By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Terry Tucker's second career victory at the triple-A level is not what will be remembered about the 2018 Lake Okeechobee Southeastern FLW Series. Sadly, the tournament will forever be known as the event in which co-angler Nik Kayler lost his life after being thrown from the boat he and Bill Kisiah were traveling in on windy day 1.
"It's certainly not the way anybody wanted it to go down," said Tucker, a former FLW Tour pro from Alabama. "It's real unfortunate that it happened, and in the back of our mind we all know that it could happen to any of us at anytime – that's just the nature of the business."
With Kayler having gone missing (his body wasn't recovered until six days later) only the first day of the scheduled three-day event was contested. Tucker, who sat atop the day-1 standings with a 21-03 stringer, was eventually declared the winner.
"If they'd both been found that afternoon or night and both been alive, I think we could've continued," Tucker said. "But under those circumstances, there was no way we could go on. I don't think anybody there wanted to go fishing again – it was a bad day all around."
Tucker was unaware that Kayler was missing until about 1 a.m. on what was slated to be day 2 of the tournament. That's when he received the first text message from FLW offcials.
"I'd weighed in and loaded my boat and headed back to the (rented) house to get ready for the next day," he said. "I wasn't around at the end of the weigh-in and I didn't know that somebody didn't show up."
He was sharing a house with Jeff Cannon, a fellow competitor on the boater side, and co-angler Tom Messer, both Georgia residents.
"Everybody was up and talking after that – we all got the news at the same time. Nobody slept anymore. We were all trying to figure out if there was anything we could do to help find those guys." (Note: Kisiah had been able to stay with his inoperable boat, which eventually drifted to shore late that night near the Pahokee Marina).
"We eventually drove down (to Pahokee) and talked to the sheriffs and whoever we could, trying to get an update on what they thought happened. We all realized that we were going to have to let the officials handle it – there really wasn't anything that we could do."
Long Time in Between
Tucker's previous triple-A win occurred 12 years earlier at Georgia's West Point Lake, back when the circuit was known as the Stren Series. Bereft of tragedy, it was cause for a lot more celebration than his latest triumph.
His 21-03 bag at Okeechobee on Jan. 4 was 2 pounds heavier than any other weighed in by the 250-angler field. He'd found a group of quality fish on the north end five days earlier and they were still present and biting despite the massive cold front that swept the Sunshine State.
He caught an 8-pounder on his practice visit and had several other quality bites. On the lone competition day, the area (in the vicinity of Taylor Creek) surrendered three fish in the 6-pound class by 9:30, when he left in an attempt to conserve it for the scheduled subsequent days.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "It was basically just a flat area with some scattered buck brush, reeds and hay grass in there and the water was 2 to 4 feet deep.
"I think those fish were spawning and they'd come in before the full moon hit. There was no reason for them to leave – it was protected from the wind and the water that was washing in there wasn't dirty and the sun was on them all day. That kept the temperatures from bottoming out like they did in other parts of the lake. The water in the (Kissimmee) River was 46 to 48 degrees, but when I got in that area it was up to 55 or 56."
He caught two of the big ones flipping a Zoom Z-Hawg and the other on a Z-Man ChatterBait. He then returned to the river to catch a couple of run-of-the-mill keepers to fill out his limit. He boated three using a combination of the Z-Hawg and a Big Bite Baits YoMama.
> Flipping gear 7'6" heavy-action RPM Okeechobee Special flipping stick, older model Shimano Castaic casting reel (6.2:1 ratio), unnamed 40-pound braided line, 1/2- or 1-ounce tungsten weight, 4/0 Mustad straight-shank flipping hook, Zoom Z-Hawg (black/blue) or Big Bite Baits YoMama (hematoma).
> Bladed jig gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Sinister spinnerbait rod, Team Lew's Custom Pro Speed Spool casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait (green-pumpkin), Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Tucker, an estimator and project manager for a drywall company, hasn't ruled out a return to Tour-level competition (his previous stint on FLW's top circuit was from 2005-07). "I'm 60 years old now and I'm not crazy about the travel, but the fishing ... I'd like to give that a whirl again. I'd probably do it if I could get everything lined up right."
> His primary sponsors are Renegade Marine (Lucasville, Ky.) and Elite Car Spa (a company that makes cleaning products for vehicles, including boats).