Off to good start

The first event of the 2016 FLW Tour took place last week down in Clewiston, Fla. on Lake Okeechobee.
Some 170 anglers are fishing the Tour this year, which features six events across the U.S. and wraps up in June at Lake Champlain in Vermont.
Last week, I wrote about the tough pre-fishing I had over my first couple days on Okeechobee (we get three days to practice for these events, followed by a day off before the tournament starts).
The third day of practice went much better after I found an area in the south end of the lake where a bunch of big largemouths were moving in to spawn.
Typically, we all get to spend a lot of time in hotel rooms over the course of the season at all of the different communities that we visit. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found a couple friends, Matt Stefan from Wisconsin and Blake Nick from Alabama, who I usually travel and stay with at these events.
We try to rent houses for the week and it works out a lot better. We eat better, we can bounce ideas off each other at night about the fishing, and it’s usually cheaper than renting a hotel room once we all split up the cost.
Last week, I was really fortunate because I was able to stay with my friend, Brandon McMillan, who lives in Clewiston. He probably is the best bass angler on the lake, with dozens of tournament wins, including a Tour event back in 2011 where he won $125,000.
Brandon visited Sunset Country last year when he fished the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship with Bryan Gustafson. We had crossed paths several times fishing these FLW tournaments over the past few years and have become friends.
After my couple of tough days of practice, Brandon, who also was fishing in the tournament, shared a few tips with me on where to fish and how to catch them.
It helped me out big time. My last day of practice went well and I found an area that had a bunch of fish, including some big ones.
I was very excited heading into the tournament.
In Florida, bass really don’t like it when the weather changes, especially when the temperature drops. The first day of the tournament on Thursday, it stayed warm but the wind blew pretty hard from the south at around 20 km/h.
I caught about 25 fish and ended up with a limit weighing 13 pounds, 12 oz. to land in 27th place at the end of the day.
When you think about Okeechobee, you think about all the big bass that live in this lake. Thirty-pound limits are not uncommon but the conditions last week were not great.
The water level in the lake was about two feet higher than normal and water temperatures were uncharacteristically cold, so it was tougher fishing than it’s been in past trips that I’ve made here.
On Day 2, a severe cold front hit, along with 35 km/h winds from the north. The strong winds made fishing very challenging because it’s tough to hide from it on this lake.
I basically was doing drifts across a big weed flat, putting my Minn Kota Talon poles down every 30 feet of so and pitching soft plastic baits rigged with a three-quarter ounce sinker into any holes I could find in the weeds.
I ended up catching eight fish and my best five weighed just under 10 pounds.
When I came into the weigh-in, I was quite nervous that I would fall out of the top 50 and lose a good pay cheque, but it was tougher for everybody that day and I ended up with a 34th-place finish.
The earned me $10,000 and some good points towards qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup—the year-end championship that features the top 40 anglers from the Tour after the six-event season.
The past few times I’ve been to Florida, I have had triple-digit finishes that have really hurt my chances of making the championship event, so I am very happy with how things went in Florida last week.
After being away from home for nearly three weeks, I’m very happy to get home and am looking forward to going ice fishing!
The next FLW tournament takes place at Lake Hartwell, S.C. in mid-March.