Jan 16:  The ride to Lake Okeechobee is one of mixed emotion.  One, its the start to the new FLW season, so I'm eager to get started.  But on the other hand, I've enjoyed the time home with my family during the short off season.  Upon arrival at Okeechobee, it doesn't take long to hear the usual horror stories of theft that is so rampant in the area.  A fellow FLW pro has come to borrow some rods from one of my roommates, he had everything he owned stole from him the night before.  He says that several other pros had the misfortune of having their boats broken into, including FLW host Charlie Evans.  I'm glad I have a TakL-Saf system on my boat.
   After a quick unloading of my gear and supplies for the week in my hotel, it will be off to begin practice.  I quickly learn that the hotel does not offer internet access, and my ISP does not have a local number.  So the first tournament will not allow me to do daily reports to my Life on Tour.
   Today my good friend Allen P. from NC, who is also fishing on the co-angler side, will join me.  He is also rooming with co-angler Brantley Peoples from Raleigh, and he also will fish with one of my roomies today.  The morning begins with a heavy fog.  We are late getting started due to it, but on my first stop, I manage to catch a couple nice keepers, nothing over 3 lbs, on a Hawg Caller spinnerbait.  As the day progresses, it is obvious that the smaller fish are abundant, but not the quality.  Overall, the first day on Big O is productive, with having my best 5 maybe go 13 lbs.  One note, its really amazing how much the Big O will change from year to year.  There is so much more grass and hydrilla in the lake.  And alot less buggy whip and cattails.  Several of the areas that I am very familiar with seem like a whole other lake.

Jan 17:  This morning we are awakened by one of my roomies yelling "Get up, the parking lot is full of cops"!  Oh, no, here we go, another wave of low lifes hitting our boats.  I quickly scramble outside to learn that the officers are there because someone had robbed the front desk of the hotel.  The owner of the hotel is a older couple who live in a room attached to the office.  The lady is very shaken, with all her money and some jewels taken.  And get this, one officer tells me that the guy was brave enough to sit and drink a beer and have a smoke before taking off.  On a good note, seems no ones boats or fishing gear was taken.  We will learn later that nite that the low life was caught in the adjacent city.

   Today I will meet Allen inside Roland's Marina restaurant, and due to the incident that morning, running late.  No fog today, so we get started.  Word is that the fish are on the beds, so even though it is not my forte, I will seek some cleaner water.  Every year, bed fishing plays a big role in the outcome on Okeechobee.  I don't manage to locate any good beds, but do find an area that I can catch a limit off a rat-l-trap pretty easy.  Again, quality is not there, but numbers.

Jan 18:  I will fish alone today.  Allen is going to a camera boat drivers briefing.  Today, one of my roommates and I will trailer our boats to the other side of the lake.  We considered going by water, but the wind can reek pain if it blows, and it will today.  Another pro at our hotel is going to the same area also.  He gets in between me and Chris.  There is some fog this morning.  On the way, there is a stop sign on a major intersection.  I stop, go on, but the other guy does not.  He slams on brakes, but still goes into the path of a 18 wheel tanker.  The big truck misses the his tow truck but hits the Ranger boat broad side.  Chris calls me to say it is bad.  The 18 wheeler impact completely knocked the 520 off the trailer and then ran over it, flattening it and leaving boat and motor pieces everywhere.  When the big truck finally comes to a halt, it has flipped over on its side.  Good news is that both drivers are not seriously hurt.  Can't say that for the Ranger boat.  The guy is from Kentucky, and he is very, very lucky to be alive.  Two or 3 seconds earlier, and the truck would have broadside his driver door.
   Today, I do not do that well.  I'm not sure if it is the area, or me.  We have had a small cold front come thru.  My limit is small.  Where is all the big fish that I know I will need?

Jan 19:  Allen will join me again today.  I enjoy the company and like the advantage of having another bait in the water.  I will venture to another side of the lake.  We really catch allot of fish today, but again, no size.  I have flipped mats, hoping to find a concentration of females.  Allen throws a Senko, and by far catches more fish, but small.  I land one fish around 3 lbs flipping.  Overall, it was a tuff day on the water.  A massive front blew thru, with a heavy thunderstorm and lightning.  The wind is so bad, we have to seek cover by running my boat into a patch of buggy whip until it passes.  When we get back to the ramp, it is apparent that something is up.  Again, thieves have hit.  Raul, who is fishing as a co-angler, and is better known for his role on General Hospital day time soap as Major Dan comes up to me and ask if my suburban is ok.  He was parked next to me, and had the window broken out, with his gear taken.  My heart sinks to my stomach.  Oh no, here we go.  I ended the FLW season with a major break in with my truck, and now will I start anew with one?  But for some reason I was spared.  I think mainly because I have learnt not to keep much in your truck.  I later learn from an officer that almost 20 trucks were hit there.  Back at the hotel, I learn that several more pros where hit last nite at Roland's, including Snickers pro Pat Fisher.  The Lake Okeechobee area is fast becoming better known for its many acts of crime than as a great fishery.
Jan 20: Today a co-angler from Winston Salem will fish with me.  He drove in all nite, and is somewhat sleepy, but climbs aboard.  I have one more area that I think will produce more quality instead of numbers to look at.  I manage to catch a limit  or more there by slowing down and pitching a worm, but it also is small.  The day will be short.  We have our registration and pairings meeting tonight. It will be a fun time, getting to see some ole familiar faces and catch up.  After a great cook out provided by the town of Clewiston, I meet my first day partner.  He is from St. Louis, and has not been on the lake.  I tell him my plan for the first day, decide on a meeting point, which will be early.  I have drawn boat starting position 11.
Jan 21:  Competition day one.  The morning is cool and crisp.  No fog, so take off will go on schedule.  After a brief run to my starting area, we begin fishing.  It doesn't take long for me to land a small limit with the rat-l-trap.  Another boat comes into my area, and sits down off to my right.  I soon hear him yell "git da net" and watch as his co-angler nets a huge fish.  Not long after, a FLW camera boat idles thru, and I hear him tell them it is the biggest fish he has every caught, maybe 10 lbs.  I continue to catch fish, but again, as in practice, just can't buy a big fish.  I'm now culling ounces.  I tell my partner to pack up, we are making a run to a new area in hopes to improve our catch.  I finish out the day flipping mats and bullrush, hoping to land that kicker fish that will put me in contention.  It never happens.  My limit today will be just under 10 lbs and puts me back in the field.  They really sacked them today as expected.  Some huge stringers and fish come in.  Word is that the fish really moved on the beds today with the rising temps.   The sight fisherman had a field day.  Not how I had hoped my season would begin.  My roomie Chris got his big bite today, one over 8 lbs, and sits in 14th place.  One fish on this lake is the difference in being in contention, or also fished.

Jan 22:  Day two, and I must bust a big bag today.  I can't decide if I will begin in the same area or gamble.  I know there is some bigger fish there, just didn't connect.  Today my co-angler is from Alabama.  I decide to run to my area, hope I can get a quick limit, and then I'm off to flip mats the rest of the day.  When I arrive, there is two other boats working the area, as expected, since I was next to last with blast off number.  I quickly land 2 fish on a rat-l-trap, but just 12" fish.  Not long, I land a nice 3 lb fish and the guy close to me gets close enough to comment about it.  He ask me if that was my first fish and I say "No, I got five already".  He seems amazed, makes the comment he only has 3 but two are close to 4 lbs.  The type fish I will need to jump into the money.  Everything goes as planned for the day, with me catching my limit, and then searching for a big fish.  Except I never really improve my catch, having a limit at 12 lbs. 
   When we arrive at weigh in, the weigh in is going very slow.  Alot of fish to be weighed.  I was due in at 4:20 and it will be close to 5:30 before my bag number is called.  Something interesting happens while we are waiting. I notice tournament director Bill Taylor climb into the boat of Tony Christian.  Tony is know as the recent All American champion and fishing his first FLW event.  I can't hear what they are saying, but notice it cannot be good.  Tony gets out of his boat, walks up and down the dock a few times, then back into boat, with Bill Taylor sitting between he and his co-angler.  Tony had almost 18 lbs the first day, and is in contention to make the top 10.  Suddenly Bill Taylor takes the empty weigh in bags from them, and leaves.  Everyone around is in shock when we see Tony and his co-angler begin releasing their days catch back into the water and idle off.  Obviously they were disqualified for the day, but for why, I don't know.

   I will finish just 2 lbs out of the money.  Its amazing, just one three pound fish would have done it.  I can't believe I have spend several days on Okeechobee and not land a fish over 4 lbs.  I did not get a check, but did secure some very valuable points for the championship.  My co-angler will go on to finish in 23rd place and cash.  My roommate Chris, will also finish in the money.  One ironic twist to the day is that my friend Allen P.  has made the top 10 in the co-angler side and will fish tomorrow.  Whats ironic is that he was one of the last to weigh in and knocked out his own roommate Brantley Peoples from making the top ten.  He finished 11th.  The report is that the big fish really hit the beds today.  Most if not all the bigger stringers were from bed fishing.

   I call home, my wife says be prepared for some cold weather. It is in the teens at home, with forecast for sleet and freezing rain.   A side note:  The guy from Kentucky who was involved in the accident was able to borrow a boat and compete in the event.  Not sure I would have been able to continue on from such a life threatening accident.  Next up, the FLW on the Atchafalaya Basin in La.
© 2004 Carolina Outdoors