Wal-Mart FLW Tour
Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, Fla.
Opening round, Wednesday
Significant stringer … Pro Mike Surman sailed past the competition on day one of the FLW Tour season opener with his astounding 27-pound, 6-ounce sack. The whopping five-bass limit not only dominated the scales in the initial round of action on Lake Okeechobee, but it also earned the Boca Raton, Fla., angler a place in the FLW Tour record books. The catch netted Surman the fourth-largest stringer for a single day of fishing in FLW history. The top three sacks in FLW history were all caught in 1996 on the Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina: Jeff Coble of Henderson, N.C., landed a 29-6 sack; Ted Capra of Blaine, Minn., registered a 27-15 sack; and Dwayne Horton of Knoxville, Tenn., pulled in a 27-8 stringer. As if such a distinction was not enough for Surman, he further propelled his bragging rights by landing the largest fish of the day Wednesday – a 9-14 lunker that led to a $750 Snickers “Big Bass” Award. The only thing that matched the size of the bass was the thunderous sound of applause that erupted from the crowd when he held up his prize fish at the weigh-in tent at Roland Martin Marina on the edge of the “Big O.” “I knew it was a good one,” Surman said of the catch that tipped the scales in his favor. “But I didn’t know how big it was … so it was exciting to when that big head popped up out of the grass.” Surman is no stranger to success on Lake Okeechobee; he also holds a spot in the history books for winning the first-ever FLW Tour tournament in 1996 – on the Big O.
Weather, or not … Anglers and pundits alike were not contemplating whether the weather in the Clewiston, Fla., area would affect fishing patterns on the Big O for the FLW Tour’s season opener, rather how much effect it would have. Unseasonably cool temperatures had a hand in the bite experienced by anglers who fished the EverStart Series tournament in early January as well as the BASS Tour tournament held on the lake last week. Though temperatures have warmed in recent days under a bright canopy of sunlight, as have water temperatures, the buzz among anglers on the FLW Tour is that a cold front is likely to blow into the area during the latter half of the four-day tournament. Though many pros expressed concerns about the impending cold as they crossed the weigh-in stage today, at least one pro is hoping for a chilly change. Buford, Georgia’s Pat Fisher said he found fish in early January that he hopes will relocate back underneath the beds he targeted as his key areas during the EverStart tournament and while pre-fishing for the FLW event. “I want it to be cold,” he said. “The warm water is making these fish more active … they’re coming up from underneath those beds and moving around.” Although Fisher, a Snickers pro, didn’t get the 20 to 30 bites that he was getting during practice, he sealed the deal on five of the six bites he got today – enough to put him in fifth place after day one. “I had one big bite … but he didn’t want the Cruncher King Bar I was flipping, so I caught these babies.” Surman said a cold front cooling the water could have a huge impact on the remainder of the tournament in terms of the weights anglers will bring in from the lake. “Whenever this lake gets below 60 degrees, the fish just don’t bite – period,” he said.
The F-word … On what most pros and co-anglers described as a tough day of fishing, flipping the Big O was the way to go for many. When asked how they caught their fish by tournament weigh-in announcer and FLW Outdoors Vice President Charlie Evans, many anglers simply replied: “flipping.” One local co-angler characterized the technique, of which he acknowledged he is not very fond, a little differently. When asked how he caught his single fish, Abbie Israel of Clewiston, Fla., replied, “The F-word.” A lot of anglers said they lost fish they almost caught flipping when it came time to wrestle them out of heavy cover like reeds and grass. Scottsdale, Ariz., pro Andre Moore, who ended the day two shy of a five-bass limit, jokingly said: “I was fishing the heaviest cover I could find, but I just wasn’t man enough. I could’ve had a real good sack. I lost six or seven of them.”
Slow `n’ easy – well, at least slow … Many anglers had to downshift and fish slow on the Big O to bring in bass. Evans said, “If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times … fishing slow is the key here.” For many competitors, it wasn’t just a technique; the fishing itself was just plain slow with a mere 25 percent of the total anglers weighing in limits. “It was a tough day.” The phrase was almost as common in the weigh-in tent as were anglers clad in sponsor-decorated caps. Even a number of the more successful anglers were describing the day as a hard-fought battle against the Big O bass, but many seemed optimistic about the remainder of the tournament. Mike Wurm of Hot Springs, Ark., whose five-bass sack wasn’t easy to fill or large enough to crack the top 80, said he knows the big fish that have made Lake Okeechobee famous are still available. “They’ve got to be there,” he said. “We turn them all loose.”
30: number of total pounds that anglers will need to make the cut after day two, as projected by Surman and Fisher.
90: number of five-bass limits caught by pros (81) and co-anglers (nine) on the first day of competition.
5: number of sacks weighing more than 20 pounds caught by pros (five) and co-anglers (none) on the first day of competition.
867: total number of fish caught by pros (620) and co-anglers (247) on day one.
“Goin’ ice fishing.”
– Canadian pro Bob Izumi of Milton, Ontario, telling Evans what his gameplan is for tomorrow after a rough first day.
“I might have to go home and get a job.”
– Pro Fred Hill of Roxboro, N.C., explaining his plans for day two after a less-than-stellar first day of fishing.
Quick links, Day 1: