OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., had one of those magical days all pros dream about: hauling aboard lunker after lunker after lunker. The five best ones added up to 34 pounds, 5 ounces, and the first-day lead in the Power-Pole Slam on Lake Okeechobee by 8 pounds, 12 ounces, over Davy Hite.
So good was his day, Monroe was able to cull a 6-plus-pounder, trading it in for what turned out to be his largest of the day, a 7-11.
He said he caught every fish flipping a creature bait called the D-Bomb — made by Missile Baits, a company owned by one of his fellow Bassmaster Elite Series pros, John Crews. Monroe rigged it for a large profile, “and those big ones just seemed to hit it,” he said.
All his fish came from an area he knew about from previous Okeechobee tournaments. He expected it to produce, but it exceeded his expectations Thursday.
“I thought it would be good for 20 pounds, which I’ve caught there before. But I never caught what I did today,” he said.
On Friday, he expects to repeat his flipping pattern, slow it down, and settle in to ferret out small ditches his fish were holding in. If the lake wind sets down, he said, that’s all to the good because he can fish more slowly.
“The slower I can fish, the better my chances for another big bag like today,” he said.
The best part, he said, is that the area might hold out for three more competition days.
“I feel great. After what happened last week, being at the bottom of the pack, I’m feeling good, and I’m catching them the way I want to catch them,” said Monroe, who failed to make the Top 50 last week in the Elite event on the St. Johns River.
Trailing Monroe was Hite, 1999 Bassmaster Classic champ and two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year from Ninety Six, S.C. Hite’s sack of 25-9 was the result of a midday recovery from a slow start.
“At 10 o’clock I had a limit that weighed probably 9 pounds, and I kept fishing really hard,” he said. He changed areas, and his day turned around.
“When I did get some quality bites, I put every single one of them in the boat, including that 7-pounder,” Hite said.
That was the 7-4 that anchored his bag. He almost lost it when it got hung up in some reeds, but he went to it, scooped it out and boated it without trouble.
“That almost never happens that way,” he said.
Nate Wellman of Newaygo, Mich., was third with 22-3. In fourth place was the 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala., with 21-15. In fifth place was Lane’s brother, Bobby Lane, of Lakeland, Fla., just 12 ounces behind with 21-3.
First prize in the March 22-25 competition is $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. Pros are also fishing for points that count toward a Classic berth, post-season entry and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
A 7-13 was the big bass of the day. Brought in by Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., the bass set the bar for the tournament’s Carhartt Big Bass award.
Also on Thursday, Kevin Ledoux of Choctaw, Okla., drove his boat into a shallow area and the boat became stuck. Unable to free the boat by himself, he elected to accept help from his Marshal (official observer in the boat with him).
As a result, Ledoux’s Thursday catch was disqualified, the penalty levied for violation of Bassmaster Elite Series rule No. C12 which states, “Marshals are not allowed to help pros in any way.” Ledoux reported the incident to B.A.S.S. tournament officials. He told officials that he knew and understood the rule and penalty before he made the call to accept the Marshal’s help.