Tour Notes: Lake Okeechobee - Major League Fishing

Tour Notes: Lake Okeechobee

Interesting facts, highlights and observations from the Walmart FLW Tour
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February 17, 2016 • Jody White • Archives

The kickoff of the Walmart FLW Tour down at Lake Okeechobee was a whirlwind tournament. Now that we’ve had a few days to reflect on the opener, here are some of the more interesting events, facts and observations from Clewiston, Fla., that were previously unreported.


Hallman wins without limiting

Winning typically takes lots of fish and lots of big fish. Last week at Lake Okeechobee, Bradley Hallman had the big fish part down pat, but the last two days of the event were a struggle for everyone, including the champ. Hallman failed to bring limits to the stage on days three and four. Tournament results from the late 1990s and early 2000s on Okeechobee are littered with four-day events where the winners didn’t catch a limit every day, but Hallman was the first to win a four-day event there with less than the full complement of fish since the 2009 FLW Series Eastern Division event won by the late Jimmy McMillan.

Interestingly, fifth-place pro Shin Fukae finished in the top five of that 2009 event as well.


McMillan magic rubs off

While down competing in Florida, the Canadian trio of Chris and Cory Johnston and Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson all stayed with noted Okeechobee hammer Brandon McMillan. Each member of the foursome made a check for a combined total of $63,000, and both Chris Johnston and McMillan finished in the top 10.


Hallman’s unfair advantage

While the southern portion of Lake Okeechobee was the main player, one little section was the deal for both Shin Fukae and Bradley Hallman. Often, they could be easily photographed at nearly the same time, one to the left and the other to the right. On stage, Fukae joked that it was Hallman’s “unfair advantage” in height that made the difference when flipping the tall cattails.

While Hallman is a whopping 6 feet, 5 inches tall, and Fukae is at least a little shorter, that likely wasn’t the only difference.


Pros made a difference off the water as well

At nearly every Walmart FLW Tour event the pros make an effort to reach out to the local community in some way. At Okeechobee, Chase Brooks, Bill McDonald and Charlie Evans took time on Wednesday before the start of the tournament to visit the Eastside Elementary School where they spoke to about 200 fifth- and sixth-grade students and also let the kids tour their boats.

On Saturday, while the top 20 pros were out on the water, Cody Kelley and the FLW Foundation hosted a unified fishing derby at Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina.

Kids up to age 16 could participate, and both the winner and runner-up earned a trophy for their accomplishment that was awarded on the FLW Tour weigh-in stage.

“I thought it went very well,” says Kelley. “We had 26 kids there, and we’re hoping it will be even bigger in South Carolina [at Lake Hartwell] and Arkansas [at Beaver Lake]. Everyone caught fish, and all the kids were smiling and laughing.”

The winner at Okeechobee was Olivia (6), and Brandley (7) finished runner-up.

To participate in youth tournaments at the upcoming Lake Hartwell and Beaver Lake FLW Tour stops (and elsewhere), simply keep an eye out for flyers that will be posted and distributed throughout the area, and call the number on them to RSVP.


The Rookie of the Year race is underway

It’s far too soon to declare a favorite in the Rookie of the Year race, but this year’s crop of rookies seems to be pretty legit. Of the 28 rookies on Tour this year, a whopping nine finished inside the top 50. With any luck, the eventual ROY won’t have it iced by the final tournament, and we’ll see multiple newcomers battling for the title and spots in the Forrest Wood Cup. The next Tour stop is Lake Hartwell, which is about as different from Lake Okeechobee as possible, so we could be headed for a shakeup.

Here are the top 10 in the standings so far:

Name                         Total Points    Okeechobee Finish

Chris Johnston           198                 3

Joshua Weaver          194                 7

Tommy Dickerson      179                 22

Shawn Gordon           166                 35

Cory Johnston            163                 38

Kyle Monti                  162                 39

Curtis Richardson      155                 46

Joe Holland                153                 48

Richie Eaves               152                 49

Braxton Setzer           140                 61


Stumbles at Okeechobee have changed the AOY race

Bradley Hallman currently leads the standings for Angler of the Year, but there’s a long way to go yet. One of the primary goals for any presumptive AOY is to survive Okeechobee and not knock himself out of the running at the start of the race. Since 2010, no angler who went on to win AOY has averaged worse than an 18th-place finish per tournament. Pulling the average up from a triple-digit finish at the opener is a very hard task to accomplish.

That in mind, we took a look at our original pundits’ picks to see if any of the predicted contenders can be swept off the board.


  • Anthony Gagliardi – picked by Jody White, FLW Associate Editor

Gags finished 140th at Okeechobee. He’s done worse there and still made the Cup, but the chance at AOY is probably over.

  • David Dudley – picked by Jesse Schultz, FLW Web Content Manager

Dudley finished 84th. He’s probably right on the bubble of being out of it, but not for sure.

  • Bryan Thrift – picked by Colin Moore, FLW Editor-in-Chief

Thrift banked the second-worst finish of his Tour career, a stunning 132nd. Unfortunately, he’s likely out of the AOY running.

  • Andy Morgan – picked by Chris Burgan, FLW Social Media and Communications Specialist

After a 40th at Okeechobee, he’s definitely in the running for yet another AOY title.  

  • Cody Meyer – picked by Dan O’Sullivan, Managing Editor

Meyer is in it after escaping Okeechobee in 58th.

  • Scott Martin – picked by Kyle Wood, FLW Senior Editor

Finishing 23rd has the reigning AOY off to an even better start than last season, when he finished 44th at the opener on Lake Toho.

  • Mark Rose – picked by Rob Newell, FLW Field Editor

The Walmart pro came out of Okeechobee in 28th and is certainly in position for a run at the crown.

  • Stetson Blaylock – picked by Curtis Niedermier, FLW Managing Editor

Blaylock finished 45th at Okeechobee and seems very capable of using that as a springboard to the top.

  • Wesley Strader – picked by Joe Opager, FLW Director of Public Relations

Strader will have to finish strong, but finishing 63rd at Okeechobee is not the end of his AOY ambitions.