Cloudy weather and cool temperatures greeted the anglers at launch time and the sun seldom peeked from behind the clouds as 179 pros and an equal number of non-boaters took off across the massive 860,000-acre lake in search of largemouth bass. Cash and prizes await those who bring back the best catches, including $15,000 cash and a boat worth $35,000 for the winner in the boater division. The winner in the non-boater division will drive home with a $35,000 boat.
Horton took a commanding lead right out of the gate when his five-bass limit hit the scales and strained them to the 33 pound, 10 ounce mark. Going into the second round, the young pro from Tuscambia, Ala., has a 9 pound, four ounce lead over fellow Alabaman, Brannon Jones.
“It’s the best day I’ve ever had in my professional career,” Horton said. “It was just awesome.”
The 2000 BASS Angler of the Year pitched and flipped a four-inch Yum tube around select grass beds in three to five feet of water to weigh in his big catch. It included the day’s biggest bass, an 8-pound, 15-ounce lunker that gobbled up Horton’s tube.
Brannon Jones was even more closed-mouthed about his second-place limit of five bass weighing 24 pounds, six ounces, saying only that he wasn’t flipping or pitching.
“I got 15 or 20 bass today and was even catching fish behind the pitchers and flippers,” Jones said, adding that his bites were coming in about five feet of water around grass.
Jones is unconcerned about whether or not the sun will show itself tomorrow, saying that he was catching fish in practice both during sunny and cloudy times.
“If the sun comes out tomorrow, I may switch areas,” Jones added, “but I think I can still catch some fish.”
Third place belongs to Tennessee’s David Walker, who weighed in a five-bass limit that pulled the scales to 22 pounds, four ounces. Walker is searching for his first BASS victory and would love to break the proverbial ice at Okeechobee.
2004 CITGO Rookie of the Year Greg Hackney of Louisiana is alone in fourth place, just an ounce behind Walker. South Carolina’s Ray Sedgwick rounds out the top five with 18 pounds, 15 ounces.
The 179 boaters had little trouble catching bass on the Big O. They weighed in 152 limits and 847 bass overall. The catch on the boater side totaled 1,648 pounds, 15 ounces.
Todd Wagman of Winter Garden, Fla., leads all non-boaters with a five-bass catch weighing 16 pounds, three ounces. His bag was anchored by a six-pound largemouth. Wagman admitted to pitching soft plastics of a “certain color” to grass beds in about five feet of water.
“Color really seemed to make a difference for me today,” Wagman said. “A buddy put me on to this particular color, and it’s been great so far. I’ll be using it again tomorrow.”
The first day’s big bass belonged to Abbie Israel, an Okeechobee local from Clewiston, Fla., who boated an eight-pound, eight-ounce largemouth that anchored his catch. Unfortunately, Israel couldn’t put a limit together and finished the first day in 25th place with two bass weighing nine pounds, four ounces.
More than half of the non-boaters came to the scales with a limit on day one. In all, the 179 non-boaters weighed in 690 Okeechobee bass for a total of 1,129 pounds, eight ounces.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer, which includes the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Toyota, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, and Bass Pro Shops.
Local Sponsors include Okeechobee County Tourist Development.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.