Pro Picks: Lake Okeechobee - Major League Fishing

Pro Picks: Lake Okeechobee

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January 13, 2006 • MLF • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

Whoa. Is it 2006 already? Wasn’t it just yesterday we were talking to Sam Newby about Gabe Bolivar, 1-ounce victories and little brown jigs at Pickwick Lake? Man, time flies when you’re trying sort out who’s fishing where next season.

Anyway, so it is 2006 (already!). That means it’s January, and Lake Okeechobee looms. That also means it’s time once again for the original Pundits’ Picks on FLWOutdoors.com.

Here’s the deal. It’s the same game as last year: pro v. pro and staff v. staff in a fantasy-football-style round-robin tournament to determine, at the end of the season, who is the greatest Wal-Mart FLW Tour pundit of them all. There are all kinds of game rules and regulations that probably won’t matter to you, the reader, but about which we squabble vigorously amongst ourselves all season long. The bottom line is that it’s all about the picks.

First, let me introduce three new players to the pundit arena.

New to the Pro Division, Art Berry comes to us from the sunny hamlet of Hemet, Calif., where he grew up on the cool, clear SoCal waters teasing mega-bass into biting his arsenal of swimbaits. His record as an angler out West is almost without peer at this stage of his young career, but it remains to be seen whether that prowess will translate into superior punditry power, as well.

In the Staff Division, young firebrand Brett Carlson, an editor with FLWOutdoors.com, comes to our realm of bass punditry from the world of walleyes. A bit of a know-it-all, he thinks his enthusiastic but as-yet-unrefined knowledge of all things fishing will work well as a kind of olive-branch-style diplomacy between the two fish species. We’ll see how that works out for him at the end of the season.

Also in the Staff Division is newcomer Jason Sealock, associate editor with FLW Outdoors. Jason spends more time in the boat chasing down pro anglers with his camera than most of us combined. So if he can’t figure out who’s hot and who’s not, he either needs to have his eyes checked or he’s simply just a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Watch out for this one.

Welcome, all. The rest of us, well, we’ve been here before for Pundits’ Picks past. The rivalries run deep, and there’s certainly no love lost among some of us.

Speaking of rivalries, I would be remiss not to congratulate Clark Wendlandt, known around here as “Clean Shoes,” for winning his unprecedented third Pundits’ Picks title in a row last season. What can I say? Not only can the guy catch `em, he can pick `em, too. A hearty congrats to him, and – in a departure from wishful-but-misguided predictions of his demise in years past – this year I guarantee that Clark will win the pundit title yet again. If you can’t beat `em, join `em, right?

Last thing, the usual disclaimer: The picks in this column in no way represent any sort of favoritism on the part of FLW Outdoors staff or its pro anglers. These are merely guesses – only arguably educated – as to who we think might do well at any given tournament.

Now, onto the 2006 Pundits’ Picks.

– Jeff Schroeder, editor, FLWOutdoors.com

Tournament site

Lake Okeechobee this year is much the same as it was last year. That is, it’s similar in that it’s a whole new lake once again. Last year, hurricanes mucked up the water so much that all the leading catches came from one area where the water was relatively clear, Monkey Box, which really crowded up the fishing. Another round of hurricanes over the summer has stirred things up again and completely redesigned some of the lake’s features, particularly on the south end of the lake. The Monkey Box is out and Moonshine Bay is in. There’s still going to be some crowded fishing, but look for the pros to be able to spread out and find more clear, open water than they did last year. That will benefit some of the pros who tried to avoid the mob scene last year but ultimately came up short, but don’t forget that Okeechobee is a place where you can always catch them in a crowd.

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Wal-Mart FLW Tour stop No. 1

Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston, Fla.

Jan. 18-21

Art Berry
FLW pro
Hemet, Calif.

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

FLW pro Art Berry
VS.
FLW pro Clark Wendlandt Clark Wendlandt
FLW pro
Cedar Park, Texas

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

1) ART BERRY.Because I’ve never been more ready. I feel great!
2) CLARK WENDLANDT.Possibly an open-water tournament, this is when Clark is most deadly, and nobody is more due for a big finish.
3) BOBBY LANE.When it comes to Florida, how can you not go with the Florida golden boy, Bobby Lane? Always tough to beat at home.
4) KELLY JORDON.If it comes down to fishing hydrilla, Kelly is a hydrilla magnet. Very hard to beat at his own game.
5) STEPHEN TOSH JR.Fresh off a strong offseason catching bass out West, he has developed a tremendous amount of confidence and is really excited about the 2006 season. He is my dark-horse pick. Watch out for Steve “Bub” Tosh!
1) DAVE LEFEBRE.Lefebre is very hungry for the Angler of the Year title and he’s fared well at Okeechobee in the past.
2) LARRY NIXON.I believe that versatility will be a key at Okeechobee this year, and Nixon is one of the most versatile anglers in the world. He’s also one of the best Florida fisherman that there is.
3) CLARK WENDLANDT.Last year, I started out very poorly at Okeechobee. This year, I believe it will fish considerably bigger, and I like my chances.
4) ANTHONY GAGLIARDI.A young fisherman with a lot of talent, I fared very well with him as one of my picks last year.
5) JAY YELAS.The last time Jay fished an FLW at Okeechobee, he finished in the top 10. Spawning conditions will be very similar this time, and I predict he will do very well.
Randy Blaukat
FLW pro
Lamar, Mo.

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

FLW pro Randy Blaukat
VS.
FLW pro Carl Svebek III Carl Svebek
FLW pro
Siloam Springs, Ark.

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

1) DAVID WALKER.All done with the BASS tour, look for Walker to go on a tear this year. He has done well in Florida a lot and knows a lot of good anglers in Florida (not that he needs the help). He is awesome.
2) ART BERRY.I don’t have much to back up this pick other than intuition. Art seems to fit in well in Florida, like he shares a mutual energy with the bass here. He is coming off a good couple seasons, and I will be watching him this year to see how he handles the momentum.
3) RANDY BLAUKAT.After reading about the Stren Series here a few weeks back, I like the way the lake seems to be fishing. Like Walker, I am all done with BASS and look forward to focusing totally on the FLW. Let’s hope it helps out with a good start to the season.
4) TOSHINARI NAMIKI.After he kicked everyone’s butt last year – all year long – my fellow pundits can no longer goof on me for picking Namiki each tournament. I’ve always known that he was incredible, and I expect him to be good again this year.
5) TAKAHIRO OMORI.Takihiro is the most focused angler in the world. His commitment to the sport is second-to-none. Okeechobee looks like it will be playing into his hands.
1) MIKE SURMAN.One of my favorite picks. Winner of one of the first FLW tournaments at Okeechobee in 1996, Mike is probably one of the most knowledgeable anglers on the lake. He is due for a top finish.
2) SCOTT MARTIN.How can you ignore a man who is fishing his home lake?
3) BOBBY LANE.Coming off a strong finish at the Stren Series opener, he apparently has something figured out.
4) LARRY NIXON.He’s a legend who is sure to catch them anywhere the tour goes.
5) CHRIS MCCALL.Last but not least on my list (unless you’re talking about height), Chris had an awesome finish the year before last on Okeechobee. He’s my ace in the hole.
David Dudley
FLW pro
Lynchburg, Va.

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

FLW pro David Dudley
VS.
FLW pro Dave Lefebre Dave Lefebre
FLW pro
Erie, Pa.

Record: 0-0
Points: 0

1) DAVID WALKER.I’ve said it time and time again, Mr. Consistency will emerge on top with the No.1 finger raised high.
2) BOBBY LANE.I think, by virtue of his confidence alone in Florida, this man can catch a 3-pounder on dry land. This is a no-brainer pick. He is definitely in tune with this state.
3) ANDY MORGAN.Anytime there is a flipping bite, Andy is always a threat. But he has also developed into a well-rounded fisherman, and that is what this tournament will take.
4) MARK DAVIS.This slow, boring, methodical fisherman always does well when fish group in certain areas where he can just stay and fish one spot. The thing about Mark is that he catches every one that swims near his boat.
5) WESLEY STRADER.He is a sporadic fisherman, but I have confidence in his ability to catch what he needs to rise to the top.
1) J T KENNEY.After not getting into the Stren Series tournament at the beginning of the month, poor J.T. has probably been slobbering all over himself to get at Okeechobee. He obviously would have whacked them then, and I’m sure he’ll whack them this week. I’m sure he gave some of his fish away, but he knows how to milk an area for all it’s worth. And he knows where the big dogs are this year.
2) CLARK WENDLANDT.After a horrific 2005 season by his standards, Clark ended the year on a strong note. This obviously will be a much different year for him. He will start off the year with a top 10, and my gut says another second place. He warned me not to pick him, but I believe.
3) KOBY KREIGER.He blew it big time in the Stren Series, but he probably tried to stay away from the crowd. He’ll beat it out with the masses, and with his knowledge of the Big O fish, he’ll come out of the trenches with a big sack one day.
4) VIC VATALARO.My northern-love pick. Every event this year, I’m going to pick one of my Yankee brethren, whether it benefits me or not. My first victim will be my close friend and new Ranger dealer, Vic Vatalaro. I know how he likes to fish, and Okeechobee really suits his style. He’s just been warming up the last two seasons. This will be a breakout year for old V.V.
5) DAVE LEFEBRE.My momma always told me not to pick myself, but I’m not sure she meant it this way. I always seem to find some fish in Florida, and hopefully this year will work out for me as well. If the icicles will just melt off my reels, I think I can catch them here again. I had no top-10s last year, so I’m due.

Links:

Staff Picks: Lake Okeechobee

Destination: Lake Okeechobee

FLW Outdoors Fantasy Fishing Challenge kicks off for 2006 season