As a lifelong resident in Central Florida growing up in Melbourne, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the great Lake Okeechobee for more than 50 years. Looking back in my memory bank I remember my first bass fishing trip heading down to the famed fishery, I was maybe 15 years old entered to fish in a club bass tournament. I was a non-boater and was paired with a boater to fish out of the back of the boat. Our club fished until 5:30 pm back then and we had a 10 bass limit. It was often that one of our winning anglers would weigh-in 35 to 45 pounds with their 10 bass limits. Driving took two and a half hours to get to the south end of the lake, “Slims Fish Camp” was our launch site. The event lasted 2 days. The 20 bass 2-day limits winning weights were over 70 pounds. I remember that the bite was slow for me on the first day and I only had 5 fish for 14 pounds or so. We swapped boaters for the second day of the event and hoped that I would be able to get some fish in the boat when the guy leading had nearly 40 pounds. Day two started about the same only catching a few smaller keepers until later in the day. I suggested moving to an area where a few of our club members had some luck on day one. My boater was an older angler and was worn out from the heat of the day. He said take the wheel, drive to the spot, and get on the trolling motor to put us on some fish. We made a short 3-mile run west to an area off the rim-ditch. We had a nice breeze blowing in on the scattered hard reed islands with lots of pockets and defined points. Within a few casts I caught my first nice-sized keeper, a little over 4 pounds, off a long point of reeds. My very next cast I caught one a little bigger. We only had an hour of fishing time left before we had to make the run back to the ramp for weigh-in. I was able to finish out my 10 bass limit before leaving, catching four keepers and culling out a few smaller ones. Excited for my days catch at weigh-in, we scored over 42 pounds including one bass over 7 pounds. 42 pounds in 10 bass, seems impressive? Now let us look at weights some 50 years later.
Lake Okeechobee has been through a lot in those 50 years, especially in the last 15 or so. Hurricanes create turnover in the lakes’ bottom vegetation displacing lots of habitat where the bass live. The lake has been at its highest level ever in the past year, and at its lowest level ever this year as well. The FWC management of spraying the existing vegetation to control growth of aquatic weeds has had lots of controversy due to the dead vegetation falling to the bottom creating harmful nutrients that deprive the water of oxygen triggering algae blooms. We have seen the algae blooms kill off lots of grass in the salt water river that the lake discharges its high water into. Even through all its adversity old “Mother Nature” has helped Lake O rebound and it has been producing huge 5 bass limits in the most recent events on the lake.
Early in May 2023 at the Jimmy McMillian Memorial Tournament there were 10 five-bass limits over 30 pounds with the winners weighing over 37 pounds. The following weekend at the Roland Martin Marine Bass Series event there were 20 five-bass limits over 30 pounds and even more impressive was that there were 66 five-bass bags over 20 pounds. Good friends and custom rod builder from Scenko Stix Alex Terescenko, and his partner Jenna Vlaar caught impressive bags of 36 pounds at the Jimmy McMillian event for 2nd place and 32 pounds at the Roland Martin event and finishing 8th. The Roland Martin event may go down in history as the heaviest weights catching bass – ever! If you are a bass angler and have competed in tournaments, then you know catching 20 plus pounds in any event is really good. If you brought that to the scales at the Rolands’ event you were in 66th place. It is incredible that 4-pound fish average 20-pound sacks making a great day of fishing yet would not turn a head at the weigh-in station that day. Elite angler Scott Martin and his daughter Hillary Martin weighed-in 29.58 and finished 23rd.
This past spring MLF Fishing and Bassmaster Elites had events that produced many 20 pound plus bags but nothing like the recent events setting historic records. If you have never fished at the famed “Big O” you should think about scheduling a trip down to this awesome fishery. My son Josh Wolf and his partner Alex Funke will be fishing in their local club Classic in late May (after we go to print for the June issue) and I will be joining them to practice before their tournament on May 20 and 21. Josh and Alex recently won their April club event with 28.65 lbs. and received the clubs’ biggest bag of the year award. They are the defending champs from last year and hope to repeat. If the fishing goes well for them, they’ll be looking for their own 30-pound sack!
For anglers interested in the ‘Big O’ – our forecast writer is one of the best local guides on Lake Okeechobee. Captain Angie Douthit can hook anglers up with a trip of a lifetime. Check out her forecast in this months’ magazine and give her a call. Fishing is hot right now – get down to Okeechobee for a lifetime memory.
Jenna And Alex at Roland Martin Series with over 32 lbs
1st & 2nd place at Jimmy McMillian Memorial Tourney
early May, more than 73 lbs of “Big O” bass