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Bass fishing bonanza on Lake Okeechobee

Posted by admin on January 9, 2011

CLEWISTON -- Despite unseasonable heat even for June and a water level a bit higher than they like, captain Steve Daniel and aspiring bass pro Anthony Hunt enjoyed a bountiful half-day of fishing on Lake Okeechobee on Monday. Casting from sun-up to about noon in the middle of the 730-square-mile lake, guide and angler caught and released 50 bass using mostly crankbaits and plastic worms.

bigOstory.jpgHunt, a Fort Lauderdale chef who aspires to a career in professional bass fishing, had the largest of the day -- an estimated 6-pounder that ate a 6 ½-inch Grande Bass worm in junebug and green pumpkin. Daniel, a veteran pro who won an FLW tournament here in 2000, helped flush the fish from the edge of a rocky spoil island using a gold Hover Trap lipless suspending lure.

The two caught everything from 10-inchers to 2-pound schooling bass all morning, even as water temperatures rose to the mid-90s under a cloudless sky.

"They are stacked, man!'' Hunt said happily.

Said Daniel: "I think there's more fish in Lake Okeechobee than I've ever seen.''

The exceptional bass fishing continued through midweek when well-known professional bass champion Roland Martin -- now of Islamorada -- shot a television show with Daniel and released 70 bass in a half-day.

Lake levels during this week's frenetic fishing activity hovered just above 14 feet, about two feet higher than Daniel considers optimum. But the bass didn't seem to care.

Daniel said the fish are hanging out in the same areas where they lurked this time last year -- even with water levels now five to six feet higher. He said several factors play into the robust fishing:

Last winter's record cold might have delayed the spawn or even caused the fish to spawn twice within a year.

Fish are dining on a rich prey base of shad, killifish and other minnows.

Fish have plenty of places to hide and feed with large areas of Kissimmee grass, bulrush and other native vegetation springing up around the lake.

Daniel advises would-be hawg-catchers to cover a lot of water using crankbaits, then stop and anchor when they locate schooling bass.

``Right now, they can be anywhere,'' he said. ``I like keying on the edges of the grass. There might be that one little spot -- maybe it's a shell bottom. They're there for a reason; they're not there randomly. I feel like I can catch 'em now until dark.''

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission fisheries biologist Corey Lee agrees the Big O is in great shape.

"The most bass we've seen in three to four years,'' Lee said. "We're seeing eight-to-10-inch bass everywhere. There's a lot of crappie -- the highest numbers we've seen in five years. It's been amazing watching it turn around.''

The fishing fortunes of Lake Okeechobee have been topsy-turvy over the past decade. An extended period of high water levels in the late 1990s that drowned aquatic vegetation and coated the lake bottom with muck ended with the drought of 2001-02.

The dry weather allowed native grasses and plants to make a comeback -- just in time for back-to-back hurricane drenchings in 2004-05. The past couple of years have seen no major wet storms except Fay in 2008 -- leading to lower water levels, more fish habitat and more fish -- though not necessarily big ones.

"What we're seeing are a lot of 15-inchers. We haven't seen anything in our samples over 10 pounds,'' Lee said. "The next five years is going to be an amazing fishery if we can keep the habitat and food base there.''

Lee said the FWC has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep lake levels from staying too high too long now that it's hurricane season. And that is good for the sport fishery.

"It' not like the Lake Okeechobee glory days, but it's coming back. It's a real resilient lake,'' he said. "I think it's making its way back into being one of the top fisheries in the country.''

If you would like to book a Lake Okeechobee bass fishing trip with captain Steve Daniel, call 863-885-2280.