OKEECHOBEE, Fla.— Persistence paid big dividends for Mark Pierce of Cadiz, Ky., who caught a five-bass limit of 23 pounds, 12 ounces to leads Day 1 of the TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Southeastern Regional on Lake Okeechobee.
“I practiced for eight days and for seven of those days, I never saw a bass over 2 1/2 pounds,” Pierce said. “I didn’t realize how bad the grass (eradication) had affected this lake. It’s been 2012 since I’ve been here, so I spent the majority of my practice time on the north end, which turned out to be a bad idea.
“I finally changed to an entirely different area of the lake; I stuck to the main lake and ended up getting about 30 bites on my last day of practice, and didn’t hook them on purpose, in hopes that there were some good ones there. Never give up on Okeechobee.”
Targeting the mid-lake area, Pierce found his fish in about 2 feet of water amid a mixture of pencil reeds and eelgrass. He didn’t do any sight fishing, but he believes he was in an area where some fish were on unseen beds, while others were moving up to the spawning zone.
The combination of warming water and a favorable level of clarity gave Pierce a high degree of optimism for tomorrow.
“I think that we’re in for the perfect storm, because we had a cold front come through and I found about a 3/4-mile stretch that seems to have the right water color,” he said. “The clarity is not perfect, but it’s not dirty, like on the outside reeds.”
Anchoring his sack with an 8-pound, 8-ounce bass, which qualified for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Trophy Catch program, Pierce carries a 2-pound lead into Day 2.
“That big fish came off the edge of some pencil reeds, so she may have been around a bed,” he said. “I have not seen a bass on a bed unless they’re bedding a little deeper than I can see them.”
Pierce said he decided to forego the flipping technique common to Okeechobee’s shallow habitat. Instead, he caught all of his fish on moving baits.
Noting that his big bass bit around 2 p.m., Pierce said his morning was also productive.
“I was looking forward to the afternoon bite because I was the last boat, so I was excited about being the last boat,” he said. “But we caught them all throughout the day, so I feel even better about my area.”
John Duarte Jr. of Middle River, Md., is in second place with 21-12. Starting the day by targeting bed fish he’d marked in practice, Duarte put two good ones in his livewell in short order and then quickly filled his limit by fishing around the same general area. Moving to a new area enabled him to make three big culls.
“I caught most of my bed fish on a wacky-rigged black and blue Senko; and I caught one on a Texas-rigged Senko,” Duarte said. “I definitely had to work on my bed fish. I had to switch to a spinning rod for my biggest fish.”
Bryan Gunter of Ninety Six, S.C., is in third place with 20-0. With his catch buoyed by an 8-7, he caught his fish on a mix of three different baits; some reaction and pitching baits.
“I caught that big fish midday on my second pass through an area,” he said. “I actually returned to the spot and found that fish, so it paid off to return. That was the next to the last fish I caught and then, it was over.”
Pierce leads the Big Bass competition with his 8-8.
Jim Topmiller III of Orlando, Fla., leads the nonboater division with 14-10. Catching a 6-2 early in his day set the pace for success.
“We were blind-casting unweighted green pumpkin Senkos in spawning areas,” Topmiller said. “There were beds in the area but these fish weren’t on beds. We were throwing at anything sticking up out of the water — reeds, Kissimmee grass. You’d just feel a little tap and you wouldn’t know if it was a bluegill or a bass until you set up on them and they’d take off.”
Mike Caul of Petersburg, Va., leads the Big Fish competition among nonboaters with a 9-8.
Thursday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at C. Scott Driver Park, 10100 W. Hwy. 78, Okeechobee, Fla. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:15 p.m.
The event is being hosted by Okeechobee County.