Despite hailing from Illinois, I have a strong connection with the lakes in Florida. I’ve always felt comfortable on them and my tournament results in the Sunshine State over the years have been strong. Still, Okeechobee is so large that I felt it would be worthwhile to spend some time checking things out before the lake went off-limits. I spent a few days riding around and was kind of surprised that some of my usual areas seemed dead and some other atypical areas had some activity.
When the official practice period started, I wanted to check out some places down south that I felt had the potential to develop into winning areas. Glenn went north and I went south and we agreed to compare notes at mid-day. I had some bites, but when he called at about 11 o’clock it was quickly evident that his practice was going a lot better, so I spent the second day on the north end of the lake, and pretty much set my sights on fishing the tournament in the north, primarily in the Monkey Box area.
On the final day of practice, though, I went south again and got keyed in on a bite that I felt was a potential game-changer. In the course of a couple of hours, I got 25 bites fishing around some flat reeds, and there was quality there, as evidenced by an 8 pounder and a 4 ½. That changed my thinking and on the first day of the event, Glenn headed north and I went back down south.
Unfortunately, despite all of my experience in Florida, my decision to point the boat in that direction was a terrible rookie mistake. The wind was blowing hard right onto my best stuff and it muddied up the water. In Florida, that’s a death sentence. The good-sized fish were in the heaviest concentrations of reeds out toward the main lake. You could get back in and fish behind them, where the water was clearer, but all that lived there were little 12- to 14-inch fish. The good ones were transitioning out of those protected areas, but the wind killed it. I ended up with 5 for 9-12. Meanwhile, Glenn had 21-11 and was in the top ten.
I’d practiced up north where Glenn and tournament leader Randall Tharp were fishing, so I had every right to go up there on Day Two, but it just didn’t feel right. Also, this time I watched the weather a little more carefully and knew that with the wind laying down it would suck the clean water back into my best areas down south. With a long day in front of me, I felt confident that I could head there again and settle in to chase the 30 pound bag that certainly lives there.
It took a long time to get the bite that I needed but at 1:30 I put a 7-08 in the boat. I culled a few times after that and a little bit later my co-angler caught an 8-01. Clearly the quality bites were there, but I was just too far behind after the first day to make a major vault up the leader board, even with an 18-01 limit.
I felt like I had my area to myself, but later found out that Brian Thrift, who made the final day cut, was only about 300 yards away but out of sight. Dave Lefebre, who finished 23rd, was also nearby, so clearly it was a good area. I just made a bad mistake when it came to the weather.
All of my fish came just pitching to the key clumps of reeds. They had to be heavy, but you also had to give yourself a chance to dredge the fish out of there. That meant using my 8-foot extra-extra-heavy Carrot Stix Black Wild flipping stick with heavy braided line. When the wind was howling and the water dirtied up, most of my bites were on a one-ounce Lunker Lure jig, but when it died down I had to go with a ½ ounce weight and a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in the Penetration color. As is typical in Florida, it was critical to fish very, very slowly in order to get a bite from the finicky fish.
That was the only FLW Tour Open I’ll fish this year. In a few weeks I’ll fish the first FLW Tour Major of 2012 at South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. It’s a big lake which overwhelmed me a bit last year, so I’m headed up there before it goes off limits to ride around. Despite the fact that I didn’t do all that well there in 2011, it reminds me of Table Rock and some of the Missouri lakes that I really like to fish this time of year, so I have pretty high expectations. Once again, it’ll be all about getting in the right area.
10 fish, 27-13 pounds