Coming off of a great finish at the Southern Open on Toho and Kissimmee, I felt like I had these Florida bass pretty well cornered, but sometimes it seems like fish down here are different than anywhere else in the country. Even the slightest change in weather messes with their heads. Right now Okeechobee has a lot of fish in it, and they can be caught a lot of different ways, but there’s so much water in the lake that the fish are scattered and a wind shift or drop in temperature can quickly ruin even the best bite.
I spent the three official FLW practice days trying to hit as many historically productive areas of the lake as possible. I figured that if I looked at a lot of water, in many different parts of the lake, then I was likely to fish into a key stretch that was loaded with bigger than average largemouths. Getting limits wouldn’t be a problem, but a 6- or 8-pound limit on the Big O won’t get you into the money.
When I’d been at Okeechobee in January, I’d done best on the north end of the lake, but during this practice I quickly realized that the north end was pretty much over. In a complete flop, the better fishing was at the south end of the lake. On the second day of practice I found two big schools of fish down there and got a ton of bites, including some that were clearly very big, even though I shook the majority of the fish off. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know is that on the third practice day, while I was fishing elsewhere, they sprayed the entire area. About three miles of my best area proved to be worthless. I started there after we launched on Day One, but it didn’t take long to figure out that my fish were history.
Once I realized that the area I’d been banking on would be a non-factor, I moved over to Pelican Bay. I knew there were a lot of small fish there, but I also suspected that the bigger females wouldn’t be far behind. There were already 9 or 10 boats in my area when I arrived, but I still managed to catch a limit fast. After culling a few times I left to hunt down bigger fish but I never got the big bite I needed, so I ended the day with 11-02.
I knew that if I headed back to Pelican on Day Two, there was a real chance that I’d end up with a sub-10-pound limit, and that wouldn’t do me any good. With a couple of areas on my mind, I headed out that day planning to shoot from the hip and see what happened. I might stub my toe, but I also wanted to give myself a chance to vault up the leader board. Once again, I got quite a few bites in the first half of the day, but again they were all small.
In the back of my mind I’d saved an area from practice where there were isolated mats mixed in among the flat reeds. Arriving there at 2pm, I immediately saw that the water had cleared up, which is critical in Florida. I could see loads of beds everywhere and I quickly caught a 5 ½ pounder that moved me way up. Then I culled three or four times, but I never got another really big bite. I caught them on swim jigs, swimbaits and Senkos, but the majority of the fish I weighed in came on the flipping stick. I was doing the right things, I just never made it into the areas that lit up on Day Two for a lot of other competitors. Still, I earned some valuable points and got a small check, although I missed out on another $6,000 by less than a pound.
Of course I employed an 8’ flipping stick and 50 pound Power Pro braided line to do most of the damage, but my key equipment discovery this week was the reel I used. It was the new Lew’s Super Duty baitcasting reel. It’s low profile and light like their other reels, which makes it comfortable to fish all day, but the increased sturdiness and handle stroke provide more winching power to get big fish out of the thickest, nastiest cover on any lake.
Of course, now that I’ve found the perfect flipping reel, it’s time to leave Florida. For months it seems like all I’ve used is braided line and the only items in my storage boxes are hooks, big weights and Missile Baits D Bombs. My next two tournament stops are at Smith Lake in Alabama and Douglas Lake in Tennessee and I don’t expect braided line flipping to play a role in either of those events. I hope I can remember how to cast with lighter tackle! Seriously, though, what I really hope is that these two tournaments develop such that they can be won with any one of a number of techniques. In other words, I hope it’s not entirely an Alabama Rig bite. I’m confident that if there are different ways to catch fish, with smart practices I’ll figure out how to catch the bigger ones.
10 fish, 24-06