Catching a wave at Okeechobee - Major League Fishing

Catching a wave at Okeechobee

EverStart Series Southeast Division opens the gates on the Big O
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Boats race into an Okeechobee sunrise as the 2013 EverStart Southeast Division gets underway. Photo by Rob Newell.
January 10, 2013 • Rob Newell • Archives

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – Lake Okeechobee is known for its waves. When the wind howls on the Big O, three-footers are pretty easy to find.

But this time of year, Okeechobee is known for another kind of wave: waves of big female bass that come in off the main lake to spawn around the lake’s endless shoreline vegetation.

And in some way, those fishing the EverStart Series Southeast Division event on the Big O this week will have to be surfers of those waves, scouting the big lake and anticipating the next ground swell of big bass breaking into a small area.

When the main lake bruisers do inundate an area, it can make for the stuff bass fishing dreams are made of: 6- to 10-pound females will lay up everywhere in a small area and 30-pound limits are not out of the question. But the window to catch such magic is usually limited – maybe two days around the new and full moons.

The real problem, however, is predicting where the next wave will land. The North Shore? The Monkey Box? J&S? South Bay? Pelican Bay? The East Wall?

Jacob Wheeler having fun on the Big O with a Rapala X-Rap Prop.With the water some two feet higher than the last few previous years, much of Okeechobee is back in play for the competitors. And with a new moon arriving on Saturday, somewhere rollers are forming, but catching those waves before they break will be the trick.

2012 Forrest Wood Cup winner Jacob Wheeler is down fishing the EverStart event as a warm up for the FLW Tour event in a few weeks. He says the lake is full of fish, but he also knows the eventual winner of this event will be the pro who rides the next big wave.

“This place is a blast, especially for a topwater nut like me,” Wheeler said. “You can take a Rapala X-Rap Prop and have a ball catching a bunch of fish just about anywhere on the lake. But finding where a new group of females are just moving in is like finding a needle in a haystack – this place is just so massive.”

Wheeler sees the two primary options this week as either punching mats up in the north end or casting and reeling moving baits over endless “hay” fields down south. As for sight-fishing, Wheeler did say there are fish on beds, but with the water so high, seeing down into the beds is difficult.

“What’s so frustrating about this place – especially in those flooded hayfields down south – is you can fish through a gorgeous area one day, not get a bite and then 24 hours later, 30 pounds of bass move in and you’ve already written it off your list,” Wheeler said. “It’s just the nature of the beast down here.”

The big X factor could be the big jig pitching game, a big fish technique which has been a tournament-winning windfall for Brandon Medlock of Lake Placid, Fla.

Jacob Wheeler samples some mats during practice for the EverStart event on Lake Okeechobee.Medlock has won the EverStart Okeechobee opener the last two years in a row on his dad’s Double-Guard jig, which is specifically designed to be flipped into thick reeds, not necessarily mats.

“It’s not as strong as it was last year,” Medlock said of the technique. “Mostly because the higher water spreads those big fish out more. You can still catch big ones, you just have to cover a lot more water because they’re not as congregated as when the water is low.”

In the 2011 EverStart event, Medlock weighed in a 28-pound limit for the win and then in 2012 he compiled a monster 35-pound, 7-ounce limit on day two to rocket to victory.

“I think we might see one big limit like that this week,” Medlock said. “Someone, somewhere will land on the right bunch at the right time. But overall I think 15 pounds a day will make the top-10 and an 18-pound per day average will win.”


Anglers will take off from C. Scott Driver Park located at 10100 W. Highway 78 in Okeechobee, Fla., at 7:30 a.m. each day.

Weigh-in will be held at the takeoff location on Thursday and Friday beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday’s final weigh-in will be held at Walmart located at 2101 S. Parrot Ave. in Okeechobee beginning at 4 p.m.

Takeoffs and weigh-ins are free and open to the public.

On the final day of practice, the mats in the north end of Okeechobee were starting to get a little crowded.Pros will fish for a top award of $40,000 plus a Ranger Z518 with a 200-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard if Ranger Cup guidelines are met. Co-anglers will cast for a top award consisting of a Ranger Z117 with 90-horsepower Evinrude or Mercury outboard and $5,000 if Ranger Cup guidelines are met.

Thursday’s conditions

Temperature at takeoff: 66 degrees

Expected high temperature: 82 degrees

Water temperature: 70 degrees

Wind: E 10 to 15

Day’s outlook: Sunny and breezy