CLEWISTON, Fla. – Brett Hite sealed up his second win on the Walmart FLW Tour this week in dominating fashion. Though his weights slipped every day, Hite still pulled away with 6-pound, 6-ounce margin of victory. The best part for Hite was that he did it his way. He is known to be one of the best with fishing a vibrating jig and he proved it this week after hauling in 88-14 from the Big O.
Getting off on the right foot is key in any tournament and Hite had hopes of catching a decent limit to put him in the pack on day one.
“I had no idea I would catch nearly 35 pounds on the first day,” said Hite, who has been tournament fishing since he got out of high school. “I thought I could do maybe 20 (pounds) when I was driving to my first spot. As I got closer I saw there were two shiner boats on where I wanted to be. I made a loop around them to start on the other side and when I pulled up it was on.”
It was on to the tune of 34-15 to take a commanding lead and grab the record for the second-largest single catch in FLW Tour history. From there he would add 23-8 to his total after day two to take over a 12-pound lead. He kept that lead coming into the final day with his catch of 15-12 and with his smallest limit yet – 14-11 – Hite would place his hands on the title and the $125,000 check.
“To win you have to have a flawless tournament. You don’t get the opportunity to win too often so when you do you need to cherish it. I fished with a ton of confidence all week and got to fish a style that I love.”
It started for Hite when he checked the same area he usually inhabits when the FLW Tour comes to Okeechobee located around the Monkey Box and Fisheating Bay area. Most of the field rushes towards the bank , while Hite prefers the wide open water away from there.
“I checked that area on the first day of practice which is normally where I fish down here. Usually in the past there has been less grass and I’ll catch them there good one day but not the next. This year there was more hydrilla than I have seen and it got my wheels turning and I knew this tournament would play to how I like it.
“I started out fishing in Arizona around structure. I have always considered myself good on structure and over the years consider grass a strength as well. Fishing an outside grass edge like I did is just like fishing structure. I knew that with more grass those areas would hold a ton of fish, and they did.”
Hite stayed focused on what he called “salad bowls” or places that held multiple types of vegetation. Where you found those, you would find big numbers of bass. The large flat outside the Monkey Box and Fisheating Bay area contained this sweet spots and Hite had them dialed in. He focused on the clumps of grass, hard bottom within the grass, grass points or any other change in the grass line that would concentrate bass. Most of these areas he knew from years of fishing the area.
When he fished the grass Hite used two different vibrating jigs depending on the conditions. He had a black and blue one tied on with a Yamamoto Swimming Senko for a trailer (same color) for early in the morning. When the sun would get higher in the sky he switched over to a green pumpkin vibrating jig with matching Swimming Senko. As the wind would get calm he mixed in a ¼-ounce swim jig with a Swimming Senko – also in green pumpkin. He had those tied on with 20-pound Sunline Sniper and Shooter fluorocarbon. Hite also utilized a new rod he helped design in the Hercules series Evergreen rods (one of his title sponsors) specifically for fishing vibrating jigs.
The vibrating jig and swim jig made a devastating combination on days one and two, but the third day of competition forced Hite to make a change.
“I can tell you right now that I would not have won if it wasn’t for my decision to change to my back up pattern on day three. I didn’t get the bites I was looking for on my primary pattern so I made the call to go flipping. I made sure that I had two different patterns and that they were in the same area. Using your time wisely makes all the difference to maximize your time fishing.”
Hite flipped a 1 ½-ounce Reins tungsten weight with a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog on 60-pound SX1 braid from Sunline. He also caught his biggest fish of the tournament on a 6-inch Yamamoto Senko (black and blue color) and noted some key fish on an Evergreen Combat Crank 60.
Bohannan rallies to second
Kellogg’s Pop-Tart pro Greg Bohannan had a phenomenal week on Lake Okeechobee. He started the tournament with the biggest bag of his career – 27 pounds, 2 ounces – and ended it with the largest bag of the day – 23-7. That put Bohannan’s total to 82-8 on the week and earned him a check for $30,000.
“I really thought I was going to catch 18 to 20 pounds on the north end on the first day with a gold War Eagle spinnerbait,” said Bohannan. “I got to my spot in the Monkey Box and I didn’t have a bite for two hours. I ended up running to a spot that I knew had a bunch of fish over by the West Wall.”
Bohannan fished behind the main reed line in an area with a hard bottom and shelter from the prevailing winds. He fished a Zoom Fluke and pitched on Yamamoto Senko for a while on the first day but when the wind laid down he knew it was time to fish on top. After making the switch to a Gambler Big EZ Bohannan caught a 6-pounder on his 10th cast and knew he had to stick with it.
“After catching that big one on the first day I knew I might be on something. I didn’t know that spot had that potential but I caught three more 6-pounders on day one from there and knew that was what I needed to do. The area seemed like it had fish replenishing throughout the week and I bet there was over 200 pounds of bass pulled from there over four days.”
Bohannan knew with the amount of tilapia in the area and prime bedding places that the fish would continue to flock to him. He stuck with what got him to the final day and it continued to pay off. Cashing checks on Okeechobee hasn’t been much of an issue for the Rogers, Ark., pro. However, putting in some extra practice over the winter on the Big O really helped him understand how things work on Okeechobee.
“I came down last year to stay with my good friend who has a place on the west side of the lake. I just really wanted to drive around and get a feel for the lake. That combined with my experience from over the years really made a difference this week.”
The Pop-Tarts pro has been underpowered in past years when he came to tango with Okeechobee largemouth, so this year he made sure to come prepared. He used a 7-foot, 9-inch Denali Kovert rod with an Ardent Apex reel. He spooled 65-pound Sufix braid on the Ardent to handle to big girls. When he threw the Big EZ’s he used both McMillan Magic (cloudy conditions) and Copperfield (sunny conditions). Bohannan did mix things up on the final day and pulled his two bigger fish while flipping a black/blue Missile Baits D-Bomb. Bohannan credits a lot of his success to his Typhoon sunglasses for helping him see the empty beds and tilapia that covered the West Wall area giving him the confidence to fish there.
Following your instincts on the water pays off and James Watson was the poster child for that this week. He started with a limit worth 20-13 at the beginning of the week to get things rolling. He added 17-1 on day two and a whopping 22-4 on day three. Today, his 20-15 limit was enough to keep him in third place with a tournament total of 81-1.
“I have been randomly lucky this week,” laughed the Waynesville, Mo., pro. “I fished from the mouth of the Monkey Box to the end of Harney Pond and everything in between. I shot from the hip and it worked out.”
Watson started the tournament throwing a Junebug Zoom Speed Worm around hydrilla and eel grass. By day two he wasn’t feeling the faith with that bait. He picked up a ½-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait (gold shiner colored) and never looked back. Watson continued fishing it around the same cover and had some of his best success during calm, sunny conditions – basically the complete opposite of what you want to chuck a blade.
“I didn’t fish any new water today, I just stuck with the few areas I had confidence in. I started my big motor three times today otherwise I just the kept the trolling motor down and went fishing.”
The fish Watson pursued were both in pre and postspawn stages. For his efforts, Watson walked away with a check for $25,000.
Tharp drops to fourth
Randall Tharp seemed to start the week with a fire in his eyes. While the fire burned throughout the event, unfortunately his spots didn’t remain as intense. The first two days saw limits weighing 23-13 and 22-1, respectively. He says he should have had close to 30 pounds on day two and felt like he could get after them again. Things just never fell into place and his catches stumbled on the final two days to end with a total weight of 79-3.
“There was no secret to what I was doing this week. I put a 7-foot, 11-inch Halo extra heavy flipping stick in my hand with a 1 ½-ounce Reins Tungsten weight, a VMC heavy cover flipping hook and a Trigger X Goo Bug and went fishing.”
Tharp spent his week up around the Bird Island area flipping the thickest cover he could find. In between prime flipping cover he would cast a swim jig across the vegetation just outside the thick cover. The reigning Forrest Wood Cup champion added $20,000 to his career earnings this week thanks to his performance.
Steadily climbing the ranks this week was Repel pro Cody Meyer. The Auburn, Calif., resident started his week with 19 pounds, 9 ounces worth of Okeechobee largemouth. On Friday he caught his smallest limit of the week – 16-3 – to barely slip into the top-20 cut. Day three found Meyer with 18-15 to boost him up to eighth place. He wrapped the event up with his best performance of the tournament by bringing 23-3 to the stage. The Repel pro sacked 77-14 over the week to cash a check for $19,000.
“Today was an unreal day,” said Meyer. “I bet I caught around 40 fish and I’d say 20 of them were 3-pounders which I had to throw back because they were too small.”
Meyer spent the entire week in Harney Pond fishing a variety of cover. The California pro spent the first day targeting reeds with hyacinth mixed in by flipping a Jackall Sasuteki Craw (black/blue color) on 65-pound PowerPro. He made a change on day two to throwing a swim jig and Chatterbait on 50-pound PowerPro. That pattern prevailed through day three as well but for the final day he had to make another adjustment.
Today, he started with a Chatterbait and caught a 4-pounder but didn’t feel the confidence in it. He switched back to flipping the Sasuteki Craw and a few flips later had 4- and 4 ½-pounder.
“I got a 118th place on Okeechobee last year at the Tour event. It was the worst finish in my entire FLW career. It put me in a major whole I had to climb out of the rest of the season so I am very thankful to have a much better start. I came into this event just wanting to get through Okeechobee but I ended up having a great time.
“I used to have no confidence down here (Okeechobee) but now I feel pretty good. It was a huge learning curve for me this year. One thing that I think really helped me was my Typhoon sunglasses. I could see all the subtleties that I wanted to flip to much better thanks to them.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., 77-7, $18,000
7th: Scott Canterbury of Springville, Ala., 73-13, $17,000
8th: Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., 69-14, $16,000
9th: Leon Williams of Fairdale, Ky., 69-8, $15,000
10th: Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., 67-3, $14,000
The next FLW Tour event is slated for Lake Hartwell in Seneca, S.C., March 6-9, for the second of six qualifiers.