Solid start in Florida

The first Bassmaster Elite series tournament of the season took place this past weekend in South Florida on Lake Okeechobee, a legendary venue that I’ve visited several times in the past. I mentioned in a recent column that my first pro tournament took place at Okeechobee back in 2012, an event that I had a good finish in, but my results here over the years have been mixed.  

Fishing in Florida is different than fishing back at home in Northwest Ontario because the lakes are shallow and filled with vegetation. Heavy tackle is mandatory because of the opportunity for big bass and all of the heavy cover that you’re fishing around. There is no a lot of use for spinning tackle like we use a lot of the time around home. You will simply have a hard time landing bass on light tackle because they’ll get you all wrapped up in the weeds.  

Over the years my results in Florida have been mediocre at best. I’ve had a few good tournaments but some bad ones as well. It’s always a little bit more stressful fishing down here than other places we go because you never want to start out the season in the hole, both in terms of not winning any money and not earning solid points towards qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic at the end of the year.  

Last week went pretty good, all in all. I didn’t have a great a practice so heading into the event I was a bit nervous but I hunkered down in a small area that I knew had some fish and did okay. I caught limits over 17 pounds each of the first two days to sit in 30th place, making the day three cut. There are 104 anglers in the field this year and the top 50 after two days get to fish the third day, in addition to winning some money.  

The weather was excellent the first two days so the fishing was pretty good overall. There were a bunch of seven pound plus fish brought to the scales and the big catch of the event was almost 33 pounds, brought in by Brandon Cobb on day two. There aren’t many fisheries where we see the number of big bass that we do here.  

Cool weather on day three of the Lake Okeechobee Elite Series event made things tougher for Jeff Gustafson but he landed a solid 38th place finish. 

The weather turned on day three, with strong north winds and cooler temperatures. The fishing was quite a bit tougher for the field overall. I ended up catching a smaller limit just over ten pounds and eventually finished the tournament in 38th place.  After the tough practice, I’m happy with it. We made some money and collected some solid points.  

As I mentioned earlier, I spent my time fishing one general area where I used a few different techniques to catch my fish. I caught most of the bigger ones flipping into heavy cover with 65 pound Power Pro braid and a 1.5 ounce tungsten sinker to punch through the heavy mats. It’s a fun way to catch them. I also caught fish on a swim jig, topwater and Chatterbait.  

We are back at it again this weekend a few hours north at Lake Seminole, on the Florida, Georgia line. It is a lake that I’ve never been to before but it has a reputation for big bass. The weather looks great all week so I’m expecting that we’re going to see another round of big catches. The tournament starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.