Anglers on Lake Okeechobee practicing for the first Bassmaster event of the season, the Thursday-Saturday Bassmaster Southern Open, are dealing with a wicked cold snap, a rarity for southern Florida. Okeechobee on ice, anyone?
“There’s no ice out here, but with another day of this cold, there could be ice along the edges,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro J Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga.
He was only half joking about ice. He said a local tournament of 24 boats on Jan. 9 finished with just three fish being weighed in, an indicator of just how light the bite has been.
“The bass just aren’t biting,” Tucker said Monday. “Only one person I’ve talked to has caught a fish (in two days). These are the toughest conditions I’ve seen in my entire career. Yesterday was absolutely miserable — we had 25 mph winds. This morning it was 25 degrees.”
The forecast is for a warming trend, and that might help the bite, he added.
Another Elite pro, Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was practicing within sight of Tucker. Martens agreed the bass had lockjaw. But Martens knows that things could change in an instant.
“The grass — all the vegetation — is as thick, as good, as I’ve seen it here,” Martens said. “But it’s also as cold as I’ve seen it here. If it warms up, the fishing will be good.”
Elite pro Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio, said he was told by locals that such an extended period of cold weather hasn’t been seen in Okeechobee in 35 years.
“The water went from 64 degrees when I got here (two weeks ago) down to about 48 today,” Hartley said. “A drop like that is drastic anywhere, but in Florida it’s worse. Florida fish are more fragile after cold fronts.”
Full coverage and photo galleries of the tournament, the first of three Southern Open events in 2010, will be available at www.Bassmaster.com.
FOR THE BEHEMOTH LOVER IN YOU: Bassmaster.com has debuted a page dedicated to the pursuit of big bass.
The page offers a wealth of lunker information inspired by the recent world record-tying big bass — the 22-pound, 4.97-ounce largemouth caught by Manabu Kurita in Japan, officially declared last Friday as a tie with the existing world record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces.
Included are photos of the record bass, exclusive videos of Bassmaster Editor James Hall’s interviews with Kurita in Japan, and the story of the steps that the International Game Fish Association took to verify Kurita’s record application.
Also available to online readers are Bassmaster’s lists of top-25 catches in the smallmouth, spotted and largemouth classes; bass records by state; and a “bass calculator” that estimates weight based on a fish’s girth and length.
The page is at http://sports.espn.go.com/outdoors/bassmaster/bigBass/index.
GOOD KARMA: For most Bassmaster Elite Series pros, the 2010 regular season, which begins in March, is an eight-stop mix of familiar fisheries and new challenges.
And so it is for Elite pro Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., who also can look forward to going back to three fisheries where he was the winner:
- The California Delta, where Martens won an Elite event in 2007, is the site of the 2010 Duel on the Delta, the season opener, March 11-14 out of Stockton, Calif.;
- Clear Lake, site of Martens’ Western Open win in 2002, is the site of the Golden State Shootout, set for March 18-21 out of Lakeport, Calif.;
- Lake Guntersville, where Martens won a 2009 Elite event, is the site of the May 6-9 Southern Challenge in Guntersville, Ala.
Throw in his fifth-place showing in 2009 on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, where the 2010 Elite trail will be April 15-18, and Martens can name at least four 2010 Elite venues that hold good karma for him.
“I think I do well on those lakes because I know them,” said Martens, the 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 11-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier. “Lakes I have fished two, three, four times, I get a feel for them.”
Martens said he tends to run into trouble on water he doesn’t know, especially big water. Case in point: the 2009 event on the Mississippi River out of Fort Madison, Iowa.
“I bombed there,” said Martens, who finished 75th in Iowa. “I’d never been there before, I didn’t know anything about it.
“I’m excited about the schedule, about going to Guntersville, the Delta. Clear Lake — I love it, it’s my favorite lake,” he said. “And Smith Mountain, I was hoping we’d go back. I was very happy to see that one on the schedule.”
He said the new Elite stops will be his biggest challenges: Pickwick Lake out of Florence, Ala., at the end of April, and the regular-season finale, the June 17-20 Sooner Run on the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, Okla.
Martens is shooting for a top-12 finish this year to advance to the postseason, a goal he narrowly missed in 2009.
“I’m feeling good about this season,” he said. “I’ve fished more between seasons than I ever have. When everyone else was out deer hunting, I’ve been fishing. The more you fish, the better you are. You don’t second-guess yourself, your confidence is higher.”
FISH WITH AN EX: “Fish with an Ex” is a new sweepstakes that offers a fishing trip with a different kind of ex (not the spousal kind) — an ex-cigarette smoker, to be exact.
Two Bassmaster Elite Series pros, Zell Rowland and Kevin Wirth, recently kicked the habit by using the free program available through BecomeAnEX.org. Now, at Bassmaster.com, the “Fish with an Ex” sweepstakes offers a two-hour outing with the two pros for the sweepstakes winner.
The prize package also includes round-trip airfare for two; hotel accommodations for three days and two nights; and $500 spending money.
Rules and details can be found here: http://promo.espn.go.com/espn/bassmaster/fishwithanex/index?code=BassPromo_Ex_010110.M