CLEWISTON, Fla. (Feb. 5, 2022) – Although numerous bigger limits were weighed in by anglers throughout the week at Lake Okeechobee, no one could match the consistency of pro Rob Branagh of Malabar, Florida. Branagh brought a final-day total of five bass weighing 19 pounds, 11 ounces to the scale Saturday to win the season-opening Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. event at Lake Okeechobee. Branagh’s three-day total of 15 bass weighing 51-5 earned him the win by a 9-ounce margin over second-pro Nicholas Hoinig of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, and earned Branagh the top payout of $66,500 in the first tournament of the 2022 Toyota Series Southern Division.
“I knew I could catch a 12-to-15-pound limit every day, and I figured that would be okay on Day 1, but on Day 2 I thought I was going to get smoked by the guys that were bed fishing, because those fish were coming in,” said Branagh, who earned his first career victory in MLF competition. “But I wasn’t going to bank on that. It was a gamble, and I made the right gamble at the right time. I just fished where there was a bunch of fish and hoped I could get the right bites, and this morning I did.”
Branagh said that he fished on the south end of the lake, near Rita Island. He targeted clean water, keying in on underwater cattail stops with a Texas-rigged Netbait Big Bopper.
“It was a muck bottom,” Branagh said. “I used a 1/8-ounce weight so I could roll it slow. My plan was to catch five baits on the Big Bopper and then switch to a bigger bait to catch bigger fish, but the fish just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger on that Bopper, so I never put it down all weekend.”
When asked what he planned to do with his winnings, Branagh said that he plans to help his daughter.
“My daughter has two kids and works her butt off. I’m so proud of her, I’m probably going to buy her a car,” Branagh went on to say.
The top 10 pros on Lake Okeechobee finished:
1st: Robert Branagh, Malabar, Fla., 15 bass, 51-5, $66,500
2nd: Nicholas Hoinig, Port Saint Lucie, Fla., 15 bass, 50-12, $27,500
3rd: Lance Pemble, Leesburg, Fla., 15 bass, 50-6, $18,000
4th: Chris McBeath, Bradenton, Fla., 13 bass, 49-6, $16,000
5th: Brandon Medlock, Lake Placid, Fla., 15 bass, 48-10, $15,000
6th: Lee Stalvey, Palatka, Fla., 15 bass, 48-10, $11,500
7th: Bryan Honnerlaw, Moore Haven, Fla., 15 bass, 47-10, $10,000
8th: Frank Kitchens III, Oxford, Ga., 15 bass, 47-8, $9,500 (includes $1,000 Phoenix MLF Bonus)
9th: Willy Dennison, Willoughby Hills, Ohio, 15 bass, 47-4, $7,500
10th: Terry Olinger, Louisa, Va., 14 bass, 47-1, $5,500
Complete results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Pro Mike Jackson of San Mateo, Florida, won the $500 Day One Berkley Big Bass award in the pro division Thursday with a bass weighing 8 pounds, 9 ounces. Hoinig won Friday’s $500 Berkley Big Bass award, bringing a 9-pound, 5-ounce bass to the scale.
Kitchens took home an extra $1,000 as the highest finishing Phoenix MLF Bonus member. Boaters are eligible to win up to an extra $35,000 per event in each Toyota Series tournament if all requirements are met. More information on the Phoenix MLF Bonus contingency program can be found at PhoenixBassBoats.com.
Brent Jones of Okeana, Ohio, won the Strike King Co-angler Division Saturday with a three-day total of 13 bass weighing 37 pounds, 3 ounces. Jones took home the top prize package worth $38,700, including a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard motor and $5,000 cash.
The top 10 Strike King co-anglers on Lake Okeechobee finished:
1st: Brent Jones, Okeana, Ohio, 13 bass, 37-3, Phoenix 518 Pro boat w/115-hp Mercury outboard + $5,000
2nd: Mason Chapman, Lenexa, Kan., 15 bass, 37-1, $8,000
3rd: John Stahl, Land O’ Lakes, Fla., 11bass, 34-2, $6,500
4th: Jason Cooper, Shelbyville, Tenn., 14 bass, 33-12, $5,000
5th: Alan Hults, Gautier, Miss., 15 bass, 32-13, $4,650
6th: Jeff Turner, Plainfield, Ill., 15 bass, 32-3, $3,750
7th: Joseph Solenski, West Palm Beach, Fla., 15 bass, 32-2, $3,250
8th: Andy Niles, Ocean Springs, Miss., 13 bass, 31-13, $2,500
9th: Art Burgess, Delray, Fla., 11 bass, 31-12, $1,800
10th: Stephen Draghi, Sparrowbush, N.Y., 14 bass, 29-0, $1,600
The Day One Berkley Big Bass $150 award winner in the Strike King co-angler division, was Stephen Toth of Alachua, Florida, with an 8-pound, 1-ounce bass, while the Day Two $150 award went to Hults with a 9-pound, 7-ounce largemouth.
The Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. at Lake Okeechobee was hosted by the Hendry County Tourism Development Council. It was the first regular-season Toyota Series event of 2022 and the first tournament in the Southern Division. The next event for Toyota Series anglers will take place on Feb. 10-12 – the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Brookeland, Texas, hosted by the Jasper-Lake Sam Rayburn Chamber of Commerce. For a complete schedule, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.
The 2022 Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. consists of six divisions – Central, Northern, Plains, Southern, Southwestern and Western – each holding three regular-season events, along with the International and Wild Card divisions. Anglers who fish in any of the six divisions and finish in the top 25 – or the top 12 from the Wild Card division – will qualify for the no-entry-fee Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship for a shot at winning up to $235,000 cash. The winning Strike King co-angler at the championship earns a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard. The 2022 Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Championship will be held Nov. 3-5 on Lake Guntersville in Guntersville, Alabama, and is hosted by Marshall County Tourism and Sports.
Proud sponsors of the 2022 MLF Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. include: 4WP, 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, AFTCO, A.R.E. Truck Caps, B&W Trailer Hitches, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, E3, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, Gary Yamamoto Baits, General Tire, Lew’s, Lowrance, Lucas Oil, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Outlaw Ordinance, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Toyota, Wiley X and YETI.
For complete details and updated information visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the MLF Toyota Series on the MLF5 social media outlets at Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.