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Stalking Bass on Lake O
Captain Bobby Stafford surveyed the vast, rippled surface of the largest lake in the continental United States and had to make a decision: where to go to catch largemouth bass when you have 730 square miles of possibilities.
With water levels in Lake Okeechobee at nearly 16 feet, all of its habitat– bulrush; rock reefs; Kissimmee grass; hydrilla; eelgrass; peppergrass–stood an excellent chance of holding fish. Stafford pointed his bass boat toward a spot on the northeast side of the lake about four feet deep with a fringe of Kissimmee grass.
“At the end of October, early November, big fish start moving into the grass,” Stafford said. “Look for nice, clear edges with not a lot of weeds where we can throw up to the grass– areas with a lot of bait where we see fish busting.”
We broke out two D.O.A. “PT” soft topwater baits– so new they aren’t even on store shelves yet–and began casting in and around the grass. Not even a minute later, Stafford got a WHUMP! and reeled up a two-pounder. It took me longer to connect, but I finally did –with a fish about the same size.
“Last couple of weeks, we’ve had 50-to-60-fish days,” the guide said. “Not a lot of huge fish– a lot of three-to-four-pounders– and that’s on wild shiners.”
But armed only with artificials, Stafford and I had a brisk morning– releasing probably 30 bass to about two pounds in three hours.
All signs point to the fishing getting even better as air and waters cool and bass start fattening up for the winter spawn. But bass aren’t the only fish around in decent numbers. Black crappie, or “specks” are starting to turn on around the lake, and many anglers are catching a limit of 25 using Missouri minnows or tiny crappie jigs.
Right now– before the onset of the 2017 professional bass tournament season– is a great time to hit the Big O. You could go all day without seeing another boat– especially if you fish on weekdays.
In January, the FLW Bass Fishing League comes to town, holding all five of its 2017 tournaments on the lake. The Bassmaster Elite Series will be in Okeechobee Feb. 23-26, bringing more than 100 pro anglers competing for cash, as well as angler-of-the-year points and a berth in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic. The last time the Elite Series visited was in 2012 when California pro Ish Monroe notched 20 bass in four days totaling 108 pounds, five ounces.
With a little help from the weather, it’s conceivable that big haul could be surpassed this time around. But don’t wait to find out; get out there now and hunt for bass– either in your own boat or by hiring a professional guide like Stafford (www.okeechobeecharters.com). You’ve got a lot of water to cover, and maybe there’s a ten-pounder out there with your name on it.