Top 10 baits from the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals opener on Lake Okeechobee - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals opener on Lake Okeechobee

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Moving baits were the big player in the first event of the year at Okeechobee. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Joshua Weaver.
February 14, 2023 • Erik Gaffron, Rob Matsuura • Invitationals

CLEWISTON, Fla. – The Top 10 from the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals event on Lake Okeechobee saw an awful lot of anglers going to work with power techniques. Pros who kept things moving found the bigger bites needed to move up the leaderboard at Power-Pole Stop 1 Presented by Phoenix Boats. Bladed jigs and swim jigs found their way onto the decks of many top pros, while frogs, flipping baits, and finesse techniques played complementary roles for the anglers who got it done this week.

Here’s what did the most damage for our Top 10 from the Big O.

1. Joshua Weaver chunked and wound his way to victory this week at Okeechobee, targeting fish feeding up prior to the impending spawn. Weaver targeted two specific areas on the north end of Okeechobee that featured clean water and a healthy mix of matted and emergent vegetation.

Weaver alternated between a black and blue 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer and a Dirty Jigs No-Jack Swim Jig, both tipped with a green pumpkin trailer. The pair of baits were slung on Favorite Fishing Hex rods in a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy action model paired with Favorite Fishing Soleus XCS casting reels in a 6.6:1 gear ratio. The bladed jig was thrown on 20-pound fluorocarbon and the swim jig on 50-pound braided line.

2. Colby Schrumpf also targeted fish transitioning to spawn in the South Bay region of Okeechobee. He focused his efforts on areas with the right mix of clean water and vegetation to catch his fish throughout the week.

Schrumpf targeted his areas with a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer in dirty white, matched with a shad profile trailer, and a Texas-rigged junebug 5-inch Yamamoto Senko. Schrumpf rigged both setups with 20-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon on G-Loomis casting rods paired with Quantum Smoke X 100 reels.

3. Brett Hite got to doing what he does best on Okeechobee, targeting transition bass with a bladed jig in the South Bay. Hite’s practice period led him to stay on the lower end of Okeechobee due to him finding the most fishable water out of any area he traveled to this week.

Hite worked over his areas with a pair of ½-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammers, one offering in golden shiner paired with a Houdini-colored Yamamoto Zako trailer and the other in green pumpkin with a matching Zako trailing it. Continuing the trend of fishing only with things he designed, Hite went with a 7-foot, 3-inch Evergreen Combat Stick for his rod, and a 6.3:1-gear ratio Daiwa Tatula Elite reel, matched with 20-pound Sunline Sniper.

4. Michael Neal continued this reign of dominance to start the 2023 season, landing yet another Top 10 finish and making a strong opening case for another Angler of the Year title. Neal stuck to a game plan of covering water in practice and found himself drawn to the Moonshine Bay area of Okeechobee. Neal felt that his area had more room for fish to roam, which was valuable as fish this week transitioned into their spawning phase.

Neal focused on covering water in those areas with a ½-ounce black and blue swim jig paired with a Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper in hematoma. He slung his offering on 80-pound Sunline FX2 braid and a 7-foot, 6-inch extra heavy Denali Lithium Pro.

5. Jacopo Gallelli bounced around to a variety of areas this week on Okeechobee. The Italian angler opened his tournament fishing in South Bay and doing damage with a green pumpkin Molix Freaky Craw with chartreuse died tips. On Day 3, Gallelli pulled the plug down south, made his way up near the Tin House region of Okeechobee, and settled in with a bladed jig.

6. Jonathan Dietz made his presence known this week, catching them really well on days one and two and holding on to a Top 10 finish on Okeechobee. He focused on finding cleaner water in Moonshine Bay away from the crowds he saw on the main lake.

The Pennsylvania rookie moved through his areas with a black and blue 3/8-ounce Dirty Jigs Swim Jig with a black and blue Z-Man Billy GOAT trailer. He worked this offering with a 7-foot, 4-inch ARK Essence Series casting rod paired with a Shimano SLX XT and 30-pound P-Line TCB braid. Dietz also noted catching a small minority of his fish on a Z-Man GOAT ToadZ in white.

7. Kyle Weisenburger’s bags improved every day on Okeechobee as he climbed his way into a solid Top 10 finish to start the season. Weisenburger continued the trend of looking for clean water with open channels in the vegetation for fish to roam and stage before they spawn.

Weisenburger did his damage with Dweller Baits swim jig paired with an LBA Baits Ditch Pickle trailer in green pumpkin. He also caught fish on a 4.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait in electric bluegill rigged weightless and a bluegill-colored bladed jig tipped with another Baits Ditch Pickle.

8. Rookie Michael Harlin bought into his primary area on the south end of Okeechobee for this week’s event. The Missouri pro got to work frogging and flipping his way around a small, secluded area for three days, working his way to a total of 56-14 and a Top 10.

Harlin threw a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog in the red ear color pattern and a Reaction Innovations Spicy Beaver in Flora/Bama. Harlin put each to work on FX Custom Rods.

9. Paul Elias charged back into the hunt on Day 2, posting a massive bag of 25-1 to put himself right back into the mix for the final day. Elias backed it up on Day 3 with another solid bag of 19-11, landing him in ninth to start the season. Elias, like the rest of the Top 10, focused on fish moving into his area for the spawn, specifically milking the dead root systems scattered throughout his primary area.

Elias worked his area over with a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer in Brett’s bluegill. He threw it on an FX Custom Rods cranking stick and a 7.3:1 Bruin Outdoors Paul Elias Legend Series reel spooled with 19-pound test White Peacock fluorocarbon. Elias also generated a few bites on a discontinued oversized Mann’s twin tail grub retrieved at or near the surface.

10. Spike Stoker took a slightly different approach than the rest of the field to find his way into the Top 10 on Okeechobee. The Cisco, Texas pro picked up a lipless crankbait midway through the first day of the event and never put it down the rest of the week.

Stoker’s lipless of choice was a 5/8-ounce Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe in green silver color with the hooks exchanged for No.  2 Owner ST-56 trebles. The setup of choice for Stoker was a Power Tackle Rods Pow-R-Point 470 custom made to 7-feet, 2-inches with 20-pound Seaguar InvizX.