UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Dardanelle

DeMott lands top spot at Big O

DeMott lands top spot at Big O
Leading the charge in the Pro Division was Boca Raton, Fla., pro Don DeMott, who turned in a 23-pound, 15-ounce catch to grab the overall lead on Lake Okeechobee.

CLEWISTON, Fla. - When you think of Florida fishing, you normally don't associate the Sunshine State with 40-degree temperatures and winds gusting into the 25-mph range. However, that's exactly what the opening day of Southeast Division competition delivered to the 147 pros and as many co-anglers who braved the elements on Lake Okeechobee throughout Thursday's competition.

Although some American Fishing Series anglers had expected a few 30-pound-plus stringers and a 20-pound top-10 cut in the Pro Division as well as a 15-pound top-10 cut in the Co-angler Division, the wind clearly derailed those projections. In the end, only four anglers managed to bring in stringers weighing 20 pounds or more. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that only two anglers managed to record a bass weighing over 6 pounds, 15 ounces - despite the fact that Lake Okeechobee is known to produce a relatively large number of 8-, 9- and 10-pounders on a fairly routine basis during spawning season.

In the end, however, not everyone succumbed to the elements. Leading the charge in the Pro Division was Boca Raton, Fla., pro Don DeMott. Relying heavily on his prior fishing experience on Lake Okeechobee, DeMott seemingly made all of the right moves en route to a tournament-leading catch of 23 pounds, 15 ounces.

"I wound up fishing more than 15 areas today, and that's what you have to do in these types of conditions," said DeMott. "I fish the lake all the time, and the big issue is that when the wind blows, you have to steer clear of dirty water. When the wind blows here, it can change an area quickly, and you really have to know how to adapt. That's why you have to be prepared to keep moving around and look for areas that are going to produce."

DeMott said he locked on to spawning females "as much as possible," targeting Kissimmee grass in 5 feet of water or less. DeMott said he threw a combination of Gambler Flapping Shads, Gambler Crickets and Gambler 6-inch worms to land the majority of his catch.

However, he said that his prior knowledge of how the fish react to wind on Lake Okeechobee was the real key to success. As a result, the weather changes offered DeMott a distinct advantage over the majority of the competition.

"In practice, everyone was catching them," said DeMott. "A couple of days ago you could have thrown a hot dog out there and the fish would have eaten it. But today was a lot different. When you come here, you have to know how to flip, throw a spinnerbait, topwater and crankbait. You have to be versatile. Today the wind changed everything, and it really played to my advantage. I live here and know how fast things can change when the wind blows. And I practiced for that."

Not surprisingly, DeMott said he was pleased with his performance.

"Overall, I feel pretty good about things," he said. "I actually managed to do a little practice fishing today to see what else is out there. I have plenty of good areas. I just have to keep it up."

But what about tomorrow?

"We'll just have to see what the wind is doing," he said. "I have a plan, but you can't be stubborn about it."

Peters grabs second place

Pro Matt Peters of Roswell, Ga., turned in a catch of 23 pounds, 1 ounce to finish a mere 14 ounces behind the tournament leader. Matt Peters of Roswell, Ga., turned in a catch of 23 pounds, 1 ounce to finish a mere 14 ounces behind the tournament leader. And he couldn't have been happier.

"I'm stoked," said Peters. "Today I was really worried about the wind and how it was going to affect both the sight-fishing bite and my swimbait bite. I was also running about an hour each way. But being in the last flight really helped me out."

Peters said that he traveled all the way to the north end of Lake Okeechobee to target spawning females near the Kissimmee River.

"I had a phenomenal day, all things considered," said Peters, who used a Huddleston Deluxe grass minnow and weedless swimbait to land the majority of his catch. "It was just a classic shallow grass bite. I had good execution, I was on fish, and I feel pretty confident that the (big) fish are still there. For me, the key was fishing slowly and methodically."

Peters also took home big-bass honors after netting an 8-pound, 6-ounce largemouth.

Gonzalez nabs third

On the strength of a 21-pound, 5-ounce catch, Roger Gonzalez of Hialeah Gardens, Fla., finished the day in third place.

Skipper lands in fourth place

Fourth place belonged to John Skipper of Dothan, Ala., who recorded a total catch of 20 pounds, 1 ounce. Fourth place belonged to John Skipper of Dothan, Ala., who recorded a total catch of 20 pounds, 1 ounce. Like the rest of the field, Skipper said that the wind played a big factor in both the strategy and outcome of today's competition.

"It was tough out there today," said Skipper. "Thank goodness I knew exactly where my fish were, both visibly and with my GPS coordinates. Basically, because of the wind, I stayed in the same place all day. You really needed clear water, or you weren't going to get the bites."

Skipper said he caught two fish on beds with Big Bite Baits Fighting Frogs and landed his other three keepers using a Reaction Innovation Skinny Dipper miniature swimbait.

"I didn't land the same number of bites I had in practice, but the quality of the bites seemed to be a lot better today," he said. "As far as tomorrow goes, all I can do is go out there and give it a try."

Watts in fifth

Ronnie Watts of Florence, S.C., finished in fifth place with a total catch of 19 pounds, 14 ounces.

Best of the rest

Jerry E. Kelley of Wewahitchka, Fla., finished the day in sixth place on Lake Okeechobee.Rounding out the top 10 American Fishing Series pros:

6th: Jerry E. Kelley of Wewahitchka, Fla., 19-9
7th: Larry Jones of Acworth, Ga., 18-12
8th: Dalton Bobo of Northport, Ala., 18-10
9th: John Bitter of Maitland, Fla., 18-4
10th: Marty Brown of Dalton, Ga., 17-13

Rookie Reynolds nets co-angler lead

Fishing in the very first FLW American Fishing Series event of his career, Mitch Reynolds of Petal, Fla., parlayed a 19-pound, 1-ounce catch into a first-place Co-angler Division finish after today's competition.

"It was just a great day," said Reynolds. "Every fish I hooked was 3 pounds or better. I caught all of my fish on one bait, fishing shallow. Moving the bait fast was the key for me."

Fishing in the very first FLW American Fishing Series of his career, co-angler Mitch Reynolds of Petal, Fla., parlayed a 19-pound, 1-ounce catch into a first-place finish after today's competition.Although Reynolds wouldn't divulge his bait of choice, he did acknowledge that it was a soft plastic.

"Not only was this my first time fishing Lake Okeechobee, but it was my first time fishing this bait," he said. "Basically, I did some research on what baits worked well here, and it really paid off. Hopefully I can do it again tomorrow."

After heading to the Big O for the first time, fishing in his first AFS event and using a bait he'd never used before, Reynolds was understandably in agreat spirits at the conclusion of the weigh-in.

"Today I caught the biggest bag I've ever caught in an FLW tournament," said Reynolds. "I'm pretty excited right now."

Best of the rest

Second place belonged to co-angler Danny Shelton of Davie, Fla., who turned in a catch of 17 pounds, 15 ounces.Second place belonged to Danny Shelton of Davie, Fla., who turned in a catch of 17 pounds, 15 ounces.

Robert Wood of Jupiter, Fla., recorded a 16-pound, 6-ounce catch to grab third place.

Bucky Helms of Dallas, N.C., used a 16-pound catch to net fourth place, while Jeff Cummins of Marion, Ohio, finished in fifth place with a catch of 15 pounds, 15 ounces.

Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers:

6th: Jesse Steadham of Florence, Miss., 14-12
7th: Ernie Hillebrandt of Natchez, Miss., 14-11
8th: Phil Jarmon of Apex, N.C., 13-13
9th: Luke Campbell of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 13-10
9th: Ryan Richardson of Golfstown, N.H., 13-10

Hillebrandt also took home big-bass honors in the Co-angler Division after landing a 6-pound, 15-ounce largemouth.

Day two of American Fishing Series competition on Lake Okeechobee begins at 7 a.m. ET at Roland & Mary Ann Martins Marina & Resort, located at 920 E. Del Monte Avenue in Clewiston, Fla.

Tags: gary-mortenson  headline-story  2010-02-25-lake-okeechobee 

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