UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Kickoff on the Big O

Kickoff on the Big O

The 2017 Costa FLW Series season opener is sure to be a good one. This morning 250 pros and co-anglers blasted off with nearly perfect weather onto Lake Okeechobee for the first Southeastern Division event of the year, which is presented by Power-Pole and hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Department.

The winning pro will take home more than $100,000 if he’s Ranger Cup qualified and $60,000 cash regardless. This event starts the scramble for the 2017 Costa FLW Series Championship, division Angler of the Year and possible FLW Tour qualification. There’s a lot on the line over the next three days.

Day 1 Takeoff Gallery

 

About the fishery

Except for the rim ditch that circles the lake and a few offshore rock piles, Okeechobee is essentially a big bowl of shallow grass. Filled with mats, cattails, hydrilla, pads, reeds, hay grass and almost every other kind of vegetation, the big pond can be daunting for the uninitiated.

Though anywhere on Okeechobee can be productive, the north and south sides are some of the most popular areas. Up north, flipping and punching reeds, mats and cattails and throwing a ChatterBait in hydrilla are extremely popular. On the south end, anglers tend to flip cattails and wind Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worms and swim jigs through the extensive fields of hay grass.

Okeechobee is loaded with Florida-strain largemouths, which means even a slight cooldown can put a damper on the bite in a hurry. Luckily, the lake is far enough south in Florida that many of the true cold fronts never reach it.

Unlike some Florida lakes, the Big O has comparatively few double-digit bass, but it has a healthy population of keepers and more 6- to 8-pounders than most lakes in the country. As with any Florida lake, getting a big bite or two throughout the course of the tournament is a game-changer.

 

Current conditions

The lake is currently sitting at 13.95 feet above sea level and has been trending down over the last few months. That’s good news for the fishing. Less water means the bass can’t access the far reaches of the swamp where they are out of reach of anglers. Less water is also just plain good for the bite. It’s easier to get spawning fish to react to topwater and such when the bait buzzes right past their heads. Water temperatures are stable or rising and in the upper 60s or low 70s.

Ask any angler about the lake conditions and the first thing he’ll mention is the mud. Due to lingering effects of the high water and recent strong winds, the lake is far from clear in many places. That doesn’t mean the underlying vegetation isn’t still decent, but a lot of the water around it is muddier than anglers would like. Jared Dial of Winter Haven says that finding good submergent grass is key for finding clear water, and local Kyle Monti believes the muddy water will concentrate anglers even more than usual.

The weather for the event looks good. Highs should reach into the low 80s on day one, and the 70s on day two. On day three, a cold front is expected to bring highs down into the 60s. It’s likely to be decently windy all three days, but mostly out of the southwest and the north, so many of the best areas up north will remain fairly calm.

 

Tactics in play

There are a handful of ways to catch ’em on Okeechobee that produce year in and year out. Flipping and punching matted vegetation or standing reeds and cattails is the winningest way, but not the only way. Casting and reeling ChatterBaits, swim jigs, Speed Worms and Gambler Big EZ swimbaits over vegetation is the other primary tactic, but casting doesn’t tend to win as often as flipping. Finally, throwing a lipless crankbait for schooling bass could play a role this week, as could dragging a Carolina rig around Okeechobee’s limited rocky structure.

 

Critical factors

  • The mud: Finding clean water or a way to catch fish in muddy water is going to be super important this week. Because of the lack of truly clean water, cracking Okeechobee is a tougher task than usual.
  • Pressure: Fighting through the crowd is often a factor in Florida, and this week the limited clear water might have pros more clustered than ever.  
  • Capitalizing: Getting the big bite is so, so key in Florida tournaments. There are unlimited giants in Okeechobee, but only a certain number of them bite on any given day. Putting bigs in the boat is going to be crucial.

 

Dock talk

Most projections place the three-day wining weight at less than 60 pounds, but it’s still Okeechobee. A pro could catch half that in a day.

“There’s muddy water in places I’ve never seen muddy water. It’s crazy,” says Jason Lambert, last season’s Okeechobee champ. “These fish will eat when the water is dirty here, but it takes them a while to get accustomed to it. But, somebody is going to catch them. There are too many fish up. We caught them good Sunday and good Monday.”

“It’s muddy,” echoes Tyler Suddarth. “There are only a few areas of clean water. It’s been tough for me to get a flipping bite, but when I do it’s a good one. I think casting is gonna be a big player. Like Joe Holland said [in an earlier preview story], the south end is not fishing like the south end should, so I think the north end is going to be a big player.”

 

Tournament details

Format: All 250 boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.

Takeoff Time: 7:00 a.m. ET

Takeoff Location: Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort, 920 East Del Monte Ave., Clewiston, FL 33440

Weigh-In Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Weigh-In Location: Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort, 920 East Del Monte Ave., Clewiston, FL 33440

Complete details

 

Tags: lake-okeechobee  jody-white  morning-story  2017-01-26-lake-okeechobee 

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