Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Expected to Provide Challenge for Anglers

CELEBRATION, Fla. — Terry Scroggins is one of the favorites entering next month’s CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla. But before competing for the $500,000 top prize and most important title in fishing, the Florida pro will compete in another tournament.

Scroggins is in the field for the season-opener of the new, revamped and ramped up CITGO Bassmaster Southern Tour, Jan. 26-28, on Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. Along with the five-event Northern Tour, the two new Tours replace the former CITGO Bassmaster Opens and will serve as a lucrative feeder system into the big leagues of bass fishing — the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series.

At stake is a $75,000 top prize - up from $50,000 in the Opens - which is part of the overall $3.93 million total payout for the Tours.

“I’m really looking forward to the new Tours,” Scroggins said. “I’m a big fan of Lake Okeechobee, which is where I won my biggest tournament.”

However, Scroggins predicts that the 2006 tournament on the “Big O” will be more challenging than past tournament visits to the 730-square-mile lake. High, muddy water has dominated the lake since the passing of hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in the fall of 2004 and much of the lake’s famed weed beds have disappeared.

“There will have been two big tournaments there before we get down there,” he said. “The fishing’s going to be tough and the lake’s going to fish small due to the hurricanes.”

The last time BASS visited Lake Okeechobee was in November of 2004 when Tim Horton took top honors in a Southern Open with 65 pounds, 14 ounces.

In January of 2003, Scroggins won a Tour-level event by flipping heavy vegetation and floating mats to catch 62-2. But he doesn’t expect the script to be the same this time around.

“I think it’s going to be more of a casting- and fishing-type tournament than a flipping tournament,” Scroggins said. “I was down there about three weeks ago and there’s not that much clear water. Everything’s real dark and it’s hard to see. That’s going to make it tough for sight fishing. And most of the mats and vegetation is in dirty water, so I think it’s going to be kind of tough.”

One element in the favor of good fishing is the fact that much of the Big O’s bass population will likely be spawning and accessible in shallow-water areas. Greg MacLean, a lake guide and past BASS winner, points out that there are some areas with enough water clarity to catch spawners and others.

“Where you find clean areas, you’ll find bass,” he said. “We’ve got good water once you come out of the Kissimmee River south from the second pocket all the way down the Indian Prairie Canal and Buckhead. There is some good water clarity there, including some crystal-clear water the farther back you get. And the oxygen readings are really good. We’ve actually got fish spawning in those areas.”

MacLean expects tournament anglers will be forced to learn the intricacies of the rim canals and adjoining residential waterways, which harbor good water clarity and plenty of underwater structure. Bass in these canals, excavated to provide fill for the massive levee surrounding the lake, can be caught a variety of ways — Carolina-rigging, jigging spoons, drop-shotting, deep-cranking and even pitching a jig.

Anglers will launch and weigh in at Okee-tantie Campground & Marina/C. Scott Driver Ramp, 10430 Highway 78 West, Okeechobee, Fla., 34972.

BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

CITGO Bassmaster Northern and Southern Tours sponsors include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics and MotorGuide.

Local sponsors include the Okeechobee County Tourism Development Council.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit