CLEWISTON, Fla. – The first two days of competition on Lake Okeechobee saw numerous bags of 20-plus pounds brought in to the scales. Today, however, seemed to reflect more of a traditional Saturday on the Big O where the fish go into hiding from the amount of pressure the receive each weekend. Despite lower catches, Brett Hite still clings to what is now a 12-pound, 3-ounce lead heading into the final day.
“The fishing is really day to day out here,” said the Phoenix, Ariz., resident. “It’s hard to say when the fish will bite or won’t. We had about the same conditions as the first day, so I thought they would bite a lot better.”
Hite has been mentioning all week that he has two patterns he could rely on depending on the conditions. His primary pattern has carried him so far, but today he had to fall back to plan B.
“I fished my main area all morning until about 11 o’clock and had one decent fish and three little ones,” Hite explained. “I got a feeling today that something wasn’t right and when that happens it helps to have something to fall back on, luckily I did. I had a voice in my head that told me to change. I wasn’t seeing the size or numbers from the primary patter so I made the change.”
When an angler experiences being in the “groove” everything falls into place for them. It is almost as if they can do no wrong. Hite has been to that level before back in 2008 when he won his first Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho by over 20 pounds. He then headed west to fish another tour-level event on the California Delta where he caught over 100 pounds of bass to claim back-to-back titles. The way Hite is fishing this week eerily resembles his performance from then.
“Fishing my backup pattern wasn’t what I wanted to do today but it worked out. I am just so comfortable out there and know what I want to do and how I want to catch them that I feel right.”
Hite continues to remain quiet about his two patterns but says that they are stark contrasts to each other. His main pattern brought bags of 34-15 and 23-8 from days one and two, respectively, while today saw his weight drop to 15-12. His three-day total stands at 74-3 as he looks to wrap up his second FLW Tour victory tomorrow.
“Tomorrow I still plan to start on my main primary spot. The sunny and slick conditions out there hurt me today. I know there are fish in that area still – lots of them – but they just didn’t want to bite today. If I don’t like what I’m seeing from there I will go back to my secondary pattern if I feel that’s what I need to do.”
Tharp stays in second
The honey badger has been steadily grinding away all week posting 23 pounds, 13 ounces on day one and 22-1 on day two. Tharp also got a taste of stingy Okeechobee today when he could only wrangle 16-2 worth of cobras to give him a three-day total of 62 pounds.
“My fish have been beat on for a couple days,” said Tharp. “My bites have been less and less each day so I think I might have to make an adjustment tomorrow.”
True to his element, Tharp has been using a big rod and big weight all week to do his damage from one particular area. Without giving away too much detail Tharp explained that his experience on the lake has helped train his eyes what to look for. He keys on certain areas that hold fish as they transition between prespawn staging areas and spawning pockets.
“I picture the fish swimming around out there moving in big packs. Those packs will set up on certain types of cover when they come in from the main lake. It took a while to figure it out but now I know what to look for and can target those specific places.”
While Tharp has sampled some areas he has had success in back in 2012 when he won the FLW Tour event on the Big O, he has mainly relied on one key area. He has fished that area until about noon each day before he decides to run different water.
“Normally these fish bite really good when it is sunny and calm but for some reason this week they like it cloudy. I know there are still a lot of fish in the area I’m working so it will make it tough to decide what to do tomorrow. I think I’ll think on it tonight to figure out what I need to do to win.”
Watson jumps to third
James Watson of Waynesville, Mo., started the week off by catching 20 pounds, 13 ounces worth of largemouth from Okeechobee to sit tied in 10th place. His catch slipped on day two with only 17-1 but it was enough to keep him locked in the top 10. With others struggling, Watson was the only angler to crack 20 pounds today thanks to his kicker that weighed over 8 pounds – biggest bass of his life – lifting his day-three catch to 22-4.
“With the conditions getting slick today I did something nobody in their right mind would do,” chuckled Watson. “I picked up a War Eagle spinnerbait and started throwing it through pepper grass and crushed three big ones real quick.”
When Watson says quick, he means quick. Three of his better fish came in a window from 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 this morning. Yet, his biggest fish came later on in the morning.
“I caught that 8-pounder around 11o’clock and she ate it close to the boat. I watched her bite and it was absolutely scary. That was the biggest bass I have ever caught in my life. That just goes with the roll I have been on for the past year. It seems like every decision I make works out and today it worked out very well.”
Watson has been throwing a Zoom Speed Worm most of the week but something was different today. He likes to follow the thinking that if he doesn’t get a bite on something in 15 or 20 minutes then he needs to change. His instincts took over from there and rewarded him with the largest days catch.
“I have been working the same area all week with that Speed Worm but today I found it hard to get a bite. That’s when I picked up that War Eagle spinnerbait and inside the grass line I was fishing and caught my limit. It felt completely random but it worked.
“I found out today that I don’t need wind to get bites. If we get the same conditions tomorrow then I will make the same route through my area and try casting baits a little more. I think I spent too much time trying to flip today so I want to expand on casting a little more. Those fish I feel like are just moving up to try and spawn so I want to cover a little more water.”
His three-day total stands at 60 pounds, 2 ounces.
Williams has remained true to his main spot located close to the takeoff area. It is a location that the fish flock to when it is time to spawn.
“I’m fishing basically 200 yards from the main lake,” said Williams. “I have stayed in the area all week focusing on flipping and pitching to the holes in the Kissimmee grass. The fish want to be in there to nest but I am catching mostly prespawn fish. I noticed a lot of bucks (small males) up further in the grass so I moved out and started catching better fish.”
Catching fish for Williams hasn’t been an issue this week when he culled three or four limits worth of bass on both days one and two. Things slowed down some for him today and he only made three culls. The drop in bites he mostly credits to the lack of wind.
“I want the wind to blow. Not too much, but just enough to stir the bait up that is in the area. That is when the fish really get to feeding.”
Williams plans to stick to his guns tomorrow and milk his spot for all its worth.
“This is the finest tournament I have ever fished. I don’t see any use in changing things now, I am going to stay with what got me here.”
Bohannan remains fifth
Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts pro Greg Bohannan has sampled both the good and bad side of Okeechobee this week. Day one brought Bohannan his best day of fishing ever with his personal-best limit of 27 pounds, 2 ounces. On day two he scrounged up just 13-11, yet enough to keep him in the top five. Today, Bohannan caught 18-4 to bring his three-day total to 59-1 and keep him fishing on the final day.
The Pop-Tarts pro is fishing an area that has been replenishing with fish throughout the week. Despite the beating it has taken from Bohannan and other compeitiors over the past few days the Rogers, Ark., resident seems confident it can hold up for one more day.
“I had a lot of fun today and caught a lot of fish,” said the eighth year Tour pro. “I set my boat down this morning and never fired the big motor again until it was time to leave. My graph looks like spaghetti from all the zigzags of covering water.”
Having the patience to remain stationary for so long seems to be helping Bohannan.
“I had a fish blow up on a moving bait today and threw a fluke right back out there. I let it sit while I ate a sandwich and when I picked it up a 4-pounder was on there.”
Bohannan’s focus has been on swimming baits this week – though he hasn’t disclosed any specifics – with an emphasis on getting reaction bites.
“I think there is more fish coming to that area and I’m going to live and die by it tomorrow.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 after day three on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., 58-5
7th: Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., 55-15
8th: Cody Meyer of Auburn, Calif., 54-11
9th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., 54-6
10th: Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., 54-4
Sunday’s weigh-in will be held at the Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.
Fans will also be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public. Also on Sunday, country music artist Josh Thompson will perform a free live concert on the Walmart weigh-in stage at 3 p.m.