Bass Pro Tour Stage Two will bring the field back to the familar waters of Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Few bodies of water can rival the lore of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. It has been a regular stop for tour-level bass tournaments for decades, and continues to pump out monster bass year after year.

The 80-angler Bass Pro Tour field will make its first stop at this storied fishery for Stage Two of the 2020 season (Feb. 21-16), but everyone in the field is familiar with the “Big O.”

Several anglers in the field have scored significant victories at Okeechobee, including recent winners Timmy Horton, Brett Hite, Ish Monroe, Jason Lambert, and Randall Tharp. Among that group, Tharp stands out as he won an FLW Tour stop, finished second twice, and tallied an astounding seven FLW Top 10s on Okeechobee over the past decade.

Perfect Timing

Tharp is understandably excited about Stage Two and says that the late-February timing is perfect.

“That is my favorite time of the year to be there because you will have fish in all three stages of the spawn,” said Tharp, who added that bass spawn as early as November and wrap up in April on Okeechobee. “We’ll be right in the middle of their spawning cycle, and that’s the perfect time of year to be there.”

Tim Horton is one of the Bass Pro Tour’s recent tour-level winners on Lake Okeechobee, loading up largemouth like this during a February tournament in 2017. Photo by Joel Shangle

Pattern Predictions

When asked what techniques will play a role, Tharp predicts that typical Florida fishing patterns will produce plenty of bass.

“It is going to be a lot of what you saw at the Kissimmee Chain this year: There will be fish caught on vibrating jigs, swimming worms, lipless crankbaits, and topwater baits,” Tharp shared. “Plus, there’s always going to be a good flipping bite happening somewhere on the lake.”

Winning Area Predictions

Lake Okeechobee is a massive lake that covers 730 square miles, but Tharp said it will fish small, as it always does.

“Every time we go there, there are big schools of bass congregated in the areas of clear water,” he said. “That always attracts all of the attention of the anglers, and since we have all been there so many times, there are no secret spots. There are several historically good areas where the fish are usually located that time of year.”

Tharp rattled off a list of some areas where the field will congregate, looking for the win at Stage Two: the North Shore, Monkey Box, and the Clewiston and South Bay areas are likely locations. Plus, canals like Harney Pond, J&S, and Taylor Creek could also be a factor.

Casey Ashley and the rest of the Bass Pro Tour field have plenty of experience on Lake Okeechobee. Photo by Joel Shangle

Weather Dependent

Florida-strain largemouth bass are notoriously affected by the weather, and Tharp said that is one wildcard for Stage Two.

“We could be fishing in shorts in 85-degree weather and hit it perfectly,” he said. “That weather is why I spend so much time in South Florida every year. If that happens, we might break every single MLF record and show what the lake can produce. Okeechobee could really show out if the weather cooperates.”

But, if a cold front comes to the area, it could be the opposite.

“If that happens, we’ll be faced with the toughest fishing you can imagine,” Tharp predicted.

No matter the weather, Tharp and others in the field are excited to test their skills on Okeechobee.

“The lake is full of bass – there are a lot of small fish, but plenty of big ones, too,” he said. “That will be an interesting strategy to watch to see if anglers specifically target big ones by flipping and punching grass or if they try to play the numbers game.”