B.A.S.S. Open - Lake Okeechobee, Nov 14-20
Day 1:  The weather when I left home was cold and rainy.  I hope to drive out of that.  It rains cats & dogs.  I think its a sign of how my day will go.  What should be a 14 hour drive turns into 2 days.   First, while driving in the downpours, I find I95 shut down at the SC border.  Due to the slick roads, a big truck full of fuel has jack knifed under a bridge.  I95 quickly becomes a parking lot.  The first exit I get to, I take it. After some map 101, a quick stop at a local store for some help, I manage to backroad my way around the wreck.  Now the rain is really coming down.  The trip seems to be back on pace when disaster happens.
    When I hit Florida, traffic is a steady line of cars, trucks, and snow birds (large campers leaving north for the winter).  I95 is a straight shot to the Big O.  Not any hills or curves.  Suddenly the truck in front of the pack loses a step ladder from its rack.  Cars, big rigs all swerve to miss it.  I go high and should have gone low.  I hit the ladder head on.  It catches the driver side of my suburban, going under to the boat.  Doing 70 and trying to miss an object isn't no fun.  I end up off the highway, into the medium at full speed.  By the grace of god, I do not slide or jack knife.  Before I can get my rig to a complete stop, my back driver side tire explodes.  Here I am again,  at a stand still on I95.  Let me tell you, I said a prayer because I was very lucky not to have been seriously injured.  I'm not quite out of danger yet, have you ever tried to change tires on the shoulder of I95?  The force of passing trucks shakes the truck so much, it looks like its going to fall off the jack.  I manage to limp to a nearby Chevrolet dealership to access damage.  They say its a weekend, service is closed, so on to a local owned shop.  He can't help, can't find the correct tires to match my suburban.  To make a long story short, it takes a full day to get my truck fixed, and back on the road.  But I will get stopped again.  Just before I hit Okeechobee Highway, the HP have the road closed.  I'm told I will have to go back north into Orlando, then hit alternate highway back to Big O.  I'm getting the feeling I'm not going to get to the Big O.  I will arrive at my hotel late into the night.
  A side note:  You can really see the damage from the hurricanes when you venture of I95 like I had to.  Once into neighborhoods, you see just about every house covered with a blue tarp, and trees, signs everywhere.

Day 2:  First thing you notice about Okeechobee is that the water is higher than I have ever seen it.  And the water is stained to muddy.  The hurricane has really changed the landscape of the big lake.  Alot of the grass, buggy whip and such are gone.  Its a whole new lake with alot more water.  My first day on the water will consist of more downpours and alot of wind. Today the wind will blow over 20 mph and the forecast tomorrow is for 30 or more.  Not good on this flat land lake.  I found alot of small fish, not the size I need to make the top 10, which is what I will need to make the Open Championship.  I have come here to make or break.  Hero or zero.

Day 3: I can sum the day up in one word: blustery !  The forecast was for 30 mph wind and it was right.  I have never seen whitecaps in the diversion canal, today there will be.  It almost impossible to fish anywhere.  The main lake has 4 footers.  I bet if this had been a competition day, BASS would have canceled it.  It was that bad.  Bad also sums up my day fishing.  I don't manage many bites, and those are small.  I just hope the wind lays some tomorrow so I can get around to look for clean water.  The hurricanes have most of the lake dirty.  Florida fish don't like muddy water.

Day 4:  I wake up this morning, my back is so stiff, I can't hardly get out of bed.  It was sore yesterday, then with the rough water, its oh my acking back!  I figured it would get me since I strained it trying to get my spare tire out from under the suburban after the mishap on I95.  Who ever designed placing the spare up under the chasis should be shot.  Instead, its my back that's shot.  Today will be a strain just to raise the trolling motor up and down.  The wind today will lay some, only gust up to 20.  Its making it hard to move around to locate clear water.  Even worse, its making what was clear yesterday, dirty today.  I will catch only small fish again today.  I have flipped and flipped only to catch small fish.  I figure if I am to bust a big bag, I will do it with a flipping stick.  I called home, my wife tells me it was 29 degrees last nite.  I think it got down to 62 last nite here, but rebounded to 80.    Tomorrow will be my last practice day, its find them or continue to practice once the tournament starts.

Last Practice Day:  Today the wind will lay some.  I plan on fishing close to take off because my back has gotten worse.  My wife tries to get me to go to the closest doctor, but it will get better with time.  I will still manage only small fish today, with one 3 lber thrown in the mix.   I flipped the same area only to catch small fish.  Its a short day, with the pairings meeting tonite.  Everyone is ho hum at the meeting.  Some are on them strong, some are like me, just small fish.  My co-angler for tomorrow has never fished the Big O.  We have an early take off number, so I have decided to stay close, not risk the back jarring ride south. 

Tournament Day 1:  At the take off ramp, its obvious of the damage the hurricanes have done.  Most of the docks are blown up on the shore or in the adjacent restaurant.  There's several house boats and such wrecked on land.  My first stop produces several short fish for me, and my co-angler lands a couple nice fish.  The day will be one of frustration for me, having mostly short fish, while my co-angler will cull to a nice sack and the top part of the standings for day one.  He is happy, having been the first time he has ever culled during a tournament.  Its happiness only adds to my frustration.  Nothing against him, it just works out that way sometimes.  Its the one aspect of this sport that is so frustrating.   You work your butt off, practice in high winds, cold or extreme heat and pain, to find fish.  The co-angler shows up the nite of the meeting, gets in your boat and proceeds to benefit from your hard work, while having done nothing but show up.  I know that for the sport to grow, there is a need for them.  But what sport can you name other than bass fishing that someone can show up and effect the outcome of the day?  So I find myself in a deep hole.  My only chance now is to really swing for the fences tomorrow.
Tournament Day 2:  The weather this morning is clear skies with no wind.  A big change.  A strange thing happened this morning that I'm still not sure what was.  As I was driving to Okeetaniee from Lakeport, I see a huge flash, almost a ball of flames light up the sky off in the distance.  It was like a big flash of lightning, but there is nothing but stars in the sky.  It was like a plane crash or large explosion.  When I meet my co-angler for the day, I ask him if he saw it and it said, "YES!, it was like a huge meteor or perhaps the shuttle took off from Kennedy Space Center". 
     I tell my co-angler, who is from Alabama, that the plan today is to pick up the big stick and hope for a big sack.  He ask if we were running far and I tell him "No".  He smiles and makes the comment that will work for him since he took a beating yesterday while running for an hour and half before they made their first cast.  The day will again turnout to be a day of frustration.   Flipping the heavy mats is a good pattern to catch big fish on the Big O, perhaps the way it will be won, but today all I can muster is small fish again.  Each time I set the hook, I expect a hydrilla gorilla, only to see a peckerhead come from the dark cover.  A disappointing end to a disappointing start.  I will mark it down as a learning experience, since I have never flipped heavy mats with a heavy sinker.   I also learned how small an area can produce such big stringers, with the reports after weigh in coming that the top 2 are sharing the same small grass mat.
©2004 Carolina Outdoors
all rights reserved