Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 03/21/2012

Lake Okeechobee

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Okeechobee, FL –  After Alton Jones won the Elite Series season opener last week on the St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida, the Elite Series moves over 200 miles south in The Sunshine State to finish out the Florida swing on Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest freshwater lake.  

The Last time B.A.S.S. visited Lake Okeechobee in January of 2010 for the first Southern Open of the season, Chris Lane notched what was then his second career victory with a three day total weight of 41-2.   Florida's Bobby Lane and Terry Scroggins rounded out the Top three, and 2012 Elite Series Rookie, Kyle Fox, finished in 7th Place. 

Okeechobee was also the site of the 2007 Elite Series Wild Card Qualifier in late November.  Byron Velvick, who returned to the Elite Series for the 2012 season after taking a medical exemption in 2011, topped the 34 boat field with a two day total weight of 40-8. 

In 2006, Chris Lane scored his first career B.A.S.S. victory in the Southern Open on Okeechobee.  Lane’s total weight of 54-12, outdistanced current Elite Series pros, Terry Scroggins (2nd), James Niggemeyer (4th), Cliff Pace (7th), Marty Robinson (T 10th), and Derek Remitz (T 10th).

After two days of official practice, the biggest storyline has been the weather.  Wind speeds topping 20-miles-per-hour on both Monday and Tuesday have muddied much of the lake, and more wind is predicted for the final day of practice and on the first day of competition.

“These fish just don’t bite very well when it’s muddy,” said Kevin VanDam.  It was a sentiment echoed by the majority of the anglers that The BASS ZONE spoke with on Tuesday evening.  As a result, there’s a good chance that a large portion of the field will be packed into several well known key areas that still have clean water. 

“The way this lake always fishes is that boats end up bunching up,” explained Terry Scroggins. “The fish group up and get in a few places, and on tournament day, you’ll see boats packed on top of each other.”   

Here’s what some of the competitors had to say after two full days of practice on The Big O:

Terry Scroggins
“It pretty much stinks.  It’s been blowing for three days at 10- to 20-miles-per-hour and it’s supposed to blow between 15 and 25 tomorrow.  Anytime that I’ve ever caught them at Okeechobee it has always been clean, clear water.  Right now, just about the whole lake is muddy.

Terry Scroggins“They’ve done a lot of grass spraying and have killed almost all of the mats out of here.  When you combine that with the muddy water, I feel like it’s going to be a tough one.  I say that, but it’s still Okeechobee and someone will catch them – they always do.  It’s still going to take big weights to win it here, but I haven’t found it yet.

“I don’t think that the local advantage will play here like it has in other locations.  I don’t care where we go; I like it to be tough.  I think that the tougher tournaments are easier to win.  You’re still going to see some big bags.  As tough as it is, someone will have a 25-pound bag one day.  I think that the thing that will suffer is the overall weight. 

“The way this lake always fishes is that boats end up bunching up.  The fish group up and get in a few places, and on tournament day, you’ll see boats packed on top of each other.  I think that the majority of the field will be able to get five keepers a day; it’s just going to come down to getting a few good ones.  

“The Top 50 cut weight will probably be around 12- or 13-pounds when it should be around 16- or 17-pounds if the lake was fishing good.  Just because of the water clarity, the weights are going to be down a little.” 

Kevin VanDamKevin VanDam
“The Florida bass don’t like muddy water, and every day, the wind has blown out of the east and made pretty much every area muddy.  The mud just follows the shoreline around and you really can’t get out of it. 

“These fish just don’t bite very well when it muddy.  I think that will cut the weights down overall, but a few guys might do really well in this tournament.  It’s going to be hard to catch those 30-pound bags that everyone talks about this lake producing – I just don’t see it happening. 

“There are going to be a couple areas where there will be a lot of boats, because there are just a few areas that have cleaner water.  Part of fishing down here is that you know you’re going to be around a lot of other people.  To catch them four days in a row, you’re not going to be able to fish around 20 other boats and win. 

“I’m not sight fishing at all, and I’m trying to look for fish that have already spawned or haven’t spawned yet.  I’m definitely just fishing for sure.  I would expect that someone might top the 80-pound mark for the week.  If the conditions were good, you’d see a lot more fish caught, but someone will catch 20-pounds a day.  If the flippers find the right mats, they might be able to do pretty well. 

“I was hoping that this lake would be fishing bigger than it is and be a little more wide open, so I’m going to do the best that I can, but I’m still searching out there for where I need to be.”

Cliff Prince
“I’ve caught some fish, but I haven’t caught the quality that I think it will take to do well here.  I’m around them and I’m in the right areas, but I just don’t know what this wind will do.  The wind has pretty much muddied up the whole lake, and I just don’t think that it’s going to let up. Everyone is going to be bunched up because of that.

Cliff Prince“There will be guys casting across each other, and it’s going to be interesting.  That’s typical of Okeechobee – it just depends on who catches them better than the other guys.  I know for sure that it will take at least a day or two of calm weather for the water to really calm down.

“The guys at the top of this tournament will end up having a couple good ones.  I think that it’ll take around 12-pounds to make the Top 50 cut.  I’ve probably fished around 15 tournaments down here and I’ve been down here just fishing a bunch, but my results have been up and down.  I’m just not liking what this wind is doing to the lake.

“I’ve seen a few fish on the beds, but I don’t think that it’s going to play a factor.  The water temperatures are just too hot.  The water temperature is around 72 degrees in the morning and is in the low 80’s by the end of the afternoon.”

Scott Rook
“If the water isn’t clear, the fish are still there but they just don’t want to bite. Right now, everything is dirty except for one area that I’ve found.  Even in that one area, the fish seem to be pretty scattered and not really stacked up anywhere. 

“I have a couple areas that have some nice fish, but it’s just really hard to get a bite.  When you do get one, it’s a nice fish.  I think that if it’s not windy, you’ll be able to really settle down and get a few bites.  I looked a little bit yesterday in some backwater ponds and saw some little fish.  I think that the spawn is just about done.  It could be a factor, but I don’t really think that it will play.

“I’ve fished two tournaments down here, and usually, if you’re fishing an area by yourself, you’re just not around the fish.  The best thing to do is to try and pick an area that’s known to give up good stringers of fish and try to pick it apart instead of trying to fish the whole lake.  Some of these guys who know the lake really well will run the entire length of the lake in a day.  I just can’t do that.”

Dean RojasDean Rojas
“Basically, I’ve been trying to cover a lot of water and stay in areas where I think that I have the possibility of catching a big fish.  The big bite is going to be key this week to separate yourself from everybody else. 

“It’s been hard because there’s been a lot of wind the last two days and that has muddied a lot of the areas.  There are probably going to be about four or five areas in the whole lake where there will be clean enough water to have the potential to catch a really big sack. There’s one big area that wouldn’t surprise me if every boat in the field has been through there in the last two days.  I’m sure that area will yield a few good fish this week.   

“This is going to be a post-spawn deal.  I’ve seen a few on beds, but not nearly enough to even begin putting together a sight fishing pattern.  I think that it’s probably going to take between 60- and 70-pounds to win.”