February 1, 2016 by Jody White
Scott Martin is heading into the first Walmart FLW Tour event of the season with a full head of steam. After earning what might be the first of many Angler of the Year titles in 2015, he gets to kick off the year sleeping in his own bed and fishing Lake Okeechobee, the place where he grew up and where he has caught more than 50 bass weighing more than 10 pounds.
As such, there’s no one better to tag along with for a morning on the Big O.
After launching outside of the lock at Clewiston (the lock is closed due to the unusually high water in the lake), Martin headed out into one of Okeechobee’s many vast reed flats. The flats rim much of the lake, and are of varying composition. Sometimes cattails are totally impenetrable, and other times they open into big fields filled with pads, wiregrass and other vegetation.
Once he’d started fishing, the Clewiston pro was catching fish right off the bat. He started out in one of the hayfields, moving across it with the wind in a rough zigzag pattern. The vast sameness of Okeechobee is a challenge for many, and while Martin certainly knows many of the productive areas, he still needed to fish through them to find bass.
Every so often, he’d get a couple bites grouped together or spot a few beds in the hayfield and drop a waypoint to mark the spot. He says that even though big sections look the same, the fish will often group up on more specific spots within them. Though he doesn’t have any scientific research to support it, Martin’s assumption is that schools of fish usually move into the hayfields together and simply stay close when they begin spawning.
The Florida veteran says that one of the biggest mistakes he sees made on Okeechobee is that anglers will often fish into the wind. The shallow Florida bass necessitate stealth, and Martin always kept the wind at his back as he drifted and trolled through the grass in search of concentrations of bass. Come tournament time, or if the wind was strong, this is where Power-Poles come in especially handy.
This fish came while he was on the phone with his dad, Roland Martin, who was checking up on his progress. Though Roland is certainly an interested party, Scott wants a win more badly than most this week. With a long history and one win already under his belt on Okeechobee, Scott for sure has the tools to make it happen. He’s also more nervous for this one than usual because Okeechobee isn’t the same as always. The high water has changed some things and opened up parts of the lake previously inaccessible to bass and anglers. With that change comes opportunity. Scott is happy to chase consistency and another AOY, but he knows he’s got a chance to win this round.
Deep in the hayfields the water is super clear, with visibility down to almost 6 feet. Despite the high water, the constant presence of clean water way back in the reeds has Martin thinking that a sight-fishing party might be about to break out.
Martin started the day with a fair number of rods on deck, but nothing crazy by Tour pro standards. He knows what to throw on Okeechobee, and though the high water has changed some things, the Florida standbys still get the job done. When he did pause to make a change, he was very organized, with the plastics he needed in a plastic tote and a bag and all his hooks and weights neatly organized in their own tackle trays.
Okeechobee is famous for being a community hole lake, but that wasn’t apparent today. There was an angler or two in most areas that Martin stopped but never any crowding. Even when someone is fishing a couple hundred yards away as Wesley Strader is in this picture, you still might not see him due to an intervening clump of cattails.
Martin began the day casting moving baits and pitching lighter soft plastics to pockets in the wiregrass and pads. Once the sun began to peek out from the clouds, he picked up his flipping stick for some cattail clumps. The sunshine also gave him the chance to simply cruise a bit on the trolling motor looking for beds.
It didn’t take long for his new strategy to pay off with the best fish of the morning. Though not a tournament winner on Okeechobee, this one could be a sign that the fishing is getting better by the minute.
Midmorning, it was time for me to head back to Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort. Nevertheless, Martin still made a few stops along the way to check the water clarity. This water is good to go – dark and clear just like it should be. Martin may well be back in the area before the day is done to check it for bass.
Martin let his Evinrude eat a little as we rolled back to the ramp in earnest. Now that pros use their own boats all four days during Tour events, he’s hoping to be running down Okeechobee in this boat looking for the win on Sunday.