CLEWISTON, Fla. – The first Top 50 cut of the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Invitationals has arrived and the pros are in the middle of a good old-fashioned slugfest at Power-Pole Stop 1 Presented by Phoenix Boats at Lake Okeechobee. A whopping 12 anglers sit with two-day totals of 40 pounds, 7-pounders are biting like crazy and more than a few have a shot to win on Championship Friday.
When the scales closed at the end of Day 2, it was Colby Schrumpf who sat atop the pile, boasting a bag weighing 25-6 in the second stanza of the event to reach the top spot. He’s confident that fish are continuing to move into his area as warm, sunny weather is predicted once again for the finale here on Okeechobee. Hot on his heels is Joshua Weaver, who dropped a massive bag weighing 31-6 on Day 2 to slide into second place.
The Top 50 features a mix of new and familiar faces. Per usual, back-to-back reigning Angler of the Year Michael Neal is in the mix to win. Veteran pros Brett Hite, David Walker, and Brian Latimer also find themselves in contention. While rookies and young guns such as Jonathan Dietz, Michael Harlin and Tai Au are also lurking within striking distance.
In a twist seldom seen on Okeechobee, Latimer has found himself succeeding with a spinning rod in his hand this week. The beefed-up finesse setup has made for some entertaining fish catches on MLFNOW! and has Latimer sitting in 4th place heading into the final day.
“Yesterday I went into my area expecting to go crazy on them flipping,” he said. “But that wasn’t working, so I ended up doing a little ‘South Carolina finesse’ on them to get all my bites by about 11 o’clock. Today I went straight in there and went straight up finesse first thing in the morning.”
B. Lat thinks he has found so much success with a finesse presentation because his fish may be closer to the spawning phase than the fish others are catching. He also fears that the beautiful weather could make things more challenging for him.
“You know, it’s kind of weird. I feel like the fish are prespawn and I noticed today that I didn’t get as many bites. That kind of makes me feel like they’re spawning now. So, in a weird way, I think this weather might make it tougher for me.”
Invitationals rookie Dietz finds himself very much in contention heading into the final day and is encouraged by his showing so far at Okeechobee. The young angler from Pennsylvania looks like a well-versed vet after showing out on the MLFNOW! live stream.
“They put a camera guy in my boat, and I caught a 6-pounder, then like a 6 ¼-pounder,” he said. “It was just a really, really good day. I didn’t have any mishaps. I had a couple of fish miss the bait, but I don’t know how big they were.”
Part of Dietz’s comfort in front of a camera is admittedly loads of practice on his own time, dreaming of the opportunity he finally had this week.
“It honestly felt like everything I’d ever watched,” he said. “I have seen it so many times and rehearsed it. Every guy out here, I don’t care if it’s Kevin VanDam before they were Kevin VanDam, they were fishing in their own boat talking like they were on live. So, it was honestly just a super awesome experience.”