Though the total weights didn’t live up to some expectations, the Toyota Series Southern Division event on Lake Okeechobee was still a lot of fun. The weather was great, there were plenty of fish caught the first two days, and there was a truly dramatic race for the win on the final day.
Taking home the title, Brandon Medlock targeted bass feeding on shad in the morning and then flipped reeds the rest of the time. His pattern was actually fairly common – a shad spawn or something like it was a factor for many pros and flipping isolated reeds was largely the name of the game. Medlock just did it better than anyone ese, and actually strung together two days near 20 pounds, which hardly anyone else managed to do.
1. Medlock goes with a jig
You can read all about Brandon Medlock’s pattern here. His primary baits were a ½-ounce, white Medlock Double Guard Flipping Jig with a white Zoom Super Speed Craw and a 3/8-ounce and a 3/4-ounce Medlock Double Guard Flipping Jig in black and blue. He tipped the 3/8-ounce model with a Riot Baits Little Fuzzy, and used a Zoom Big Salty Chunk as a trailer on the 3/4-ounce model.
2. Topwater approach works for Peter T
Catching the second biggest bag of the final day rocketed Peter Thliveros up from 10th to second. He did almost all his work with a bone-colored River2Sea Rover, and caught a few flipping a watermelon red Zoom Salty Super Fluke.
“I caught damn near every fish on a River2Sea Rover,” says Thliveros. “That was primarily due to the first day partner I had (Skip Reed). He started the morning behind me throwing roughly the same thing and had five before I had a bite. So, I thought I should dig something like that out. I tied it on, and slowly but surely ended up catching a 16-pound bag.”
Thliveros basically lived with the topwater the rest of the tournament, mostly fishing around eelgrass on Bird Island that had scattered reeds and cattails around it. Thliveros says that the key was the eelgrass, and the retrieve was very important.
“They were spawn and postspawn fish, and the topwater bait really triggered those fish to bite,” he says. “I don’t think they would hit anything else. I tried all kinds of other moving baits and I could not make them bite. I could not get them to hit anything that was a steady retrieve, it seemed like the erratic action of the Rover triggered those bites. I would speed it up and slow it down, I would work it hard and then stop it. They didn’t want a steady retrieve.”
Fishing it so much that he got a blister on his hand from working it, Thliveros put together a stellar week.
“They were the most ferocious bites I’ve seen in a long time,” he says. “That 7-pounder had it completely out of sight and she hit it twice. It was just amazing. They absolutely attacked it – it was the coolest topwater bite I’ve had in a long time.”
3. Buck swims a jig
Ronnie Buck stuck to some absolute Florida staples for his week on Okeechobee.
His primary bait was a 3/8-ounce black and blue Gambler Heavy Cover Southern Swim Jig that he trailered with a matching Gambler Burner Craw. His other option was a junebug-colored Gambler Fat Ace that he flipped around.
“I was fishing basically a big spawning flat with eelgrass and some hydrilla and some heads of buggy whips,” says Buck. “In the mornings those fish would set up on those buggy whips and I would swim that swim jig by and they would nail it.”
4. Missed opportunities sting Milicevic
Gary Milicevic had a really good tournament and a horrible final day. In the span of about 15 minutes on a line of reeds all the way up near the Kissimmee River, Milicevic managed to lose a 4-pounder on the jump and snap a rod on the hookset on a fish he thought was bigger than that. Hade he put those fish in the boat, he might have had a fighting chance at taking down Medlock.
The Florida veteran had a whole variety of things going on. On day one, Milicevic caught fish on a black SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog and flipped a ½-ounce black and blue Gambler Double Weedguard Jig with a Gambler Burner Craw. On day two, he mixed in a shad spawn with a War Eagle spinnerbait.
Milicevic says his frog fish were shallow and spawning around scattered reeds and eelgrass. Later in the day, he flipped round reeds. Mostly staying on the west side of the lake, he made it as far north as the Kissimmee River on day three.
“It changed on me through the whole tournament,” says Milicevic. “It went from fishing way shallow, to fishing middle ways out, to today it was like a shad spawn had them on the outside. It was crazy how everything changed in just three days.”
5. Spawners fail Davis
Darrell Davis is making a real habit of coming close in big tournaments in Florida. This week, he was just ounces off the lead going into the final day before he found himself with just one fish in the box late Saturday afternoon.
Throwing swimming topwaters in Florida has become a big of a thing for Davis, and he did it to perfection the first couple of days. If the spawning fish he was targeting didn’t eat his Reaction Innovations Trixie Shark or Skinny Dipper (both in the shiner color), he’d sling back over with a Pocket Rocket to catch them.
Also catching a few flipping a Sweet Beaver, Davis did his best work near Bird Island in flats with mixed reeds and eelgrass. However, that pattern ended pretty abruptly sometime during day two.
“I didn’t have fish coming to me,” says Davis. “All the places I had were basically spawning places, and when I caught them I had to move to the next stop. Today I tried to find some of those staging areas, with fish coming and going, but I couldn’t. So, I struggled [the final day].”
6. South plays for Cannon
The only pro in the top 10 to fish south of Clewiston, Brett Cannon caught a pile of fish all week, but never ran into big ones.
His primary baits were a 7.3-inch 6th Sense Divine Shakey Worm in the nirvana color that he rigged on fluorocarbon with a ¼-ounce weight. Another top producer was a black and blue 6th Sense Divine Braid Swim Jig that he matched with a Divine Swimbait.
“I was trying to get the wind to my back and make long casts to isolated reed heads,” says Cannon. “I caught so many fish, when I went in practice I got 30 bites without a hook, I just hit it a little wrong, one day those big ones are going to come in.”
7. MacQueen grinds with a Jack Hammer
A black and blue Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Yamamoto Zako was pretty much all Bradley MacQueen needed to book a top 10. He also caught a couple on a ¼-ounce BOOYAH One Knocker in the blue shiner color. For basically the whole tournament, he ground away at a hydrilla flat near Harney Pond.
“I pretty much just stuck in there all day,” says MacQueen. “It’s just a big flat, all about 2 foot with hydrilla. I just bounced around and did a bunch of “Z’s” in it, going back and forth from waypoint to waypoint.”
8. Observation Shoal area produces for Kremer
The Observation Shoal area immediately north of Clewiston produced a lot of fish this week, and Joseph Kremer took advantage. Throwing a weightless Zoom Magnum Ultra Vibe Speed Worm in watermelon red and a mostly silver Smithwick Devil’s Horse was the ticket for Kremer.
“Anywhere there was Kissimmee grass mixed with pencil reeds, that’s what I was keying on,” says Kremer. “Basically, right on the outside edge, and I’d move back about 50 yards. I was sitting on the lake side most of the time with the Speed Worm, and I used the Devil’s Horse back behind the reed line where it was calmer.”
9. Frashier goes thick
Flipping a trio of different black and blue baits worked for Robby Frashier. One was a ½-ounce tungsten jig, another was a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko with a ½-ounce weight and the other was a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a ½-ounce weight.
“Practice was a drag, it was tough, but I found this one little area that had some fish in it,” says Frashier. “One day I happened to see a guy catch one deep in the grass, and I kept moving in deeper and deeper. I felt like I was in the jungle. I just flipped in that jungle and caught ‘em. I had opportunities to catch 20 pounds the first two days, but I lost some, too.”
Targeting isolated pencil reeds in hay grass and Kissimmee grass, Frashier was fishing near the Observation Shoal.
10. Pencil reeds play for Warren
Fishing up north, Casey Warren targeted isolated pencil reeds with some slightly off-the-wall baits. His best producer was a Gambler Giggy Head with a junebug red Zoom Trick Worm. He also used a Gambler Fat Ace in green pumpkin and a 6-inch Zoom Lizard in pumpkin chartreuse. He fished everything on 15-pound-test fluorocarbon, which may have resulted in more bites and a few key lost fish.
“I fished an ABA last weekend and got a top 10 fishing the same pencil reeds I fished all three days here,” says Warren. “I caught fish moving up and fish that were pulling back out. The first two days were really good, me and my co-anglers were each catching 20 to 25 fish a day.”