Blistering wind, frigid conditions dominate most of the pro field
CLEWISTON, Fla. – Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., and Rich Couch of Ocala, Fla., battled winds gusting upwards of 25 mph, near-freezing temperatures and some of the most difficult fishing conditions in recent memory to grab a share of the overall lead heading into tomorrow’s FLW Tour finals on the “Big O.” With Lake Okeechobee churning up it’s own version of a perfect storm, Morehead and Couch netted identical catches weighing 12 pounds, 11 ounces to distance themselves from the rest of the field.
However, it wasn’t easy.
“I really feel like I survived the battle,” said Morehead, shaking his head when asked about today’s conditions. “All day we’re fighting the bitter cold and the wind. It was a really tough day. You really had to stay focused to have a chance out there.”
Couch couldn’t have agreed more.
“It was a very rough day,” he said. “It was a tough fight out there. I was just fortunate that I got in the right area today. But overall, it feels pretty good. I’m up there with two other guys and the rest of the field is going to have some catching up to do tomorrow.”
Wind wreaks havoc on rest of the field
Although Pat Fisher of Buford, Ga., managed to land a very respectable 10-pound, 6-ounce catch, the rest of the pro field struggled mightily. In fact, five of the nation’s top pros failed to land even one keeper fishing including: Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas; local favorite Mike Surman of Boca Raton, Fla.; Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas; Scott Dobson of Waterford, Mich.; and Rock Monteith of Columbia, S.C.
But while most of the field expressed disappointment, no one was making any excuses either.
“I’m not giving up, but I’m going to have to go out there and pull a rabbit out of a hat tomorrow,” said Surman, who landed a 27-pound, 6-ounce stringer on the first day of competition, which turned out to be the fourth-largest one-day catch in FLW Tour history. “But you know what, although the conditions are tough, they are tough for everyone out there. May the best man win.”
Other anglers expressed amazement by just how much the wind actually affected their fishing spots.
“I went out there today and when I got to my first spot, the whole area I’d been fishing all week was gone,” said Wendlandt, who had been flipping at floating grass mats. “From there, I really had to adjust. I just couldn’t get any bites. It was really frustrating.”
“I was fishing floating (grass) islands and it was so windy that my spot literally blew away,” added Dobson, echoing the stories of many other anglers. “I only got two bites all day. The conditions were rough.”
Morgan said the wind took a mental toll as well.
“The wind just beat me down today,” said Morgan, who was also flipping at floating grass mats. “All of my fishing spots just blew away.”
With fishing conditions expected to be similar tomorrow, anglers seemed resigned to the fact that everyone will be facing many of the same headaches during the finals.
Silver lining for Morehead and Couch
With a significant lead over the majority of the field, Morehead and Couch know that they now control their own destiny.
“I really can’t complain,” said Morehead, who used a flipping technique with a soft-plastic Mann’s “It” bait to land the majority of his catch. “I had eight keeper bites and I only lost two fish. Overall, I feel pretty good about tomorrow.”
Not surprisingly, Morehead said he’s not changing a thing during the finals.
“I’m really superstitious,” said Morehead. “And Florida has always been my nemesis. But everything has worked for me for three straight days, so I’m going to start changing anything now.”
Couch was equally as confident.
“I’m going back to the same spot tomorrow,” said Couch, who is flipping a black tube bait with a chartreuse-tipped tail. “The area is pretty well protected so it would take one heck of a storm to disturb that area. I definitely have some confidence … well, as much as you can have given the competition.”
Lake Okeechobee as the great equalizer
But while it looks like Couch and Morehead are the men to beat, every angler knows that anything can happen on any given day on Lake Okeechobee.
“I’m a little down right now,” said Faircloth. “But there are a lot of big fish out there on Okeechobee. It’s definitely possible to go out there tomorrow and catch a 30-pound bag.”
Morgan was even more succinct.
“I’m not done yet,” he said. “You can go out there on this lake and catch 20 pounds on two flips.”
Tomorrow’s takeoff is scheduled to take place at 7 a.m. at Roland Martin’s Marina, located at 920 E. Del Monte Avenue in Clewiston, Fla.