Capt. Ethan Hamrick
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Bass Bandits Tournament: Lake Okeechobee (September 2020)

Two weeks ago, my grandpa and I fished our final tournament of the year in the Bass Bandits club. The two day “classic” tournament was held on the largest lake in Florida, Lake Okeechobee. This giant fishery contains over 730 square miles of water.


My grandpa and I headed down to the vast lake the morning before the start of the tournament. We launched out of the Clewiston boat ramp, located on the southwest end of the lake. The two of us began the morning with a 12-mile boat ride further south to an area known as South Bay. We’d done well in this area of the lake each of the last two years and were hoping to find some fish again in that location.

We arrived in South Bay with high expectations but weren’t feeling too good about the area after over two hours without a bite. We relocated from the huge grass flat we were fishing to a nearby canal, where I quickly caught two keeper sized bass on a jerkbait. We left that canal and rode to another set of canals a few miles away. We fished that area for over two hours and never got a bite.

From there, the two of decided to go fish an area nearby that was full of bulrush reeds. I picked up my flipping rod and made hundreds of flips throughout the next hour. I got three bites flipping a creature bait around the cover, while my grandpa got a couple of strikes throwing a jerkbait around the edges of the vegetation. 

After a very slow morning in South Bay, my grandpa and I began heading back to Clewiston. On our way back, we made a stop out in the main lake to fish some grass and scattered reeds, but without success. Around 3 o’clock, some rainy weather began to roll in, so we decided to head back to the ramp and check into our room at Roland Martin’s Marina and Resort.

Later that afternoon, after the rain passed, we ventured back out onto the main lake in search of a few evening bites. We fished without a bite for over an hour before coming across a school of bass busting on the surface on the outside of a grass line. I quickly caught a solid fish close to three pounds on a topwater bait. Then my grandpa hooked one over four pounds on a chatterbait that spit the hook right at the boat.  We decided to leave that area, call it a day, and hope those fish would be there the following day.  

Tournament Day 1

The next morning was day one of the tournament. My grandpa and I had heard reports of lots of fish being caught north of Clewiston on the west side of the lake. After trying the spot where we’d gotten a couple of bites the evening before without success, we made the decision to go north, hoping to get around some big fish. Little did we know heading out that morning, that it would turn out to be one of our toughest days of the year.

Because we hadn’t practiced in that area, we weren’t really sure what we were looking for. We ran about 8 miles up the lake before stopping along the main outside grass line. When we arrived, there were shad flicking everywhere on the surface, but surprisingly we didn’t see hardly any bass busting them. Right away my grandpa got a bite and lost a two pounder. Not long after that, I caught a small keeper on a spinnerbait. That’s when things started going south in a hurry!

We fished our way further down the grass line without another bite. As we approached a long stretch of bulrush reeds, I picked up a swim jig and began flipping it around the thick cover. It hadn’t been five minutes since I’d started throwing the jig when I made a pitch to a clump of reeds, seen the entire clump shake, and felt a light tap on the end of my rod. However, when I set the hook, the line unfortunately could not withstand the pressure and snapped. I was using 40-pound braid to a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. The line broke at the braid, so I’m not sure if there was a frayed spot in my braid or what the problem was. All I know is that small fish don’t shake an entire clump of reeds, so I’d definitely just missed an opportunity at a big fish. I was frustrated, but all I could do was tie on another bait and keep fishing.

We spent the next two hours fishing more reeds and grass without even the smallest bite. Then we ran up to a channel known as Cochran’s Cut a few miles further up the lake. We were unsuccessful in this area as well. Up to that point, it had been a brutal day for my grandpa and I. We’d only gotten a handful of bites and had only one small keeper in the boat by noon.

We started heading back to towards the launch and fished some scattered reed patches along the way. I finally caught our second small keeper on a creature bait. On my very next cast, I caught a two pounder out of the same reed patch. Then another unfortunate event happened.

As I was trolling my way to the next clump of reeds, I lifted the lid of the live well to take a quick peek at our three fish. I made a rookie mistake and opened the live well all the way. When I did this, the two pounder I’d just caught seen a way out. As soon as he seen daylight, the fish jumped right out of the live well and straight back into the lake. I stood in shock for about a minute straight wondering what had just happened. As if the day hadn’t been tough already, then a fish jumped out of the live well. That was the first and hopefully the last time I have a fish escape once it’s in the live well.

We continued fishing reeds for the next hour before cranking up and heading back down the lake where we fished much closer to the boat ramp for the remainder of the day. I caught just one more keeper before we had to call is a day. It was definitely one of the worst days my grandpa and I have ever had in a tournament. We weighed in three fish for just five pounds on day one, basically putting ourselves out of contention even if we had a spectacular day two.

Tournament Day 2

The following day was the final day of the tournament. Since my grandpa and I had another tournament on Lake Okeechobee the very next weekend and we were so far out of the lead in this one, we decided to treat day two as a practice day. We really needed to find something that might help us in the tournament the following week.

We started the day out about a mile from takeoff fishing some scattered reeds and cattails. I swam a ZOOM speed worm around the edges of the vegetation and quickly caught our first keeper. About half an hour later, I pitched my worm towards an isolated patch of cattails, immediately felt my line start to move and set the hook. The fish fought hard for a while, but I couldn’t tell how big the bass was until I brought it alongside the boat, where my grandpa netted the fish. The bass weighed a little more than six pounds and was a big confidence booster for us. I placed the big fish in the live well and we continued fishing.

Twenty minutes later, my grandpa caught our third keeper of the day, a solid three pounder, on a worm. Then we went almost an hour without catching anther fish. Around 9 o’clock, I caught our fourth and firth keepers swimming a worm through some thinner reeds to give us a limit.

From there, my grandpa and I fished our way to a big grass flat, where we’d seen some other boats earlier in the day. We had a couple of bites in that area, but nothing real big. We decided to get back to fishing around reeds for the remainder of the morning. I caught one more decent fish that culled our smallest before we stopped fishing the reeds and tried fishing around a couple of points near the main channel. I picked up a jerkbait and caught a fish close to three pounds right away off a point to give us another solid upgrade.

The two of us then fished another nearby channel that led out into the main lake, where we caught two small fish that didn’t help our weight total. Weigh in was a 1 o’clock that afternoon, so we were forced to call it a day early and head in after fishing that channel.

My grandpa and I actually had a nice bag of fish on day two, weighing a total of 17.75 pounds. It was a good way to rebound after what we’d done a day earlier. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we were too far out of the lead to even come in the top five. We ended up finishing 6th in the tournament with a little more than 22 pounds in two days. It obviously wasn’t the outcome we were hoping for coming into the tournament, however, we’d still had a good second day and had found some fish for the following week.

What Worked

My grandpa and I struggled to catch fish in practice and on day one of this tournament. We fortunately did a lot better on day two and caught a good limit. We caught fish on two main baits throughout the three days, including a jerkbait and a speed worm. Most of the fish we caught around vegetation came on ZOOM Magnum speed worms, while most of the fish we caught in open water came on a Rapala Shadow Rap Jerkbait.

Rapala Shadow rap Jerkbait: 

ZOOM Magnum Speed Worm:

My grandpa and I covered so much water this tournament and we couldn’t have done it without our Minn Kota Terrova trolling motor. This is the best trolling motor I’ve ever used. It’s twenty-four volts, eighty pounds thrust, has ten different speeds, spot lock and auto pilot. Plus, it can cut through super thick vegetation and is extremely durable and powerful, lasting an entire day on the water with no problems. It’s not the least expensive trolling motor on the market, however, it’s well worth the money for an avid angler who is on the water often.

Minn Kota Terrova:

What Didn’t Work

My grandpa and I didn’t have any type of pattern going at all in practice or on day one. I really wish we could’ve figured out the speed worm pattern sooner and we might have been able to catch a decent limit of fish the first day.

I don’t really regret going north and exploring unfamiliar water the first day, because we didn’t have anything else. But I do think the biggest mistake we made on day one was running around the lake way too much. Looking back on it, we should’ve just picked an area to fish and covered water. We ran all over the west side of Lake Okeechobee that first day and it’s one of the main reasons we didn’t do well in this tournament.

Back to You

Thank you guys so much for reading this latest tournament recap. It’s especially important in the tough tournaments to recognize what we did wrong and how to fix it in the future. I hope reading about our struggles can help you the next time you’re out on the water chasing largemouth bass. As you seen from this two day tournament, a lot can change from one day to the next. Fishing can be horrible for you one day and great the next. Whether you fish tournaments or not, keep that in mind, especially during the fall of the year, when bass are so scattered out and much harder to find.

Stay tuned for the final tournament recap of the season, as we wrap it up with another one on Lake Okeechobee. As always, happy fishing, and keep your hooks wet!     


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