Monroe steals the show

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- Ish Monroe was the first of 99 Bassmaster Elite Series pros to weigh-in Thursday on Day One of the Power-Pole Slam at Lake Okeechobee. And his five-bass limit was definitely stunning, weighing 34 pounds, 5 ounces.

But Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the lower 48 states, has plenty of big largemouth bass swimming around in its thick vegetation. And while it won't take 34 pounds a day to win this tournament, several other anglers were just as confident as Monroe after Thursday's weigh-in.

"It's very possible, very possible," said Chris Lane when asked if anyone would top Monroe's big Day One total. "It will take 100-pounds-plus to win this tournament."

Lane, who grew up in Lakeland, Fla., and has two B.A.S.S. victories on Lake Okeechobee, is in fourth place with 21-15 -- over 12 pounds behind Monroe. But he knows how fast everything can change on this huge, round, shallow lake.

Lane, like Monroe and most of the other tournament leaders, is flipping the thick vegetation that characterizes Okeechobee.

"It's no secret," said Lane, whose brother Bobby is only 12 ounces behind him in fifth place. "Everybody is doing the same thing.

"Your day can change so fast here, as mine did today. That's one thing you've always got to keep in your head."

Lane said he had a five-bass limit that weighed only about seven pounds at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Then he culled all four of his 13-inch bass in a matter of minutes.

Davy Hite of Ninety Six, South Carolina, had a similar experience in sacking his second-place total of 25-9.

"At 10 o'clock I had a limit that weighed only nine pounds or so," Hite said. "Last week (at the St. Johns River) was very frustrating for me. I wasn't on enough fish to win the tournament by any means. But I had enough fish to make a decent finish. I lost fish and I lost fish and I lost fish.

"Today was just the opposite. When I did get a quality bite, I put it in the boat."

Elite Series rookie Fletcher Shryock of Newcomerstown, Ohio, wasn't so fortunate, losing one monster bass. But he still finished with 16-4, which was good enough for 16th place, and is encouraged about Friday.

"I hate to say it, but I feel like I can jack 'em tomorrow," Shryock said. "That's just how I feel right now. I don't want to sound cocky.

"I was flipping the whole time. But I made a couple of changes, and as soon as I made those changes I started catching them one after another. I got rid of everything in my livewell in 20 minutes."

That's how fast fortunes can change here. But nobody sounded more confident than Monroe, who found fish in an area of Okeechobee where he wasn't affected by the winds that blew up to 20 miles per hour Thursday.

"It's an area I've fished before," said the California native. "I've caught 20 pounds out of there, but I've never caught fish before there like I caught today.

"I feel great. I'm catching them the way I want to catch them. I love flipping. If I'm not frogging, I'm flipping. If I can flip, I'm going to flip all day long."

Monroe's biggest bass weighed 7 pounds, 11 ounces, but it was hard to pick out the big bass in his bag.

"I had five big ones when I left," Monroe said of his primary area. "Then I caught another big one, and I'm like, 'I've got to catch a 10-pounder to cull up.'"

That's a situation very few tournament anglers will ever experience. And it's possible it could happen again to someone here this week.

"On any cast on this lake, you can catch a 10-pounder," said Kevin VanDam, who is in 29th place with 14-7. "That's what's great about fishing in Florida."

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