Late timing has Okeechobee trickier than usual - Major League Fishing

Late timing has Okeechobee trickier than usual

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Postspawn conditions are a bit of a change for big MLF events on Okeechobee. Photo by Charles Waldorf.
March 30, 2023 • Sean Ostruszka • Toyota Series

CLEWISTON, Fla. – Death, taxes and yearly tournaments on Lake Okeechobee. You can count on all three.

Yet, this year will be a bit different from the norm. The Big O stop is usually one of the first events of the year, but this year’s Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southern Division event will see anglers fishing Okeechobee later in the spring than they have in more than a decade.

How much will that impact the fishing? We’re about to find out, but word is not optimistic.

Though it has less vegetation than it used to, there are still big sections of Okeechobee with a stunning amount of fishy water. Photo by Jody White

About the fishery

Okeechobee is basically a giant salad bowl. It’s 730 square miles of mats, reeds, hay grass, hydrilla and many more types of vegetation, all with an average depth of only 8 feet. Essentially, the Big O is heaven for many grass-minded anglers in search of big Florida-strain bass.

While Okeechobee is loaded with plenty of those big bass, it doesn’t hold quite as many double-digit brutes as many Florida fisheries are known for, though you can expect to see plenty of 6-plus-pounders weighed this week.

There’s a lot of fishable water on Okeechobee, but a handful of areas tend to attract the most fishing pressure, with water clarity being a huge factor due to the lake’s shallow nature making it very easy for the wind to muddy up an area. The northernmost and southernmost ends of the fishery, in general, tend to find congregations of boats all seeking out the same clusters of fish.

Over the years, Brandon Medlock has seen Okeechobee in about every situation, but this week could offer a unique challenge. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Current conditions

Timing is everything, and it seems this event might be a week off.

All season, Okeechobee’s spawning waves have been much quicker than in years past, according to pro Brandon Medlock. As in, they show up fast, spawn and ghost-town the areas instead of hanging around for a while.

Case in point, Medlock said a large wave came up last week, and he had an area where he cracked 35 pounds in a couple of hours. He checked that area during practice … and didn’t get a single bite.

“It’s been the same thing all year,“ Medlock said. “I don’t know why, but they’re just not staying around very long.”

Now, some storms that came in yesterday afternoon and some stronger winds today had both Medlock and pro Christian Greico optimistic the bite could get a little better today, but overall, the fishing is quite tough.

Thus, don’t be surprised if anglers mix it up a bit and fish the river and canal system to try and find fish that are more residential than the in-and-out spawners.

Tactics in play

Look back at any top baits gallery on Okeechobee and you’re bound to see tons of vibrating jigs, soft-plastic stickbaits and flipping setups. Both pros said you should probably expect more of the same. Though, don’t count out a frog bite, and forward-facing sonar has made jerkbaits more of a player in the canals.

Critical factors

  • Water clarity – With big winds forecast to start the event, finding those clear-water areas will be especially key.
  • Pressure – While it’s a big lake, Okeechobee can fish very small. So, navigating the pressure a giant field of boats can put on a fishery will be crucial.
  • Quality bites – Catching tons of fish is typically not an issue on the Big O, but getting those 6-, 7- and 8-pound bites is how anglers will truly separate themselves from the pack.
Word is that fishing will be a little tough this week. Photo by Charles Waldorf

Dock talk

There’s no sugarcoating it. Okeechobee is being stingy.

“There’s a lot of sad faces and discouraged looks after practice,” Medlock said. “No one I know is catching them well.”

Both pros said they figured 15 pounds a day would get an angler to Saturday, thanks to the tougher bite. That said, it’s still Okeechobee. Some guys will catch them.

“Oh, we’ll still see a couple 20-pound bags,” Greico said. “I think you’ll see the struggle down the line. The leaderboard is not going to be stacked like if this event was held earlier in the year.”