OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – The Big O has been wind-beaten and wave-battered by hurricanes. Her waters are turbid and muddy; her shores are barren of vegetation. Naysayers even contend that the lake is in the worst shape of all time.
Yet somehow, in some way, the famed fishery continues to pump out bass like a fish factory on steroids.
For three hours and 20 minutes Wednesday, pros and co-anglers fishing the Southeast Division event continuously toted sack after sack of fish across the new Stren Series stage.
Out of a full field of 400 anglers (200 pros and 200 co-anglers), 371 weighed in a total of 1,429 fish, including 205 limits and a grand total of 2,483 pounds, 3 ounces of bass.
Not too bad for a lake that’s endured five hurricanes in two years.
Leading the way is Stren Series rookie Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., with 23 pounds, 11 ounces. His bag included an 8-5 and a 7-14.
This is Ashley’s first trip to the Big O, and perhaps his fresh outlook, void of any previous Okeechobee notions, has helped him develop a unique pattern.
“I am fishing a spinnerbait fast,” Ashley reported. “I made a long run this morning, made one quick pass through my area with the spinnerbait, caught seven keepers and left.”
Ashley says he has no intention of returning to his area tomorrow.
“There are still a lot of fish in there,” he added. “I will try to survive somewhere else tomorrow and save those big fish for the finals.”
Above all, the young pro, who just came out of the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL) ranks, is trembling with excitement over his rookie Stren Series catch.
“This is unreal,” he said. “I found these fish Monday, and I’ve been shaking ever since.”
Little’s five-fish limit was anchored by a pair of Okeechobee lunkers weighing 7-5 and 6-7.
“I was fortunate and got two big bites today that made all the difference,” Little said. “All I can really say now is that my big bites have been coming in the afternoon.”
Little reported both casting and flipping plastics to catch his fish.
“Tomorrow, I want to avoid those big bites,” he laughed. “I just want to get a 10-pound limit to keep me in the top 20. If I get a limit early, I’ll probably go check some new water.”
Thrift isn’t exactly a rookie of the Stren Series, though. Last year the young angler enjoyed a phenomenal season as a co-angler in the Stren Series (then called the EverStart Series) by winning two co-angler titles in the Southeast Division at Lake Eufaula and Santee Cooper.
This year he has switched to the pro side, and it looks like his step up is already paying off.
Thrift is using a unique bait called a Chatterbait, a type of swimming jig with a blade in the front, and it seems to be working everywhere he puts it, including on his co-angler’s rod.
“I gave one to my partner and he’s now in second place in the Co-angler Division.” Thrift said. “Between the two of us, I bet we caught 40 bass on it.”
Ankenbauer reported catching his fish on a mixture of flukes and spinnerbaits and by flipping plastics in the Moonshine Bay area.
“I’m fishing an area as opposed to a specific pattern,” Ankenbauer said. “I’m using a variety of lures and alternating between them as I work the area. The two biggest fish did come flipping, and I caught another decent one on a spinnerbait.”
Ankenbauer commented that Moonshine Bay was a bit crowded this afternoon.
“I bet half the field is there, but there’s also a ton of fish in there,” he added.
Bowen back on big stick for fifth
And as most might have guessed, he caught his fish flipping.
Bowen’s bag included an 8-pound, 9-ounce lunker.
“That’s why I love it,” Bowen said of the flipping technique as he showed off his big bass.
Vinson sixth with 10-pounder
Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala., caught the day-one big bass in the Pro Division weighing 10 pounds even. He is in sixth place with 17 pounds, 6 ounces.
Rounding out the top 10 pros in the Stren Series Southeast Division opener on Lake Okeechobee:
7th: Sandy Melvin of Boca Grande, Fla., 16-9
8th: Gary Niemi of Lake Placid, Fla., 16-7
9th: Carmen Patti of Davie, Fla., 15-13
10th: Brad Burkhardt of Speedwell, Tenn., 15-9
Rodrigue leads co-anglers
Rodrigue’s five-fish limit was anchored with two 6-pound-plus twin bass, which both bit a Zoom Fluke.
Co-angler Lance Henderson of Fort Ogden, Fla., is in second place with 14 pounds, 12 ounces. Henderson caught his biggest bass on a spinnerbait and then borrowed a Chatterbait from pro partner Bryan Thrift to finish his limit and cull up.
Co-angler Keith Carson of Debary, Fla., is in third place with 12 pounds, 8 ounces.
Matt Hults of Gautier, Miss., caught the Co-angler Division big bass of the day, weighing 7 pounds, 4 ounces. He is in fourth place with 12 pounds, 4 ounces.
Co-angler Brian England of Lafayette, Ga., is in fifth place with 11 pounds, 5 ounces.
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers in the Southeast Division Stren Series on Lake Okeechobee:
6th: Tom Ridley of Valdosta, Ga., 10-12
7th: Jeff Sullivan of Frostproof, Fla., 10-10
8th: Ed Hembree of Berea, Ky., 10-3
9th: Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla., 9-15
10th: Ralph Myhlhousen of Orlando, Fla., 9-13
Competition resumes tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. at Okee-Tantie Park in Okeechobee City. Click here for a day-two preview.