Earlier in the week Bohannan had thought he would be focusing his efforts up north. He tossed that idea out the window midway through day one and went searching. The place he ended up finding held a lot of bait and in return a lot of hungry largemouth.
"I caught a whole bunch of fish yesterday from that area," explained the Rogers, Ark., resident. "I think it's a bedding area with a lot of tilapia and that is why those bass are in there feeding. I don't know how much I can rely on it anymore so tomorrow I might have to switch things up."
This magic little spot went untouched yesterday - other than from Bohannan - but when he arrived in there today he had some company. The Pop-Tarts pro had to watch as another boat put nearly 24 pounds of bass in the livewell before departing.
"I might spend some time around that place tomorrow but I'm not going to bank on it. I may run back up north and see if anything is happening, otherwise I'm going to keep covering water."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros from day two on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., 39-15
7th: Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., 38-13
8th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., 38-7
9th: Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., 38-4
10th: James Watson of Waynesville, Mo., 37-14
Weaver claims co-angler lead
Joshua Weaver of Macon, Ga., took over the leader position today thanks to his 15-pound, 11-ounce limit. Matched with his 18-0 from day one, Weaver clinches a 33-11 total weight and a 1-14 lead heading into the final day.
Weaver is fishing in his first ever Walmart FLW Tour event as a co-angler and couldn't be happier.
"I really like fishing this event a lot," smiled Weaver. "It feels like I'm living the dream."
While much of being a co-angler depends upon who you draw it tends to help when you can fish your style.
"I have been throwing a swim jig and a swimbait all week. I like fishing fast and casting so this is my style for sure."
Weaver caught a bunch more fish on the first day compared to today, but even still he was able to throw back three limits of fish.
The key for the Georgia co-angler has been confidence in his bait. He fished a swim jig a lot in practice with much success and has since carried that through the event.
"I've just been trying to keep my bait in the water at all times. I have been using a slightly slower retrieve than my boaters which has helped I think. I don't know what will happen tomorrow but if I get around some fish I can catch them."
Chuck Kavros of Grass Valley, Calif., had a marginal first day as he sat in 36th place with 11 pounds, 5 ounces. Kavros went on a tear today and sacked the largest bag of the tournament for the co-anglers with a whopping 20-8 to jump all the way to second place. He now stands just under 2 pounds from the leader.
Hensley, Wolfe, Coats round out top five
Nick Hensley of Cumming, Ga., caught 13-7 on Thursday to settle in 19th place. Paired with his weight from today of 16-2, Hensley now holds third place with a two-day total weight of 29-9.
Cecil Wolfe of Scarborough, Ontario, sits in fourth with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 6 ounces.
Ken Coats of Tulsa, Okla., rounds out the top five with a two-day total of 29 pounds, 5 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day two:
6th: Chad Randles of Elkhorn, Neb., 29-1
7th: Theo Corcoran of Independence, Mo., 28-5
8th: Nick Loeffelman Jr. of Valles Mines, Mo., 28-4
9th: Bryan Partak of Marseilles, Ill., 27-3
10th: Johnny Manning of Arkadelphia, Ark., 26-8
Saturday's weigh-in will be held at the Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans will also be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the 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 fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public. Also on Sunday, country music artist Josh Thompson will perform a free live concert on the Walmart weigh-in stage at 3 p.m.