Fishing was great at Lake Okeechobee --- at least for numbers of bass.
In a day and a half, Dave Burkhardt, Sam Griffin, and I caught about 100 fish.
But, sad to say, largest was just a little more than 4 pounds. Last year, I managed an 8-8, which would have qualified me for Florida’s new TrophyCatch program (see more information below).
Still, we caught plenty of 2- and 3-pound fish, and they were great fun.
We caught them on swimbaits, swimming jigs, and a wooden topwater bait made by Sam, the Lil’ Richard.
Sam, who was born on the Big O, has been making wooden topwaters for decades, and they’re my favorites. I’ve caught hundreds of bass on the Lil’ Richard, a subtle twitch bait, as well as some huge bass on the Offset Sam, a ripping bait.
Watching Sam use the Lil’ Richard to seduce bass into striking is truly a humbling experience. And that’s just was he was doing during mid day, under a bright sun, on our second day of fishing. (You can learn many of Sam’s secrets for topwater success in my book, Better Bass Fishing.)
But he also showed us a productive swimming jig pattern that he said he learned from pro angler Mark Rose. “It’s a great way to cover lots of water,” he said. “It’s like throwing a weedless Rat-L-Trap.”
And he’s right, the weedless jig, tipped with a crayfish trailer, swims right through hydrilla and pepper grass, catching lots of bass in the process.
Because of the high water and because of the areas that we were fishing, we didn’t see many birds, alligators, or other wildlife on this trip. Great blue herons were the exception.
And here’s the latest on TrophyCatch from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
TrophyCatch includes three tiers to encourage reporting and live-releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds that are caught in Florida waters. Bass 8 to 9.9 pounds (Lunker Club), or those 10 to 12.9 pounds (Trophy Club) that are caught, documented and released can be reported online atTrophyCatchFlorida.com anytime of the year.
All that is required to qualify for great prizes are photos of the entire fish on a scale with the weight visible, and one of the fish on a tape measure, showing the length. Bass that are heavier than 13 pounds and are caught between Oct 1 and April 30 each year must be certified by FWC staff to verify their weight and take genetic samples. Certified catches that are released or provided to FWC for research will be entered into the Hall of Fame Club, making the angler eligible for great prizes. The World Fishing Network is partnering with the FWC to promote and manage the trophy bass website.
“TrophyCatch will enable biologists to manage lakes and rivers better by providing valuable incentives to anglers for reporting and releasing their catches of trophy bass,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. The information will be used to evaluate and improve management strategies that produce more and larger bass.
Numerous industry sponsors are providing prizes to encourage conservation of these valuable fish. Phoenix Boats is offering a boat and trailer to a randomly selected angler who registers for the program. Anglers who legally catch, photo-document and attest to releasing trophy bass in Florida are eligible for prizes. Bass Pro Shops and Dick’s Sporting Goods are providing gift cards, Rapala Lures is providing coupons to redeem on their website, and Bass King Clothing is giving away custom fishing gear. Other sponsors such as Pro Line Custom Rods, US Reels and GlenLau.com are providing extra incentives for Hall of Fame anglers, who also receive a free fiberglass replica of their catch produced by New Wave Taxidermy.
The biggest bass of the year will earn a Super Bowl-like ring, from the American Outdoors Fund, for the angler who catches it. If it is caught in Osceola County, the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will award the lucky angler $10,000. In addition, if the angler is on a guided fishing trip, the guide will receive $2,500 from the CVB.