By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Of the 30 anglers who made the top-30 cut at last month's Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour, Matt Becker might've been the most unlikely member of the group. The 25-year-old rookie from Pennsylvania had never made a cast in Florida prior to a pre-practice trip between Christmas and New Year's, but he ended up No. 22 in the final standings, sandwiched between Florida studs Scott Martin (21st) and J.T. Kenney (23rd).
"I guess I'd say I was surprised," Becker said last week. "I wasn't really sure what to expect in my first Tour event – whether I was going to end up getting smoked or what.
"I can't wait to get back down there and see what I can figure out for this next one."
That opportunity comes this week, as he's back in Florida for the season's second stop at the Harris Chain of Lakes. That's another venue he visited during his holiday scouting trip.
"It's a totally different kind of fishing than Okeechobee. There's not as much vegetation as far as reeds and cattail and that kind of stuff. It fishes more like a Northern lake – you can catch fish away from the bank there, which is what I'm really looking forward to."
Lots of Work at Home
Becker, the winner of last year's Northern FLW Series derby at 1000 Islands and the 5th-place finisher on that circuit's points list, hasn't been just sitting around idling away the time between Florida events. He runs the service department for a company that produces printers and copiers and has logged 50 or 60 hours on the job during each of the past several weeks.
He's worked for the firm since he graduated from high school and has been so happy there that he opted to bypass college.
"It's really like a family atmosphere at this company, even though (the owners) aren't my family, per se," he said. "I can take off for a tournament whenever I need to and work whenever I get back. I'm very lucky in that regard.
He also bears no family obligations at this point.
"I'm still single, chasing the fishing life. I could've been marries, my last girlfriend was ready, but I told her, 'No, I want to fish.'''
Found a Sweet Spot
Becker posted a good finish at Okeechobee without the aid of a true Florida brute – the biggest fish he caught over his three competition days was a 5-pounder.
"I wouldn't call my practice good, but I found a couple little areas that were holding fish," he said. "I ended up milking one area and not running around too much. It was pretty much just myself and one other competitor fishing that water – two other guys were sort of around, but they were fishing different stuff."
It was on the northwestern side of the lake near a well-known community hole – Tin House Cove.
"There were lots of boats there, but I think they just didn't venture off of there," he said. "I hadn't been there before, so I just sort of kept exploring and I found it."
The fish were moving into his area, which he referred to as "sort of a backwater-ish pond behind the main reed line, to spawn. Most were fully involved with the reproduction ritual by the time his final day on the water arrived.
"They changed all three days and I had to change with them. The first day they were still feeding on shad, but by the third day they were spawning – I could see beds everywhere."
He relied primarily on a swimjig and a Keitech Noisy Flapper frog the first two days, then switched to a Zoom Finesse Worm after the fish had locked down onto their beds.
He averaged just under 14 pounds per day, with his best bag (16 1/2) coming on day 1.
"I never caught that 9-pounder that really bumps your weight up, but I just had a nice average (size)," he said. "It seems like that's pretty rare down there."