CLEWISTON, Fla. – As soon as he saw the flag, Jessie Mizell thought he might have a chance.
Just northwest of takeoff in Clewiston is the town of Moore Haven, which has a massive American flag that flies right along the main road. Driving past it on his way to takeoff for the past two days of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southern Division event, Mizell saw that the flag had been billowed out nearly straight, meaning the wind would make it tough for him to get his frog bite to go.
But as Mizell drove past it this morning, he noticed that flag lying down against the pole. Suddenly, his near 13-pound deficit to Bobby Bakewell didn’t seem so insurmountable because he knew what his special frog bite could do.
What it did was bring in 22 pounds, 7 ounces of bass, and when Bakewell’s Kissimmee River pattern fizzled, Mizell’s three-day 51-5 total had him holding a long-awaited Toyota Series trophy.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Mizell said. “This is my home lake, but I always fell a little short. So, to finally capitalize and take it, it means a lot.”
The weather, namely the strong winds, was the story for most of this event, as it trashed many areas and made for one of the stingiest bites anyone can remember on Okeechobee. That’s why Bakewell’s shell-bed pattern far up the river had been so effective, it was far less weather dependent. Problem is, those fish are residents, and when the area didn’t reload and Bakewell lost his only quality bite of the day – a 6-pounder that jumped off – he only brought in four fish and opened the door for Mizell.
Of course, he had to walk through that door, which he did thanks to his knowledge of the Big O’s “tides” and a special frog.
According to Mizell, Okeechobee has tides caused by sustained winds that can raise the water levels in an area as much as 6 inches while muddying up the water. Well, once that wind dies, there’s a “backflush” of clean water coming in from the marshes as the water recedes.
That clean water around the Harney Pond and Tin House areas was exactly what Mizell needed to get his frog bite to succeed around mats breaking free of lilypads root systems.
“Those mud mats make a cavern underneath, and the bass will sit around the edge of that or around sparse cattails or buggy whips nearby,” Mizell said. “I’d make very specific casts to the edges of those mats with my frog and always working it like there was a fish watching it.”
Often, that meant letting the frog sit 5-6 seconds in between twitches, but he customizes his SPRO Bronzeye Poppin Frog 70 by adding flashabou to the legs, which shimmer and “fan out” on the surface when sitting there. So, if one is watching it for that prolonged time and then he moves it, he says that added attraction seals the deal. He also mixed in a Medlock Jig, which he’d flip to isolated pieces of cover, but the frog accounted for the majority of his weight. In fact, he could’ve made a run at a 30-pound bag had he not lost a pair of 7-pounders today. Still, what he brought in was enough to seal the victory, which is all he remembers.
“Had it been different, I might care more about those two lost fish, but right now this is a dream come true,” Mizell said.
1. Jesse Mizell – 5 15 (15)
2. Bobby Bakewell – 50-6 (14)
3. Brandon Medlock – 49-10 (15)
4. Mike Surman – 45-5 (15)
5. Destin Lesesne – 45-2 (15)
6. Alex Terescenko – 45-0 (15)
7. Jared McMillan – 44-11 (13)
8. Marlon Crowder – 42-12 (15)
9. Dillon McMillan – 41-14 (15)
10. Casey Warren – 41-5 (15)
All he wanted to do was get a little experience on a Florida fishery, since he’d never fished one before. Sam Maxwell not only had fun, but he also left the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event Strike King Co-Angler champion.
Going out in eighth place to start the day, Maxwell got a key bait tip from his pro Alex Terescenko that propelled him to a 17-pound, 7-ounce bag to overtake Skip Reed with 37-4 total.
“I’ve never fished in Florida before,” Maxwell said. “I want to try and qualify for the championship via the wildcard, and I wanted to do a fun event on a grass lake. So I said, ‘Hey, Okeechobee fits into the schedule. Let’s go.’ It worked out pretty well.”
You could definitely say that, as he learned a lot from pros Michael Venditto and Don Demott the first two days throwing a Reaction Innovations Vixen and a popping frog. But it was the final day he may have gotten his biggest lesson.
“I had five fish for maybe 8-9 pounds on the Vixen, but I wasn’t getting blowups on my frog,” Maxwell said. “So, he said, ‘Dude, tie this one on.’ It was just a different brand and a bluegill frog versus my black frog, but I culled four times. That made all the difference.”