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Living the Dream: Lake Okeechobee, Part 6

Living the Dream: Lake Okeechobee, Part 6
TBF Living The Dream winner Dave Andrews shows off his catch at Lake Okeechobee.

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Editor's note: This is the sixth piece in a series of journal entries from Dave Andrews, winner of the 2007 TBF National Championship, which will be published at FLWOutdoors.com throughout the course of the 2008 FLW Series Eastern season. As winner of the "Living the Dream" package offered by FLW Outdoors through The Bass Federation, Andrews had his entry fees paid to test his club skills on the pro tour with the use of a fully wrapped boat and tow package. Andrews will chronicle his adventure in pro bass fishing during the season, beginning with his experience at Florida's Lake Okeechobee. After Andrews has submitted his journal following each FLW Series event, segments will be posted every few days or so. (Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)
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Wal-Mart FLW Series BP Eastern Division
Stop No. 1: Lake Okeechobee
Jan. 23-26, 2008


Tournament, day three (Thursday, Jan. 25)

I was boat No. 173 and went out in the second-to-last flight. When we awoke in the morning, it was to a crisp, cool, breezy day. Breezy really doesn't do it justice. It was downright gusty with sustained winds out of the north in the 20- to 30-mph range and gusts over 40 mph. There would be no fog delay this morning. It was a no-brainer decision to head back out to the main lake and spend the entire day fishing out on the shoal. I checked with a few Florida natives in the tournament, and they advised against such a move. The 3-foot rollers on the main lake I could handle, but the direct hit of all the wind and waves on my spot would turn it into a muddy mess. I'd seen the main lake before when the wind was blowing, and reluctantly I decided it was best to slug it out in the rim canal and hope for the best.

With the main lake out of play, the already-busy rim canal hosted nearly the entire tournament field on this third day of competition. I randomly grabbed a small piece of shoreline to start on and went to work bouncing a Rapala DT-10 crankbait down the rock edge. With the cool, windy morning, I felt like maybe I could get a reaction bite before the sun got up too high. The topwater and jerkbait rods remained in the rod locker for the day. My attempts to draw a reaction bite on the crankbait were futile, and soon I would put that rod away and accept my fate. I grabbed my spinning rod, spooled with 8-pound-test Gamma line, and resigned to throwing the small worm and fishing tediously slow. My partner, Sam Mitchiner from North Carolina, quickly boated two keepers on a small Berkley worm.

I put the worm rod down for a moment and picked up a black-and-blue 1/2-ounce Gambler Swim Blade. The rock section I was fishing was deep. It plunged quickly from a few feet of water along the bank down into 12 or 13 feet. This was some of the deepest water available anywhere in the rim canal (or lake for that matter). A few casts later, the blade stopped and I reared back and set the hook. The heavy-action rod bent double and a big bass headed off toward the middle part of the canal. The fish jumped twice clear out of the water, and both times my partner gasped. I think I just held my breath. Eventually the fish came out from under the boat and Sam slid the net under her. What a start! We figured her to be close to 6 pounds. Now I just needed to finish my limit, and I'd have a decent chance of salvaging this tough tournament with a check.

Hours drifted by uneventfully. Sam picked up two more small keepers on his little worm. He was looking pretty good for a decent check on the co-angler side. Finally I felt a tap on my worm and set on the fish. It pulled hard for a few seconds, then came flying out of the water and spit the hook back at me. It was a solid 2 1/2-pound fish and was the first one that I'd gotten a hook into that I had not boated since the event started.

Close to noon now, I noticed that the never-ending line of wrapped boats had all settled on the rocky, deep side of the rim canal. The opposite side had some shale rock and a more gradual slope. I zipped TBF Living The Dream winner Dave Andrews shows off his early morning topwater catch at Lake Okeechobee.over to this side just to get some "fresh" water. A big bass interrupted the monotony as it chased a shad up shallow on the bank. I fired my worm to the approximate spot of the attack and the line jumped and moved off. I waited a few seconds and slammed the fish pretty hard. The medium-action spinning rod doubled over, and my partner scrambled for the net. The drag began to scream as the fish moved out for deeper water. Inexplicably, the hook pulled out leaving me staring at Sam, who was on the front deck, holding the net and wondering what had happened.

Another hour of fruitless casting and a general lack of fish coming into the boats around me caused me to want to stretch my wings and play a hunch. I ran several miles south in the rim canal and worked my way into a couple of the dynamite holes. I had caught fish in practice in these spots, but it's all about timing in here. They are big-time community holes, but I felt it was worth the effort to run down here. The first one was empty, but the water was like coffee with cream, stirred up by the strong winds. I fished fast with the jerkbait and worked through my favorite area more thoroughly with the worm, but got no bites. I ran back north and jumped into the other hole. Seven or eight boats had staked out the best sections and I was forced to work around them. The water color in here was better, more of a tannic stain to it. I flipped a worm around for about 45 minutes before giving up on the spot. I ran back north toward where we started the day and finished up on the rocky bank hoping for another miracle on the Swim Blade. It wasn't to be, so we checked in and waited close to an hour and a half to weigh our fish. My lone bass weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and I finished the tournament with 22 pounds, 2 ounces in 150th place.

J.T. Kenney, a master of Florida fishing, would go on to weigh in nearly 69 pounds across four days of fishing to win the tournament. He did most of his damage on the main lake, but like most of the top 10, he had to run through some dangerous water to get to his best spots. Overall, the weights were pretty good at this event, and it proved that Okeechobee is a fine fishery, especially considering the low water and lack of vegetation. Predictions for the lake call for continued draw-down as the dry season has already begun. This could be the last major tournament on lake for quite a while. Safety concerns and a lack of fishable water would make coming back anytime soon a big gamble. If anyone reading this is planning a fishing vacation and wondering whether Okeechobee would be a suitable destination, I would not hesitate to recommend making the trip. The low water has concentrated the fish in deeper depressions, especially in the rim canal, and they are not hard to catch on artificial baits. Roland and Mary Anne Martin's fishing complex is a top-notch, all-inclusive resort, and I had it pretty much to myself in prepractice. Remember, the lake may be low, but the fish have not packed up and left.

The load out

It was after 6 p.m. on Friday when I got the boat pulled out, and I immediately headed north out of Clewiston. I drove a couple hundred miles to Inverness, Fla., where I stopped for the night at my in-laws house. Seven hours later I was back in the Chevy and driving north through northern Florida and into Georgia. It was cold and rainy, and I had a whole day of driving ahead of me. I drove through the flatlands in southern Georgia, past Lake Seminole and then Lake Eufaula and eventually through Plains, Ga., home of ex-President Jimmy Carter. I stopped and bought some boiled peanuts and pecans to munch on along the way. This was the first time that I've run a fully wrapped boat and truck. I'm not sure I recognized the full potential of the wrap to reach so many people. I had countless folks honk their horns and wave, and I had to be careful not to pick my nose at traffic lights, as whenever I glanced to the side, the people in the other cars would undoubtedly be staring at me.

I stopped at one of the creeks at Lake Martin on my way through Alabama and snapped this photo. The  drought has taken its toll in this part of the country.I passed by Lake Martin late in the afternoon and stopped to take a few photos. The drought has hit this region hard. Docks that once floated with 6 or 8 feet of water under them were now awkwardly lying on the dry floor of the lake bottom. The water was a few hundred yards away. Lake-house launches made of cement stopped a full football field away from where the water's edge was now. The area needs rain, and it needs it now. I passed several bass boats, heading away from Smith Lake, another lake that more closely resembles a desert now. Just after dark I arrived at my destination. I met up with my friend Chris Gist in Rogersville, Ark. I will leave my boat and truck with him and fly home out of Huntsville the next morning. Wheeler Lake is the second stop on the FLW Series Eastern schedule, and I'll be back in March to give it another go. I'm already looking forward to the event. Finishing where I did in Florida was not the way I wanted to start my "Living the Dream" year, but I treat every tournament and every day on the water as a learning experience, so I leave Okeechobee with fond memories of my time spent there and a sharp desire to redeem myself in Alabama.


Until next time,

Dave


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Editor's note: This is the final journal entry from Andrews for the Okeechobee season opener. Stay tuned for more of Andrews' adventures from Wheeler Lake, the second stop of the Wal-Mart FLW Series BP Eastern season taking place in Alabama March 26-29.
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Tags: dave-andrews  article 

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