OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Florida’s famous big-bass factory showed off during the first day of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee, as Tennessee native Ott DeFoe caught a huge five-bass limit that weighed 31 pounds, 3 ounces.
DeFoe’s impressive catch put him more than 4 pounds ahead of Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., who is currently in second place after weighing 26-13.
Anchoring his limit with two giant bass that weighed 8-6 each, the 31-year-old DeFoe knew he had located quality fish during practice on the lake, but he didn’t realize just how good they were.
“I had a lot of bites during practice, but I wasn’t catching very many fish over 2 1/2 to 3 pounds,” DeFoe said. “But, a few of those fish were in one area that seemed to have all the right ingredients to justify a return trip once the tournament began.”
DeFoe caught one of his big bass at his first stop early in the day, but decided to move after only having a few other bites.
“I stayed on that spot until after 9 a.m., and it was after 10 when I caught my next one,” said DeFoe, a six-time qualifier for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. “At that point, the rest of my limit was small, but I was happy to have them because I had the one big fish.”
He managed to upgrade into the early afternoon on one spot that was also consistent for him during practice. DeFoe also said his pattern developed as the day went on, and he’s confident Friday will produce similar results.
“Today was a special day,” he said. “But it’s Okeechobee, 30-pound-plus limits can happen every day on this lake, and if I play my cards right tomorrow I believe I can hang onto the lead.”
While on stage with emcee Dave Mercer, DeFoe compared his twin 8-pound, 6-ounce bass to his twin children.
“When my twins were born, they both weighed several pounds less than those two big bass today,” he said with a laugh.
Weighing five-bass limits that exceed the 25 or 30 pounds is a rarity in this sport, and Browning agrees with DeFoe that today was indeed special.
“I don’t know if the quality of fish I caught today will still be available tomorrow, but it was sure a lot of fun,” Browning said. “I didn’t have a very good practice, so today I just went fishing and learned a lot. I really want to believe that I can catch another 25 pounds of fish tomorrow, but I won’t know if the pattern will hold until things get started in the morning.”
Many anglers commented on how water temperatures had dropped several degrees in recent days, and while cold fronts typically cause Florida-strain largemouth bass to become sluggish, the cold front that brought significant rain Wednesday afternoon seemed to have invigorated Okeechobee’s bass population.
“I’m going to hunker down and give it my best shot tomorrow — that’s all you can do when you’re learning as you go,” Browning said. “I’m sharing water with several other boats, and the improving weather should improve the bite. I’m doing something a little bit different, and I bet the pattern holds for another couple of days.”
Confidence is a key component to successful tournament angling, and like Browning, Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who weighed 25-15 for third, was surprised by his Day 1 weight.
“At this point, I just can’t be sure tomorrow will be as productive as today,” Horton said. “I got off to a great start, but the fishing was pretty slow as the day went on. I got the right bites, but not that many of them. To have a shot in a tournament on a lake like Okeechobee, you’ve got to have at least one day in the 25-pound range.”
Like DeFoe and Browning, Horton knows what Lake Okeechobee is capable of. Horton has an impressive history on Okeechobee, including a couple of Top 10s and a win.
“If I’m not going to be catching a lot of fish and hope to have a shot at the title, it’s critical that I’m effective and execute on each opportunity,” he said.
Rounding out the Top 10 were Brett Hite (23-3), Bobby Lane (21-15), Cliff Prince (21-11), Paul Mueller (21-9), Andy Montgomery (20-13), Skylar Hamilton (20-3) and Greg Hackney (20-2).
The frontrunner for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award is Tyler Carriere of Youngsville, La., with a 9-pound, 5-ounce largemouth.
Competition will resume Friday with takeoff at 6:45 a.m. at C. Scott Driver Park, and weigh-in will begin at 3:15 p.m. in the same location.
The event is hosted by the Okeechobee County Tourism.
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