Frustration over not catching fish is a terrible thing. You put time in on the water only to go back the next day and realize that the bite is off, or that the fish you were shaking off were too small to be tournament quality. This was my scenario this past weekend while fishing our season-ending tournament on Lake Okeechobee.
Anyone who knows me knows I love fishing Okeechobee. There is just something about that huge body of water that gets my motor humming. We’ve put in at Scott Driver Park on the north end of the lake for many years. The wind often dictates where you can run from this launch.
With that in mind, I’ve taken some time to really learn how to fish the Kissimmee River all the way to and above the lock. This strategy has netted me some nice payouts over the past couple of years. But this past weekend, I really thought I was going to be into them out on the main lake.
On my first practice day, I ran up the river even though the winds were down. I got on the water late, so the river was the best thing to try. Most of the spots I have can be hit within a two-hour span.
I set the hook on the first one that bit and caught one just over 3 pounds. After that, I shook off five or six additional bites before I decided to put it on the trailer and get some sleep so I could get up early and hit the main lake. Rumor had it that there were some bigger bass hitting buzzbaits on the outside grass lines around the Tin House Cove area.
Dawn found me back at the lake. It’s not often that I have to put my lights on when I practice, but this time I needed them. Much to my delight, the rumors turned out to be true. I caught one close to 4 pounds on that buzzbait and another pushing 3 pounds not long after that. With those two areas marked on my Humminbird GPS, I headed in to retie some things and get ready for the tournament.
Day one of the tournament was not what I hoped for. The outside grass seemingly had no bass at all, or at least not any that were eating. They were hungry the day before with no change in weather, so I was very confused as to what was going on. I decided I needed to move on.
I ran up the river through the lock and started fishing. On the third cast I got a good solid keeper just over 3 pounds. I fished my brains out after that looking for another bite, but it was hours before I put another keeper in the boat. After that I made three more casts in that area and caught three more bass.
Unfortunately, not one of them was long enough to weigh in. The legal length for measuring a bass in this event was 14 inches. Mine kept coming up about a half-inch short. Finally I got one more fish I could weigh in. That left me two bass short of a limit, and I had a sinking feeling that would hurt me later.
Day two started off worse than day one did. I didn’t get a bite until 11 a.m. With a weigh-in at 1 p.m., that’s not too good. To make matters worse, I lost the bass on the way back to the boat. I allowed a little slack in the line, and that was all it took for him to slip that hook right out of his mouth.
Ten minutes after noon, and I still didn’t have a bass in the boat. I pulled up to the last spot I had in the river and cast to the edge of the bank. Bam! Bass number one hit and was escorted to the livewell. The skunk was out of the boat, and it stayed out.
Over the next 30 minutes, I landed six bass, then headed for the weigh-in with the biggest five. It just goes to show you should never give up. When I thought all was done for the day and for the tournament, I managed to catch a limit of bass. They weren’t huge, but that bag of bass allowed me to save some face on my favorite body of water.
I will be back on Okeechobee for a much bigger tournament in February, when we head down to Clewiston for the MLF Toyota Series tournament. That will be the first of three I will fish in the Southern Division. From here on out, I will be spending a lot of my weekend time down south, trying to stay current with the pattern on the lake.
When you’re having a bad day and things aren’t panning out, just keep fishing. Chances are good those fish are there or have moved just a little bit. Keep your line wet and your attitude right, and with just a little luck you’ll find them again.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.