“When you come to Florida you throw soft plastics, and that’s what I love to do more than anything,” said Nixon, whose opening day limit ranks as the third heaviest FLW Tour catch of all time and the heaviest Okeechobee catch since the tour began in 1996. “I thought I was on some good fish, but I had no idea they were this good.”
The Evinrude veteran from Bee Branch, Ark., said he is fishing three spots where bass are bedding in 3 to 4 feet of water, but he has yet to see any of the fish that have hit his Berkley Power Worm. He also stressed that he has not seen another boat in the area, which he declined to name so early in the tournament.
“I hope to catch about 15 pounds tomorrow,” he said. “That should keep me in the hunt. Twenty-eight and 15 is a pretty good weight.”
With a new moon overnight and stable 70-degree weather in the forecast, there are likely to be plenty of 8-pound-plus bass brought to the scale this week in addition to a glut of smaller fish. Normal water levels, plenty of vegetation and widespread areas of clear water are additional promising factors that contributed to an outstanding opening day catch for the field of 200 pros and 200 co-anglers representing the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.
Every pro and 184 co-anglers landed at least one bass, contributing to a total catch of 1,589 fish weighing 3,170 pounds, 5 ounces, including 248 five-bass limits. The Snickers Big Bass in each division belonged to pro Steve Tosh of Waterford, Calif., who landed a 9-pound, 11-ounce largemouth worth $750 and co-angler Thomas Bryant Jr. of Summerfield, Fla., who caught an 8-pound, 10-ounce largemouth worth $500 while fishing with pro Tom Mann Jr. of Buford, Ga.
Top tactics mentioned by pros and co-anglers alike include burning spinnerbaits through vegetation, flipping heavy-weight jigs through thick hydrilla mats, and dead sticking Brush Hog and Senko-style baits in clear-water pockets.
Chris McCall of Jasper, Texas, landed an impressive 27-pound, 3-ounce limit to start his sophomore season on the FLW Tour in second place, just 1 pound, 3 ounces behind the legendary Nixon, but just minutes after crossing the weigh-in stage, he was informed that his mother, 48, had passed away unexpectedly. McCall plans to continue fishing Thursday.
Yamaha pro Alton Jones of Waco, Texas (five bass, 24 pounds, 12 ounces); Castrol pro David Dudley of Manteo, N.C. (five bass, 23 pounds); and Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan (five bass, 22 pounds, 11 ounces) rounded out the top five pros.
Mark Martin of Vidor, Texas, led the Co-angler Division with a limit weighing 19 pounds, 10 ounces that he caught while fishing with pro Jackie Davis of Willard, Mo., who landed five bass weighing 14 pounds, 9 ounces to finish the day in 38th place.
“If every tournament starts like this, I’ll be a happy man at the end of the season,” said Martin, an FLW Tour rookie who is fishing Lake Okeechobee for the first time.
Joel Etheredge of Springville, Ala. (five bass, 15 pounds, 2 ounces); Thomas Bryant Jr. of Summerfield, Fla. (five bass, 13 pounds, 13 ounces); Simon Morrow of Alexander City, Ala. (five bass, 13 pounds); and Ken Murphy of Meridian, Miss. (five bass, 12 pounds, 5 ounces) rounded out the top five co-anglers.
The four-day, $500,000 tournament is the first of seven FLW Tour events that will culminate with the record-setting $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship and Outdoor Show in Birmingham, Ala., Aug. 11-14, where the winning pro earns the sport’s largest cash award, $500,000, and fishing fans are treated to hundreds of displays featuring special offers on everything from crankbaits to bass boats. .
Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast to 65 million Outdoor Life Network subscribers on the “FLW Outdoors” television program. A tournament preview show featuring bass-fishing legend Hank Parker will air Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern time and Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. Eastern time, and fishing fans can watch the tournament weigh-in with hosts Carlton Wing, Taylor Carr and Charlie Evans Feb. 15 and Feb. 19. Tournament veteran Larry Nixon will host a tournament wrap-up show Feb. 22 and Feb. 26.
Anglers take off beginning at 7 a.m. each morning from Roland Martin’s Marina in Clewiston. Thursday’s weigh-in, which starts at 3 p.m., will also be held at the marina. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The FLW Tour’s Family Fun Zone featuring product giveaways, interactive displays and games for fishing fans of all ages will open in the Wal-Mart parking lot Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.
The full field competes in the two-day opening round for one of 10 slots in Friday’s competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared Friday, and co-angler competition concludes. The final 10 pros continue competition Saturday, with the winner determined by the heaviest two-day weight.
In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour is administered by FLW Outdoors, the world’s leading marketer of competitive fishing. Other FLW Outdoors-sanctioned tournament trails are the EverStart Series, the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye Tour, the Wal-Mart RCL Walleye League and the Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997.