January 16, 2014 by Bryan Thrift
I just got back from the Rayovac FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee. I'm still a little bitter about how I finished, but I guess I have to discuss both the good and the bad with my blog. I got there Sunday before the tournament and immediately thought the lake looked really good - the water level is up and everything looks healthy. Certain parts of the lake were crowded, but that's just the way the lake is - typical Okeechobee to me.
I fished Sunday and Monday and the bite was OK, but it wasn't quite as good as I expected. Then the cold front came through and it only got worse. Overall, it seemed like the fish were scattered. The first bite I had of the New Year was an 8-10. I caught that fish flipping a Damiki Knockout in junebug color. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there and in a hurry. But at least I got the year started out on the right foot with that big one.
I decided to enter the event mainly because I had a couple buddies fishing as co-anglers. I also like riding around and looking at different parts of the lake before the Tour event. To do well on Okeechobee you've got to find that one little area where the fish stack up and I just never found it.
I seen a lot of empty beds and some beds with bucks but I never did see any big females on bed. If I had to guess, I'd say there are definitely more fish coming. I know they spawn there from like November to March, so in no way, shape or form are they done.
On the first day of the tournament I tried a little bit of everything. I had some areas where they were schooling and I thought I could start there and maybe catch 12 pounds or so and then go looking for a big bite or two later in the day. But then the wind changed and the schooling fish disappeared. After that I mostly flipped, but I'm not a good flipper and I really don't like doing it. I only weighed in four bass for a pitiful 6 pounds the first day.
On day two I checked the schooling fish, but again couldn't find them. From there I tried to make myself work on flipping. That's how I caught my 11-pound, 7-ounce limit, but I never felt like I really figured the flipping bite out. To me, it seems too random. I can't read the mats like a lot of guys; it all looks like a wad of grass. I flipped with both the Knockout and the Damiki Air Craw and I found that the Air Craw was better in the thick hyacinth and hydrilla mats because it's more compact. I tried buzzing plastics on top quite a bit too. You could catch a lot of fish but they were only 1- to 1 1/2-pounders; the quality wasn't there.
Besides that 8-10, I never got any more big bites. The biggest two I weighed in during the tournament were just 3-pounders. Pretty much all I got from this trip was a lot of stuff that I'm not going to do when I go back for the Tour. I finished 120th out of more than 200 boats.
I'm glad to be home, but I'm also ready to go back down there and figure out what I did wrong. I'm afraid I'll have to flip some more. That seems to be what the winner does every year and that's probably why I've never contended. I wish we'd have a Tour event down there in March or April when you don't have to worry about cold fronts. Part of me likes going down there in February when it's cold everywhere else, but I'd like to change it up too.
My new boat, a Ranger 520C powered by a 250-horse Evinrude E-TEC, is supposed to arrive later this week or early next week. It ships from Ranger to Denver Marine and I'll go and pick it up there.
Then I'll spend some time rigging and tinkering to get it the way I like. I'm at the point now where I rig and mount all my graphs myself. Once I get my new boat, I'll be selling my 2013 model. I still have it because I'm just not one of those guys that can go without a boat. I know that if I sold my boat early we'd have several weeks straight of perfect fishing weather. And even if the weather is bad, I just like knowing I have my boat there in case I need to go fishing.
My 2014 rig will look pretty similar to last year's with Chevy wrapping it and Damiki, Evinrude and The Great Outdoors heavily featured. I'll start driving back down to Okeechobee on Friday, Jan. 31. It takes me about 10 hours or so to get to the north end of the lake. On Saturday, we'll be at Gilbert Chevrolet for Chevy Pro Night from 3 to 5 p.m. in Okeechobee. If you live in the area, come out and see me.