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2018 Lake Okeechobee Preview

2018 Lake Okeechobee Preview
Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

Clewiston, Fla.

January 25-28, 2018

Hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council

 

About the fishery

When it comes to bass fishing, Lake Okeechobee is probably one of the most talked about and dreamt about fisheries on the planet. The Big O, as it is commonly called, covers more than 450,000 acres – making it roughly half the size of Rhode Island. The lake boasts nearly every type of bass-holding cover you can think of, from eelgrass to hyacinth to lily pads, and everything between. The lake is teeming with all sorts of gamefish and prey, which, paired with its rich and divergent habitat, makes it the fishing Mecca it is.

 

Last time

The last time the FLW Tour rolled into Clewiston was in 2016 when Bradley Hallman blew the event away in an impressive victory that saw him lead wire-to-wire. Hallman flipped the thickest reed clumps he could find in South Bay to catch 71 pounds, 2 ounces worth of bass.  Despite weighing only two fish on the final day, he still won by moe than 14 pounds. If not for a major cold snap, that event could have been lights out as far as catch records.

Last year, the Costa FLW Series kicked off on the Big O during roughly the same timeframe as the 2018 Tour event and fishing was solid. Taylor Ashely won the tournament on a swim jig fished around the East Wall to sack up 68-12 over the course of three days.  

 

What to expect this time

Expect the unexpected to a degree. The biggest issue with Florida in January is the chance for a major cold snap during the event. While cold fronts help trigger females to pull up to spawn, leading to giant bags of fish, it also puts the fish in hibernation mode for a few days until it blows through.

That aside, the lake is a little high from last year’s hurricanes and some of the grass has been moved around, but otherwise the lake has been fishing phenomenally. Pending any wild weather, catching numbers shouldn’t be an issue with plenty of limits in the 15- to 20-pound range.  

One thing to note is that the full moon will take place a few days after the event, but it could still play a role in moving some big females up from the main lake to prepare to spawn.

 

Baits and techniques

As far as baits go, it should be a mix of tried-and-true baits commonly seen in Florida. Anything from paddletail worms (such as a Zoom Speed Worm), swimbaits, swim jigs, spinnerbaits, flipping jigs or punching setups will all produce. Moving baits will likely play a major role because they can be used to cover water so quickly and effectively. For anglers poking around thicker cover – or if cooler weather prevails – flipping presentations might dominate.

 

3 critical factors

1. Weather – Cold weather or lack thereof can make or break a tournament this time of year in south Florida. In themselves, cold fronts aren’t any big deal, so long as they are over with a few days before the tournament starts. No cold temperatures at all translate into some of the best fishing of the year. Cold weather, however, translates into a tough bite and calls for patience on the part of anglers.

2. Fishing pressure – Okeechobee is a big pond, but it sure does fish small. Lots of the prime spawning areas with good hard bottom are located in just a few portions of Okeechobee and because of that everyone knows about them. Figuring out how to outsmart fellow anglers, or dialing in on something different, will be a huge key to success.

3. Water color – This kind of echoes the weather factor: Being able to avoid wind-blown areas to stay in cleaner water is a necessity. Because much of the hard line of reeds and cattails has been reduced or removed due to hurricanes, it leaves more water susceptible to wind exposure. The result is that the bottom gets stirred and the water gets dirty. Planning in practice to find areas with clean water, or that won’t be as affected by different wind directions and intensity, can make the difference in being able to fish on Sunday or go home early.

 

Fantasy Fishing picks

Okeechobee can be a tough one when it comes to picking the anglers likely to do well. Local knowledge or experience helps to a degree, but the Big O is notorious for giving out-of-staters a crack at stardom. Choosing a blend of veterans and newcomers can be a solid approach. Scott Martin, the McMillans, Koby Kreiger or other Floridians are smart picks. Don’t count out Chad Morgenthaler, the Johnstons, Michael Neal or Bryan Schmitt for non-Florida guys.

 

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament  2018-01-25-lake-okeechobee 

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