CLEWISTON, Fla. – The question that lingered around the stage before weigh-in for day one of the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee was which Big O would we see? Would it be the monster-bag beast it can be or would the stingy side be shown. It didn’t take long to find out the answer as 17 pros threw bags of over 20 pounds on the scales today – including Brett Hite’s personal-best limit of 34 pounds, 15 ounces to take a comfortable lead.
“Everything went right for me today,” smiled the Phoenix, Ariz., pro. “I didn’t lose any fish and I caught a 6 1/2-pounder first thing in the morning – what more could you ask for?”
Hite and Florida just seem to get along. In fact, one of his three victories in his career came from an FLW Tour event on Lake Toho. Recently, Hite has been on good terms with Okeechobee as he has cashed checks in the past few Tour stops here.
“Florida and myself just seem to get along,” said Hite. “I like to try and mix it up down here and I’ve got burned before trying them. I have also cashed some checks trying some different things and through the years I have learned some things that I kept in mind which has helped me out this week.”
With the fog delay holding things up this morning, many pros – like Hite – thought it would hurt their fishing.
“I really thought with this fog I would just have to go try and catch a limit but when I got to my starting spot they were chomping. I caught some big ones in practice but nothing to the extent of what I did today. I’d catch one here and then 30 minutes later catch another one and the bite was pretty consistent all day.”
After boxing nearly 35 pounds of bass early in the day, Hite went in search mode to check some new spots.
“I had my limit by 11 o’clock or so and after that I went practicing. I have quite a few other areas I didn’t even run to today. Even in the afternoon when I was just fishing around I caught three 4-pounders. Really I have two major patterns I’m running and I’m confident with them.”
Hite kept his lips sealed not wanting to mention what his style of fishing was that produced the giant limit. However, he did reveal that he caught somewhere around 15 fish throughout the day.
After a career-best day the question must be asked – can he do it again?
“There are a lot of fish in the areas I’m fishing. They keep replenishing so I’m looking forward to get out there again. I don’t really care what the weather does because I can’t control that. All I know is that I have some patterns I can run for whatever the weather conditions.”
Bohannan bags second
Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts pro Greg Bohannan has spent the winter months swimming a grub around Beaver Lake but decided to trade the light tackle for some extra-heavy gear on day one to catch a monster 27-2 limit – also his career-best day.
“This was the absolute best day of fishing in my life,” said the Rogers, Ark., pro. “My track record on Okeechobee isn’t great so to start the year like this is great.”
Bohannan’s practice was OK and revealed a bunch of beds in the area he planned to fish. Things looked promising for Bohannan to start the day and ultimately it wasn’t the fog delay that had him bummed out.
“I went up north this morning expecting to catch them one way. I fished around there until noon and decided I had to make a change. I picked up and left to run some new areas and just went fishing. I caught them pretty good after that – maybe a dozen fish.”
Bohannan is fishing a hard-bottom area and said he not only caught some fish casting and winding, but flipping as well.
“I had the area I fished all to myself today. I hope there are a bunch of fishing coming up, but I’m no Florida expert. What I do know is I’m pretty convinced those fish were attracted to the Peanut Butter Pop-Tarts wrap I got.”
“That fog delay had me worried this morning,” said Chandler. “I caught 17 pounds pretty quick and then went to a spot where I caught a big one the other day and boated my three biggest fish. I laid off them after that because I had 26 pounds by 12:30.
“I had a really good practice and expected to catch them good today.”
Chandler caught over a dozen fish today and culled roughly a 15-pound limit. Like many of the top anglers he is using a one-two punch of flipping and casting.
“I started to day flipping but then went to casting baits later on in the day. I’m fishing one big area with a lot of boats in it and I think I’m doing something different than the other guys.”
Chandler isn’t sure he can reproduce the same weight he had today but is confident in his approach to the crowded spot. He plans to run the same game plan on day two.
Tharp’s day wasn’t exactly a walk in the park when the fog delay paired with mechanical issues threatened to end his day. Luckily, the honey badger was able to get on the water around 10 a.m. and got to work quickly.
“I caught a decent fish in the first 10 minutes to help settle me down,” said Tharp, who now resides in Port St. Joe, Fla. “Shortly after that I caught an almost 7-pounder. I was definitely a little rusty, but I knocked that off pretty quick. I struggled in practice to catch them early but today they bite pretty good.”
The honey badger is best known for his ability to probe the thickest shallow cover in search of giant largemouth, but admits he likes to branch out from time to time.
“You know, I’m actually mixing it up a little this week between flipping and throwing some moving baits. I lost a fish on a moving bait that I would have like to have.”
Despite his shortened day, Tharp caught around 15 keepers from one primary area. He also notes that he’s figured something out during the day that he didn’t in practice.
“I have an area I really like and it really looks good. It’s the only place like it that I could find and I’ll get to spend some more time there tomorrow because I get a longer day. I’m right where I want to be.”
“I knew that with my longer day (due to being in a later flight) and the cloudy conditions I could do pretty well because I had been catching them early,” explained Amerson. “I had a limit in 15 to 20 minutes this morning. After that I just kept working the same area hitting everything I could.”
Although Amerson had plenty of company on his fishing grounds he still managed to catch roughly 30 or 40 bass.
Around noon, Amerson hooked into a fish that would go on to earn big bass honors for the day by tipping the scales at 10 pounds, 6 ounces – earning him a $500 check. He caught that fish – along with the majority of others – on a Strike King worm. He also caught a keeper on a Strike King Pure Poison vibrating jig.
“I feel like there is a pretty good concentration of fish in the area. I’m confident I can catch 12 to 13 pounds but I don’t know about another big one. That is the thing about down here, just one big bite and you can cover some ground on the leaderboard.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros after day one on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Rich Dalbey of Greenville, Texas, five bass, 21-10
6th: Michael Wooley of Collierville, Tenn., five bass, 21-10
8th: Matt Greenblatt of Port St. Lucie, Fla., five bass, 21-6
9th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., five bass, 21-2
10th: Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., five bass, 20-13
10th: James Watson of Waynesville, Mo., five bass, 20-13
Knick leads co-anglers
“I was a little worried for the fog delay,” said Knick. “We got to the first spot it happened pretty quick. I caught a 6-pounder early in the day which helped me relax. I had my limit in the first hour and a half, then upgraded later in the morning. Once the sun came out though, the bite shut down.”
Knick has found success on Okeechobee in the past. He took seventh last year in this very event as well as seventh in the Rayovac FLW Series event back in 2007.
He caught the majority of his fish flipping very slowly; however, he also threw some moving baits today as well.
“I’m just looking forward to tomorrow. I got a top 10 here last year and hopefully I can seal the deal this year.”
Grayson Smith of Clarksville, Tenn., sits in second place with five bass weighing 18 pounds, 1 ounce. He has a mere 13-ounce deficit to overcome the leader as he heads to day two.
Joshua Weaver of Macon, Ga., found five solid Okeechobee largemouth today to sit in third place with 18 pounds.
Terrell, Monti round out top five
Bill Terrell of Memphis, Tenn., sits in fourth place with a limit weighing 17 pounds, 3 ounces.
“As I was putting my third fish in the livewell – about a 12-incher – I had a 3 1/2-pounder I’d caught earlier completely jump out of the livewell and back in the lake,” said Terrell in disbelief. “It even had the cull tag still on it. I have never seen anything like it. That fish would have helped a lot.”
Rounding out the top-five co-anglers was Kyle Monti of Okeechobee, Fla., who caught five bass that weighed 16 pounds, 11 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers after day one:
6th: Terry Chapman of Newberry, S.C., five bass, 16-3
7th: Paul Lafleur of Benton, Ark., five bass, 16-1
8th: Johnny Manning of Arkadelphia, Ark., five bass, 16-0
9th: Ken Coats of Tulsa, Okla., five bass, 15-10
10th: Billy DeHart of Burlingame, Calif., five bass, 15-5
10th: Les Swan III of Lake Placid, Fla., five bass, 15-3
Day two of the FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee will begin Friday at 7:30 a.m. from Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort located at 920 East Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston.