Friday, January 21, 2005
I brought my own boat to the Big O to practice for this event. I'm rooming with a good friend of mine, Mike Jones from Missouri. Mike is fishing as a co-angler this year as well. He'll be keeping his own online Tour journal this season at Co-Angler.com.
He made the very long drive down and beat me to the hotel by several hours. As usual, Mike prefished for the event with Castrol pro Carl Svebek.
I spent Saturday in the Monkey Box. I could consistently catch fish in there on a Kinami Flash, but I encountered the same problem everyone else has been having namely, the fish are all small. I spent a fair amount of time flipping the heavy mats in that area, but I didn't have a single bite.
Sunday morning I had a little mishap at the boat ramp. My shifter cable broke as I was trying to pull away from the ramp. I narrowly avoided putting my entire boat onto dry land, as well as nearly running into one of the Fuji team boats. Fortunately no damage was done it could have been a lot worse.
However, I wasted pretty much the entire day getting it repaired. I was lucky to find a marina open on a Sunday that happened to have a cable in stock (thanks to Angler's Marina and Jolly Roger's in Clewiston for helping me out!). With a little help from the Ranger and Evinrude tournament support guys, and a lot of my own manual labor, I finally got it fixed.
I didn't get back onto the water until 3 p.m., so I ran back up to the Monkey Box just to get some fishing in. I managed a quick, small limit. At that point I was confident that if either of my pros were fishing there, I would have a good chance to catch 5 fish.
On Monday, I spent almost the entire day in Moonshine Bay one of the only other clear-water areas to be found on the lake right now. I managed a few bites on the Flash and a Zoom Horny Toad, but they were widely scattered and the results were unimpressive. I spent several hours flipping reeds and mats back there, with no bites.
I had been hearing that there was some clear water and some fish being caught in the South Bay area, so I ran down there for the day on Tuesday. A co-angler from Alabama, Chuck Medley, was staying at our hotel and wanted to go out fishing for the day, so he came along.
This was the worst practice day yet. Despite finding some nice clear pockets of water way back in the middle of nowhere in the Winnie's Cove area, I managed only one small keeper on a Gambler Sweebo worm. My new friend on the back deck didn't have a bite.
I pulled out just hoping and praying that my pro was not making the run south the next day. Chuck turned out to be a really nice guy, and he lives close to Guntersville Mike and I will probably stay at his house for the Wheeler event.
I was paired with Kenneth Strickland on Day 1. Kenneth lives very close to me in Greensboro, North Carolina we fish some of the same lakes back home. Like just about everyone else, Kenneth had a pretty good practice, but the bites went away as tournament time approached.
We ran up into the Monkey Box and spent the day playing bumper boats with the rest of the fleet. A number of the best Okeechobee fisherman were right in there with us and almost everyone was flipping the mats. Kenneth caught a fish pretty quickly on a spinnerbait, but that was it for him for a while.
I spent my time faithfully flailing away with my Kinami Flash and I was rewarded with a decent number of bites. I had a small limit in about the first 2 hours and it felt like I could catch them all day. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
As the sun got up and the boats packed in there, the bite absolutely died. The fishing has to be pretty bad for me to put down that Flash, but I eventually had to do it and experiment a bit. Nothing else really worked, and just like in practice I had no bites while flipping.
Strickland managed one fish on a Senko, and one fish flipping, but neither of them had any size to them. Late in the day I caught my 6th keeper when I started throwing the Flash again, but it was the smallest of the day and didn't help.
We ran back in with five fish in my livewell and three in Kenneth's. I think I caught the five smallest fish in the lake they only weighed 4-14 but I was proud to have them.
I was paired with Dale Teaney on Day 2. Dale was doing something a lot different than most of the field cranking the deep edges of a nothing-looking canal. There was almost no vegetation at all in there, and very little cover of any type.
He was moving along, paralleling the bank pretty quickly, throwing his crank ahead of the boat. I don't blame him at all - that was his pattern and was clearly the most efficient way to fish that water. However, it left me with few options from the back deck. He had a decent limit with a nice 4-pound kicker, and culled two to three times before I had my first bite.
Every 100 yards or so there would be some tiny piece of cover either a small branch or bush in the water, or a little vegetation hanging out from shore. Every time we passed one of these spots I saturated it with a wacky-rigged Flash. I finally pulled a small keeper out from a tiny little bit of floating weeds.
A short while later I managed a bite flipping up behind a few old, rotting bridge pilings another small keeper. I missed one or two bites throughout the day, although it's hard to know what they were, because there were a lot of other fish in there I caught two gar, and Teaney caught a pickerel and a big bowfin as well.
Fairly late in the day we passed by a bend in the canal where I knew there were some bushes on the bottom in 7 to 8 feet of water I had snagged one and hauled it to the surface on an earlier pass. I changed up and Texas-rigged a Flash with an 1/8-ounce weight so I could get it to the bottom in that deeper water.
When we went by the spot, I quickly flipped in there. When I pulled up on my rod, there was some weight on the line. I had been watching my line very closely and didn't detect a bite, so I slowly pulled up thinking I was in a bush. But the bush pulled back.
I gave it a weak caught-with-my-pants-down hookset and missed the fish. I was pretty upset at missing the chance, but I quickly re-rigged and threw back in there. I still didn't detect a bite, but when I picked up the line there was a familiar weight on the end.
I didn't need to be told what to do that time. I set the hook and boated a nice 2 1/2-pounder and thanked my good fortune for a second chance on a quality fish.
I didn't have another bite the rest of the day and weighed in three fish for 4-08. Honestly, I feel very lucky and fortunate to have caught what I did today was a prime opportunity for a big fat zero.
I moved up a few notches to 46th place, got a decent check and got out of Okeechobee with a pile of points to start the season.
My roommate Mike (Jones) had a bad tournament all around, and landed in 146th place. I feel bad for him, because I know how lousy that feels, but I'm not worried about him at all. He's a great co-angler and I have no doubt he'll bounce back and make the championship.
Two of my friends made the Top 10 cut Matt Scheipeter and Jason Knapp. I wouldn't bet against either of those guys winning the whole thing.
(Editor's note: Koester experienced technical difficulties at Okeechobee and filed this report before he knew that Jason Knapp finished 2nd. Dwight Ameling won the co-angler division.