My day ends with a limit that weighs a little over 7 lbs.  Again a very disappointing day with what could have been.  Looking back, I think I made a major mistake by switching to braided line for the tournament.  I had not had any troubles in practice, and made the decision mainly due to dock talk even though I have not had any experience with braid.  The lack of experience hurt, making me horse and set the hook too hard on the fish.  I really think I pulled the hook from the fish or tore it out.  Lesson learned. This will be a tournament that truely "got away".

Jan 24 & 25:  These two days will be spend representing my new sponsor, Hellmann's (www.hellmans.com).  They have set up a tent and some really great exhibits and games for the kids and young at heart.  I am proud to be a new member of their team and help promote their brand name and new product "dippin sauce".  Crowds are big considering the cold and windy record weather invading Florida.
Lake Okeechobee FLW
Jan 17:   Lake Okeechobee is high and full of new vegetation. The weather for today will be cold and high winds, reaching 30 mph or more.  Tough conditions for Big O and Florida strain bass.  It is also supposed to be cloudy.  I will try a spinnerbait early over the vegetation, see if I can get some chasing activity.  My first hour goes pretty slow, the wind has increased, and the water is getting dirtier, a bad situation here.  But as the morning progresses, I find a little area that seems to have some fish.  I manage several nice keepers on the blade.  I explore the area more, concentrating on the same cover, and go on to catch 18 keepers that day.  Very good considering the conditions.

Jan 18: Today I will concentrate on the southern end, around South Bay.  The last two events on Okeechobee have been won fishing heavy matted cover.  This technique requires using heavy 1 to 1.5 ounce weights to get thru.  I have never really done this to get confidence, but with the unseasonable weather in South Florida, the fish are using this cover more.  Today the weather is sunny but cold, mid 40's for a high.  There is a hard frost on my boat and truck.  My good friend Sam McGirt from back home in NC has driven down to fish a couple days with me.  He had come to enjoy the warmer weather, but I don't think he will get it.  Course, it is in the teens back home and calling for snow.  We begin fishing mats, different mats from hydrilla, to hyacins and dead reeds.  No one seems to produce better, though we do manage a few smaller fish and one really nice one.
Jan 19:  The game plan today is for me and Sam to concentrate more on the hydrilla.  The weather forecast is for sun and warming temps.  I have not worn shorts since I have been here.  Bad since all I backed was shorts!  Today I will slow down, least as slow as I can go.  While dead sticking a Teezo in the hydrilla, I manage to catch two fish around 3 lbs.  We continue in the area, and Sam picks up two 4 pound plus fish on a Texas rig worm.  I get several more bites, shaking them off.  There is fish in this area.  I heard from Ken Cook that during the BASS Tour, alot of fish were caught on a prop type topwater bait, so what the heck, I tie one on.  In the next hour, I land two of the biggest fish of the day with it.  Maybe I am on to something.

Jan 20:  Alone today, Sam has returned to NC.  And the cold weather is forecast to return to sunny F-L-A.  The plan  today is to expand or least gain some confidence in flipping those heavy mats.  I just don't feel comfortable fishing them, or better statement, knowing which mat to flip.  There is so many of them, you can fish them and yet, not get a bite.  But pull up to one, and catch 20 lbs.  I run into my roommate late in the day and he follows me into an area I had a few bites in earlier in week.  In the last 2 hours of light, I set the hook on a 4 pounder, and shake off 6 more bites.  My roommate idles over and informs me he has had similar success.  There is fish here, and also allot of fishing pressure.

Jan 21:  Last practice day for the FLW we awake to frost on boat.  My roommate is not feeling good about his practice, so I tell him that we should go to a bay and work it together for time sake.  He agrees and suggest a bay up North.  Together we fish the bay, along with several locals and other FLW pros, obviously, someone has caught or thinks there is fish here.  But we do not find them.  I land a couple small fish, my friend has a nice one on a blade, and two just keepers.  Not worth the long run, specially if the wind blows.  We call it a day, tonight is registration and pairings.  There is always a good meal provided for us there, a time we can use to relax and talk with old friends.

Jan 22:  First tournament day, and the weather is still cold.  It will be blue bird skies and calm.  Not good for my spinnerbait pattern, so I tell my co-angler, who is from Vermont and thinks this 40 degree weather is warm, that we will be flipping heavy cover mostly.  His main question is "will it be a long run".  Not extremely long.
I have gotten a middle of the pack blast off number.  I think the later flights will do better with the sun warming the water more.  When my number is called, I run to the bay where my roommate and I had the most flipping bites.  There is 4 boats already fishing the area, one is right by set of mats I had hoped to start on.  I idle on in, settle in, start flipping a mat.  My 4th flip, I land a keeper.  Well, the fish are still here.  A guy in a white Ranger begins fishing the mat next to me, and quickly lands a 5 lb fish.  I look at this as a good sign they are here and biting.  But I go the next 3 hours without a bite.  Time to move another area with mats.  Its about a 20 minute run, and the chill still requires gloves, and heavy clothing.  There is only one other boat in the bay when I arrive, but he is one of the better know pros in the FLW Tour.  I will begin on the opposite corner, away from him.  After about an hour, the other pro has worked his way close enough to me that we could exchange greetings, not a word is spoken.   Sometimes this is strategy, sometimes this is just minding ones on, or sometimes its just being focused.  Not long, the other pro pulls up his trolling motor and leaves.  I am beginning to doubt my decision to fish this area when I land a 3 lb fish.  My co-angler soon boats a nice 3 lb'er.  I have another bite, and it gets off before I can raise her from the cover.  A few hours to go, and a third keeper comes into the boat.  The bay is picking up with activity as the sun warms the water.  It was 55 degrees when I arrived, now it is near 60, a big difference.   Fishing the mats is physically demanding pitching such heavy weights and covering as much area as possible.  It is also very mentally draining, with fishing for hours without a bite, one must concentrate on each flip as though it would produce a fish, watching, feeling for subtle bites and tell tell signs of a fish.  A good example of the emotional ride happens late in the day.  I had fished several huge mats without a bite, but as I came upon the end of one, a jarring bite occurs.  I work to get her up and out of the heavy cover, only to have her pull off.  That was one I was looking for.  My very next flip, I have another bite, and proceed to manage to drag her up and out onto the top of the mat.  My co-angler is quick with the net, and the fish lays there as though dead.  Before I can get to her, she flops one more time, the hook falls out next to her.  5 more seconds and I will be able to reach her, just 5 more seconds, come on baby.  No luck, she realizes she is free, and vanishes back into the dark depths of the mat.  I make the comment to my co-angler "that should have been my limit filling fish".  15 minutes later, I have another fish on, only to see the same results, she pulls free.  Time to go to weigh in, its about 35 minute run, and give me time to reflect on what could have been a very successful beginning.  I weigh in 3 fish for around 6 lbs.  Very disappointing.

Jan 23:  Today I will have to catch up if I am to do well.  One thing about Okeechobee, you are not ever really out of the tournament, 30 lbs bags are easy if you get lucky and find the right fish and lucky enough to land them.  The forecast today is for a massive front to move in, with high winds and cold.  I will go back to the area that I had the success in practice with my spinnerbait.  My roommate did not have much success the first day, so I invite him to come fish the area, there was alot of fish there, and the conditions are favorable for the spinnerbait.  The morning begins slowly, only to really pick up with bites quickly.  I have a nice 3 or 4 lb fish on the blade, only to see her bury into some arrowhead reeds and pull off.  My partner today is Brantley Peoples, ironically from my same hometown area.  In the next hours, I have 7 bites, and only boat 2 of the smaller fish.  Brantley and I both are scratching our heads as to why so many fish are getting off the hook.  With some luck, I would already have a limit close to 12 lbs, instead, I have two maybe at 2 lbs.  By noon, I have secured a limit, but have also seen two huge fish for no explained reason just come off the hook at the boat.  I hear a voice say, "You got them?" and look to see my roommate working the area toward me.  "No, only some small fish".  My co-angler makes the comment to him that I should have had a big bag by now but didn't.  My roommate states he has fish, but no size.  Time for me to gamble and start flipping heavy mats and hope for a couple big bites.  The wind is so swift, its hard to find an area that is either protected or not being fished.  I only have a couple hours, but long enough to get fat.  The first hour, I manage a couple just keepers that don't help.  Its amazing how small a fish will bite a big piece of plastic behind a big hunk of lead.  Two more bites and they again come off.  Man, this really presses one's mental game.  Suddenly the mat explodes as my co-angler sets the hook on a really nice fish.  The fish screams out of the grass under the boat, but with a quick dip of the net, I land the 6 lb fish for him.  Time to go. 
My day ends with a limit that weighs a little over 7 lbs.  Again a very disappointing day with what could have been.  Looking back, I think I made a major mistake by switching to braided line for the tournament.  I had not had any troubles in practice, and made the decision mainly due to dock talk even though I have not had any experience with braid.  The lack of experience hurt, making me horse and set the hook too hard on the fish.  I really think I pulled the hook from the fish or tore it out.  Lesson learned. This will be a tournament that truely "got away".

Jan 24 & 25:  These two days will be spend representing my new sponsor, Hellmann's (www.hellmans.com).  They have set up a tent and some really great exhibits and games for the kids and young at heart.  I am proud to be a new member of their team and help promote their brand name and new product "dippin sauce".  Crowds are big considering the cold and windy record weather invading Florida.