Practice galleries with John Cox, Braxton Setzer and Bryan Schmitt
2:00 Weigh-in approaches
With weigh-in starting at 3 p.m. ET, our OTW crew is beginning to filter back to home base, so our updates will be slim to none for the next hour. That said, you’ll want to park it at flwfishing.com come 3 p.m. or come on down to the marina to watch in-person. Weigh-in should be fun, and there will definitely be a lot of fish to go ‘round.
1:40 Meyer alert!
Cody Meyer has fished from South Bay to the north end today and amassed a 15-pound limit for his efforts. He typically has a tough time with Okeechobee, so he’s got to be pleased with how the day has gone thus far.
1:33 Hallman is winding
Like nearly everyone down south, 2016 Okeechobee champ Bradley Hallman is chunking and winding in the hay grass and has a small limit in the boat. He says he needs to go flip for a big bite, but that he doesn’t have the confidence to go do it. That’s not a great position to be in.
1:25 Sprague is upgrading
Jeff Sprague just made a solid upgrade and has crossed into the low teens now. One big bite could have him sitting really well. The Texan has threatened at an Angler of the Year title before, and he’s typically very good in Florida – a good start in these first two events could put him right back in the hunt.
1:18 Slow for Cox too
Shockingly, John Cox has just two in the boat so far. No word on the size involved, but he’ll need to get things going soon.
Also, we think Luke Dunkin has 11 pounds and just made a cull, but the wind is ripping pretty good.
1:11 No go for Big Mac
Brandon McMillan has won a ton of money on Okeechobee, but today isn’t going his way. It’s getting late fast and he’s only got about 9 pounds in the boat and just lost a keeper that would have helped.
12:54 McCaghren, Peter T with limits
Billy McCaghren and Peter T have both amassed 10-pound limits now.
Also of note, we’ve got a bead on John Cox and Scott Martin, so you can expect some info from the favorites in a bit.
12:45 There’s some pressure
There are no less than 33 boats visible from where Brandon Mosley is fishing. Though the water looks gloriously clean, it’s getting hammered. Of course, if you get a little something figured and the fish are there it might not matter. Speaking of which, Mosley just culled again with a decent keeper.
12:40 Mosley strikes!
It seems the slackening wind and warming sun have helped the bite. Brandon Mosley just popped a 6-pounder and says he’s got about 15 pounds in the livewell. Fingers crossed for more big fish updates shortly.
12:35 A good day for Surman
Okeechobee veteran Mike Surman is doing well up north. Flipping cattails, he’s got a 4-pounder and four 2-pounders in the boat to get his season started.
12:30 More limits
Evan Barnes and Cody Kelley each have small, headshaking limits in the boat. Lots of little ones is the story of the day for much of the field so far.
12:20 Myers with 15 too
Tour newcomer Britt Myers is working the same general area up north as Greenblatt and has put 15-pounds in the boat as well. Sounds like there are some good fish where they’re at.
12:10 LeHew update
Shane LeHew is sitting on five keepers now. He just landed a 3-pounder, but he says he’s lost two others like it. He likely can’t afford to dump too many fish like that.
11:57 Greenblatt with 15+
Matt Greenblatt is a current leader. It’s nearly noon, and he’s fishing up north and has about 15 pounds in the boat. It’s likely that the leader will have well over 20 pounds today, but the Florida pro is on the right track.
11:40 Horton has a good one
Jamie Horton is as consistent as they come, and he’s working on another decent limit today. So far he’s got over 11 pounds and that includes a 4+ kicker.
11:33 Dobson with a limit
Jeff Dobson has a limit now and he’s fishing for a bedding bass that he shook off without seeing in practice. There were a fair number of bedding bass reported in practice, but not too many big ones seen (or talked about anyhow). He just missed it and reported it as a 4+, but there's still a chance he can get her to bite again.
11:10 Cory J in double digits
Cory Johnston is the first member of Team Canada to be found and he’s doing alright. The Johnstons have spent a lot of time on the Big O in the past, and he’s got about 12 pounds in the livewell midway through the day.
11:00 Lowitzki with a big one, other notes
Rich Lowitzki is lacking numbers, but he’s got a big one in the ‘well to start. With two keepers and a 6-pounder he’s got over 8 pounds as is.
Bill Day has a limit now for 7 pounds as well, JTodd Tucker is working with a small limit, Todd Hollowell has three keepers and Matt Stefan has a pair of little skippers.
10:58 Dudley adds a good one, Yelas into double digits
David Dudley just popped a 3-pounder to push his limit up past the 10-pound mark. Jay Yelas has also crossed into double digits as well, culling up incrementally down south.
10:40 Martin, Dove and Cortiana have limits
Scott Martin, Kyle Cortiana and Kurt Dove all have limits in the boat. Martin has a 3-pounder to go with his dinks, but nobody else has anything too special – just a collection of keepers to start the day.
10:33 Mansfield with four
Rookie pro Greg Mansfield is one shy of a limit now (nothing big) and he’s feeling alright. He says his area will be better once the sun warms it in the afternoon (though blustery it’s getting quite nice out) and that could certainly bode well for him.
10:25 Bryan with a biggun
Keith Bryan just check in with a 7-pounder to go with a small limit. He’s got over 12 pounds and is one more fish away from a dynamite day.
Jeff Sprague and Bryan Thrift have also finished limits, but they’re both sitting on a squad of dinks and not much more.
10:16 Ponds one shy of a limit
Fishing up north, Pete Ponds has four small ones in the box so far. The fishing should only get better as the day goes on, so he’s looking pretty good early.
10:10 LeHew and Wendlandt on the board
Shane LeHew has three small ones so far and co-angler Joan Arnal Font has a limit behind him. Clark Wendlandt is also on the board with one small one to start his day.
10:00 Dudley is culling
David Dudley is culling up from a starter limit now. He hates fishing in Florida because big bites are so key and they’re often dependent on fortune, but with a bit over 8 pounds in the boat he’s now hunting exactly that.
9:55 A limit for Wiley, Redington with three
Still sporting one of the best mustaches on Tour, Scott Wiley has a small limit already. Chunking a vibrating jig up north, Tom Redington has three in the boat early on.
9:52 Boyd has a start
Allen Boyd has three in the box to start his season off. He doesn’t have anything big yet, but game-changing fish are always just a cast away on the Big O.
9:40 Arey limits, some technique and condition updates
Matt Arey has filled out a small limit now, he’s fishing brush, but winding a bait through it.
So far it seems to be a pretty standard mix of Okeechobee techniques, with some winding and some flipping. North of Harney Pond the water conditions are not pretty, but down in South Bay the clarity is actually quite good despite the strong wind.
9:20 Another for Arey
Matt Arey may not have size going, but he just plunked a second keeper in the boat (not a true squeaker but less than 2 pounds) and he seems primed to catch a few more.
9:12 Arey on the board
Matt Arey has a contentious relationship with Lake Okeechobee, but he’s got a keeper in the box to start his day. He’s Poled down and flipping brush now.
9:05 Davis is cooking, other updates
Alex Davis is doing alright. He just culled again, this time upping his weight by about a pound. From the sounds of it, he’s up into double digits for sure.
Otherwise, Bill Day has a pair of skippers in the box, Austin Felix and Miles Howe each have one and Dave Larson is still hunting his first.
8:50 Gross has one, Davis has a limit, McCombs has a good one
Fishing up north, Buddy Gross has started off with a keeper. Gross has been pretty hot on Okeechobee of late, so he’s one to watch for sure. Down south, Alex Davis has a limit with one decent one and just made a small cull.
In the good fish department, Johnny McCombs has a 3-pounder in the livewell.
8:44 Yelas update
Yelas doesn’t have any size going, but our last report represented his second keeper and he just landed a third small one for the livewell.
8:39 Yelas with a keeper
We’ll get some more updates from up north in good time, but for now there are folks catching down south. It’s windy and hard to get exact estimates, but Jay Yelas just put a keeper in the boat to get his morning going.
8:31 Meyer is up to his usual tricks
Fishing south of Clewiston, Cody Meyer has already boxed up a limit for about 8 pounds. That’s pretty lightning work, and now he’s got ages to catch a few big ones.
8:28 Jimmy Houston breaks the ice
The first reported fish of the 2018 FLW Tour season belongs to the one and only Jimmy Houston. It’s not huge, but it’s a decent keeper and we’re on the board!
8:20 It’s busy up north
With the wind out of the north, the upper end of Okeechobee figures to be busy today. All the boats are out now, and so far a bunch of pros have flooded up toward Moonshine Bay and the Monkey Box. Hopefully we’ll have some fish to report in short order.
7:30 Takeoff time
Starting the year at Lake Okeechobee is almost a rite of passage for FLW Tour anglers and each season the big Florida bowl offers some new challenge for veterans and aspiring rookies alike. The 2018 FLW Tour opener presented by Evinrude finds the lake in a bit of a mess, but the big bass are still there and there are plenty of anglers eager to chase them down.
Due to Hurricane Irma, the Big O has suffered more drastic changes than usual this year, which has caused a lot of bellyaching throughout practice. The vegetation layout in Okeechobee changes year to year, but this year the change was quite drastic. Bryan Schmitt estimates that the north end of the lake has only a twentieth of the offshore hydrilla it used to, and that’s far from the only change. Because of the movement and destruction of the mats of cattails and grass, entirely new places are open water and some old places are covered up or inaccessible.
The biggest effect of the lack of grass isn’t on the bass, but rather on the water clarity.
“Probably the worst thing that happened was that a lot of the hard line [the outer rim of reeds near the main lake] was wiped out,” says JT Kenney, who used to guide out of Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort. “There are areas where the edge of the grass is now 100 to 400 yards closer to the bank than it used to be. The bad part about that is it allows dirty water to spread around more than it used to because the hard line would act as a barrier to keep it out.
“One thing about Okeechobee versus other Florida lakes is that the wind is such a big factor,” Kenney explains. “You don’t have to worry about it really anywhere else in Florida. This week, with a north wind, it’ll obviously dirty the south end up. But what people don’t think about is as the water is pushed out of the north end by the wind it may lower the water level a foot and a half. Well, when the wind dies, that water has to come back, and when it does it’ll dirty the north end up, too.”
Though much warmer than the weather was for the Costa FLW Series event a few weeks ago, the wind looks to be a factor this week. Thursday is forecast to feature a strong north wind, and that wind is supposed to keep blowing hard and shift to the east and then the south as the tournament progresses. That’s not good news for the water clarity, especially considering the state the lake is already in.
There are certainly pockets of clear water to be found, but it remains to be seen how clear they will stay. Though we can’t know for sure where anglers will group up, it seems likely that a lot of them will cluster into the clear water areas, and that means the fish will need to hold up a bunch of high-caliber pressure. Catching fish in the dingier or muddy water isn’t impossible, but it’s definitely unusual. That said, with the water how it is, someone may have to do just that.
There’s also a good chance that the canals around the rim of the lake play more than usual – they did during the Costa FLW Series opener, and they might again if the lake doesn’t fish ‘normal.’ Most tournaments on Okeechobee feature a mix of anglers flipping plastics and winding plastics and skirted baits. You can bet that the typical staples will produce, but there’s an outside shot at some more unknown techniques making money this week. From cranking rock in the rim ditch or offshore to flipping brush or going back into a canal, there’s a chance for some fun times even if the fishing isn’t firing like it can.
It was brisk and blustery at takeoff this morning, and as a result running across the center of the lake is off-limits, but otherwise the conditions don't seem too bad. Tour anglers have faced down much colder days on Okeechobee and caught bass, and the wind is from the north as forecasted, so anglers could at least prepare a little in practice. Now it's time to finally go fishing!
Temperature at takeoff: 55 degrees
Forecast high: 69 degrees
Precipitation: 0 percent chance of rain
Wind: northeast at 10 to 17 mph
Folgers Morning Takeoff: 7:30 a.m. ET at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort, 920 East Del Monte Ave., Clewiston, Fla.
Weigh-in: Thursday and Friday at 3 p.m. ET at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and 4 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina
FLW Expo: 12 to 4 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina
FLW Live: Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. ET to 12:30 p.m. ET