Paul Elias is ready to return to Okeechobee, one of the many places where the Mississippi veteran has notched a win. Photo by Josh Gassmann

Lake Eufaula was an awesome way to start the season for me, and I can’t wait to get started this week on Okeechobee. I’ll tell you, I feel 100 percent better than I did last year. Seriously, it’s like night and day. I feel like I’m back in the game.

The MLF Bass Pro Tour format is so amazing. I’ve been fishing professional tournaments for decades, but the stress and excitement with this format is addicting. I was close to making the cut – OK, maybe not that close, since I needed a 3-pounder or better to make the Knockout Round, but I finally felt great again fishing a tournament. 

Muddy water made it tough to see any fish at Eufaula. I had these little No. 6 treble hooks on a squarebill crankbait and I couldn’t see the position of bait in mouths or see what size the bass was. It was driving me crazy. I really needed a kicker fish, but I didn’t lose any fish. First tournament in two years where I didn’t lose several fish. Funny thing though, on the first day I caught 23 crappie, throwing a little swimbait, and had four scorable bass. Nobody else was catching crappie, I would’ve won the crappie tournament that day, if there was one.

Excited to Fish Okeechobee

Fishing Lake Okeechobee is something I can’t wait to do. I won a Super B.A.S.S. event there in the late 80s.

Fishing the Okeechobee of old, you could get on the edge of pepper grass, get on your trolling motor, and go until you found them. Find a point of grass or a dip in the grass and you’d eventually locate fish. But, the back-to-back hurricanes and high water destroyed a lot of the grass. I think the key to finding fish this time around is locating hay and reeds with the new vegetation mixed in.

We’ll be working through a lot of buck bass, and the winner will have to catch a few kickers. With the 2-pound minimum for a scorable bass, we’re going to throw a lot of fish back that don’t weigh. It’s going to be different, but I like it. We’re pretty much hitting Okeechobee on the head as far as time of year. The lake is low – but not too low – and the bass are accessible. 

Somebody is going to have a strong average on Okeechobee, especially with the 2-pound minimum. You can slow down and fish for the big kickers and not be passed up by somebody catching 1-pound schoolers.

We’ve had two beautiful days of practice, but then it’s going to blow 15 to 25 mph winds on the first day of the event, out of the north. Anybody focused on the south end is going to get hammered. Then the wind is expected to blow out of the east the next day, which means that very few areas won’t be hit by the wind.

I’m guessing the catch will be down the first day, but it’ll get better each day after. I think around 30 pounds for two days will get you to the Knockout Round, but that depends on how many guys catch a kicker. A 7-pounder will change everything for you.

I went down and pre-fished two days before Okeechobee went off-limits. Northeast wind one day and east the next. It was hard to find fishable water.

I’m blessed to be fishing against the absolute best anglers in the world. The caliber of these guys makes it incredibly hard to finish 20th out of 40 and make the Knockout Round. But I love fishing against these anglers, and I’ll predict right now: Okeechobee is going to be a good event.