OKEECHOBEE, Fla.— The second event of the 2017 season will be a stark difference from theseason opener, which took place last week on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake.Cherokee was won with hefty smallmouth pulled from deep, 50-degree water underharsh winter conditions.
Okeechobee will likely be the polar opposite with warmweather, shallow water and big Florida-strain largemouth.
Monroe’s 108-pound, 5-ounce four-day winning catch in March2012 ranks as the 19th all-time heaviest total weight since the Elite Series’inception in 2006. He is excited to return to the “Big O” — which covers morethan 450,000 acres — and vie for the $100,000 first-place prize.
“It’s the only tournament I can remember where I culled one5-pound bass after another,” Monroe said, reminiscing about the first day ofthat 2012 tournament. “I can still recall having 34-5 in my livewell by noon onthe first day. Where else in the world can an angler do something like that?”
Okeechobee is a relatively shallow lake, averaging 8 feet,10 inches in depth, and that plays to Monroe’s strengths.
“I love fishing shallow water, and when I can catch bassthat way, life is gravy,” he said. “It’s also appealing to me because for theentire year, you can keep a heavy flipping stick in your hands and catch fisheverywhere with the potential to win every single time.”
He said the lake is full of different types of vegetation,including hydrilla, milfoil, hyacinth, pencil reeds, alligator grass, pennywortand lily pads, and patterns can be so diverse that it’s almost impossible topredict a winner among the 110-angler field. He suggested that a 100-poundwinning string of bass is possible, but putting together 25-pound limits everyday isn’t easy, even on Okeechobee, which appears to be in excellent shape.
“Since 2007, the lake has been getting healthier as asystem, and fishing output is a reflection of that,” said Barron Moody,regional fisheries administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife ConservationCommission. “Coming out of a couple hurricanes between 2007 and 2009, weendured significant habitat damage from storm surges in the lake, and therelatively low water conditions that occurred as a result actually helped thelake recover long term.”
Moody said that lower water conditions allowed for moresunlight penetration, which in turn promoted vegetation growth as the lakerecovered. State workers and volunteers also collaborated to improve habitatduring the low-water period.
And it’s paying off today.
“Based on our sampling data, I would not be surprised at allto see multiple fish over 8 and 9 pounds weighed in; even a fish in the10-pound range is a real possibility,” he said.Takeoffs will occur dailyThursday through Sunday at 6:45 a.m. ET at C. Scott Driver Park in Okeechobee,Fla. Weigh-ins will take place in the same location at 3:15 p.m. eachafternoon.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo will also betaking place at C. Scott Driver Park on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3:15p.m. The Expo will feature the latest products in the industry, as well as freegiveaways. Mercury, Nitro, Triton, Skeeter and Yamaha will be giving demo ridesat the venue. All activities are free and open to the public.