UPCOMING EVENT: TACKLE WAREHOUSE PRO CIRCUIT - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Okeechobee on fire

Okeechobee on fire
Day-one leader Chad Prough holds up part of his 35-pound, 3-ounce stringer.

CLEWISTON, Fla. - With several days of increasingly warm weather and a new moon, everything looked like it was lining up just perfectly for a Lake Okeechobee slugfest. But because the weights at the recent EverStart event were so good, questions remained. Most thought the bite couldn't possibly be better - the spawn was mostly over. Wrong on both accounts.

Day one of the 2011 Walmart FLW Tour opener wasn't better, it was way better. The heaviest sack of the day weighed a staggering 35 pounds, but the true testament to the strength of the bite was depth. A 20-pound stringer, a major feat for any tournament pro, would put you precisely in 52nd place - just below the cutoff for the big $10,000 checks. Fifteen pounds puts an angler in 100th place - a weight that will be considered lofty next month on Beaver Lake.

Okeechobee is back and in a big way. With big bass, warm sunshine and southern hospitality, there is no better place to kick off the 2011 tournament season. Just ask Chipley, Fla., pro Chad Prough, the day-one leader.

"That's the biggest bag of fish I've ever caught in my life," gasped Prough. "I'm so happy right now it's not even funny. Words can't even begin to describe it."

While Prough believes several of the fish he caught today were spawning, he isn't looking at them. Instead he's chucking and winding. And that is all he is saying at this point.

"The water was warming up and I knew more and more were coming in. I just crept along slowly with the trolling motor and made long casts so I wouldn't spook them."

By noon, Prough had accumulated most of his day's weight - having culled about 10 times.

"I caught three in one area and two in another area. And I purposely targeted stained water so I could have the spots to myself. Everyone else is congregated in the clear water. My water isn't muddy, but it's stained so the fish are more relaxed and comfortable."

Prough doesn't expect any more 30-pound stringers, but he doesn't feel like he's out of fish either.

"If the weather stays like it is, I'm hoping it holds up. Tomorrow I'm just going to keep on digging."

Gillette/Duracell pro Jacob Powroznik sits in second place after catching 29-4.Powroznik solely sight-fishes for second

Gillette/Duracell pro Jacob Powroznik of Prince George, Va., weighed in five bass for 29 pounds, 4 ounces to begin the event in second place.

Powroznik said he went sight-fishing the whole day.

"Everyone I weighed came off a bed, but I'm mainly throwing a Gambler Big EZ swimbait," he said. "When I see one, or when one shows itself on the swimbait I'll stop and pitch to it."

Powroznik's bait of choice for pitching is an Attraxx Jacobug, a new prototype creature bait designed by Powroznik for the James River.

"I want to thank Attraxx president Howard Hammonds. He sent me 50 of the Jacobugs in white and that's what I caught all of them on."

Powroznik also revealed he's pushing back into some of Okeechobee's thicker reeds.

"There are plenty of fish out there, but I'm going where most people aren't willing to go."

Shinichi Fukae holds up an 11-pound largemouth that anchored his 29-pound stringer.Fukae third with a toad

The biggest bass of the day was caught by Cheez-It pro Shinichi Fukae. While working on a 4-pound buck bass, Fukae suddenly saw an 11-pound brute swim over and defend her nest. A few pitches later, he not only had the female in the boat, but the male too. The fish was so big the normally stoic Fukae became emotional. The Japan native also caught another 8-pounder and finished the day with 29 pounds even.

"That's the biggest bass I've ever caught in a tournament and I didn't even know it was there," Fukae said.

Fukae caught all of his bass sight-fishing and used a Kinami Derek Fluke. Despite his banner day, the former Okeechobee Tour champion (2006) says he has no sight-fish left that he can immediately return to tomorrow. As such, he is making no promises.

"I plan to fish my hardest and do my best."

Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., is in 4th place with 27-9.Roumbanis fourth

Bixby, Okla., pro Fred Roumbanis owns the fourth-place spot after day one with 27 pounds, 9 ounces. Roumbanis found a big one on bed Tuesday in practice and ran to it immediately today.

"I got her in right away and from there I just relaxed and fished," he said. "I caught pretty much everything in the morning. I had two 5s on one bed and within two pitches they were both in the boat. In fact, I caught every one I saw in practice and that never happens."

Known for his swimbait prowess, Roumbanis is primarily flipping an El Grande tube.

Thliveros fifth

Pete Thliveros of St. Augustine, Fla., is in 5th place with 27-8Peter Thliveros of Saint Augustine, Fla., is in fifth place with 27 pounds, 8 ounces. Despite his Florida track record, Thliveros said he did not expect to have that kind of success.

"I knew it was going to be good for some people, but I wasn't expecting to be one of those people," he quipped. "I didn't pre-locate anything in practice; everything I caught I found today."

Only one of his five keepers was sight-fished, but it was his biggest - weighing 8-9. Thliveros started the day by throwing a Zoom Horny Toad. It was a struggle early, but the late bite improved considerably.

"I caught three of my big fish after 3 p.m. They moved in and I was in the right place."

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee after day one:

6th: Brandon McMillan of Belle Glade, Fla., five bass, 27-0
7th: Takahiro Omori of Emory, Texas, five bass, 26-2
8th: Shad Schenck of Waynetown, Ind., five bass, 25-12
8th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., five bass, 25-12
10th: Trevor Fitzgerald of Belleview, Fla., five bass, 25-8

Amazingly, all but one of the 160 pros managed five-bass limits.

Ron Buck of Port St. Lucie, Fla., leads the Co-angler Division of the FLW Open on Lake Okeechobee with 23-12Buck tops co-anglers

Ron Buck of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., leads the Co-angler Division with five bass weighing 23 pounds, 12 ounces.

"I was fortunate today in that we fished an area that I practiced in," said Buck, who finished eighth at the recent Everstart event. "So I was real comfortable."

Buck said he was blind-casting with swimbaits and a 10-inch Gambler worm (June bug).

"I think I culled two limits. These were prespawn fish that were just moving in. The afternoon bite was especially good."

Buck fishes Okeechobee often but has never led a tournament of this magnitude.

Aymon Wilcox caught 22-9 to finish day one in second place among the co-anglers.Wilcox second

Aymon Wilcox of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., is in second place with five bass weighing 22-9. Like Buck, Wilcox is a regular at Okeechobee.

"I was swimming a jig into holes and throwing a stickbait," said Wilcox, who has six top-10 finishes on the Big O. "I wasn't sight-fishing."

Wilcox's big fish weighed 7-2 and he culled five or six times.

"I'm just overwhelmed. I've been trying to get to this point for a long time."

Richardson, McCrory, Brooks, Kitajima round out top five

Ryan Richardson left three feet of snow in Golfstown, N.H., to catch a limit of Okeechobee bass Thursday weighing 20 pounds, 14 ounces. He starts tomorrow in third place.

Likewise Richard McCrory of Point-Clare, Quebec, caught a 19-pound, 11-ounce limit for fourth.

Tied for fifth place with 19-10 are Floridians Chip Brooks of Bradenton and Kazuki Kitajima of Aventura. Kitajima was the BoatUS National Collegiate Bass Fishing champion.

Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers in the Walmart FLW Tour after day one:

7th: Marlon Crowder of Tampa, Fla., five bass, 18-5
8th: Larry Mullikin of Lauderhill, Fla., five bass, 18-0
9th: Glen Pickering of Whitby, Ontario, five bass, 17-10
9th: Jeff Zeisner of Arva, Ontario, five bass, 17-10

Day two of the FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee will begin Friday at 7 a.m. from Roland & Mary Ann Martin's Marina & Resort located at 920 East Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston.

Tags: brett-carlson  headline-story  2011-02-03-lake-okeechobee 

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