South Florida Warming Trend Could Produce Record Stringers

The 19th season of the major leagues of bass-fishing, the Walmart FLW Tour, kicks off Feb. 6-9 with the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee presented by Mercury. Hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council, the tournament will feature 180 of the world’s best bass-fishing pros and 180 co-anglers casting for top awards of up to $125,000 cash in the pro division and up to $25,000 cash in the co-angler division.

“If the weather gets right, it could be the perfect storm like it was in 2011 when they broke all of the records,” said Mercury pro Drew Benton of Panama City, Fla., who won this event last season. “It’s been too cold and the major spawn hasn’t happened yet. It all depends on the weather, but we could easily see a four-day total of 100 pounds again.”

Straight Talk pro J.T. Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., shared Benton’s enthusiasm.

“Even though it really screws up the fishing, it takes these cold fronts to trigger those big giant schools of fish that live out in the main lake and are uncatchable to move into the grassy areas and spawn,” Kenney said. “That’s the time of year when we can see the big 30-pound stringers. I really believe that if we hit a warming trend before the Tour event, it’s going to be lights out.

“When it happens, it’ll be pretty quick,” Kenney continued. “Water temperatures right now are pretty cold – I’ve seen the lower 50s. Once that water temperature gets back up to 60 to 63 degrees, they’re coming.”

Kenney said that the weather will also play a huge role in how the tournament anglers fish.

“If it warms up, we’re going to see more of the feeding-type baits. Swimbaits will be really popular. Weightless stick baits and ribbontail worms will catch a lot of fish. But, if it stays cold, then reaction baits are going to be the way to go. I like to flip the mats with a heavy weight, or use lipless crankbaits and jerkbaits.”

“There’s endless opportunities on Okeechobee right now, and I think you’re going to be able to catch them any way you want to,” Benton said. “I think the jig bite is going to get better on the outside. Sight-fishing might come into play. You can find them on the outside of the grass on a spinnerbait or a swimjig. From what I saw a few weeks ago, there aren’t as many mats to flip as in years past. I think the winner is going to have to be versatile, because I don’t see anyone being able to strictly punch mats for four days and win on that alone.”

Both anglers said that if the water temperatures warm by tournament time, they expect to see the winning mark top 100 pounds.

“If it’s stays cold, I think that the winner will probably be in the low- to mid-70-pound range,” Kenney said. “It really depends on the weather. Either way, Lake Okeechobee is a great place to be the first week of February.”

In FLW Tour competition, anglers are also vying for valuable points in hopes of qualifying for the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of bass fishing. The 2014 Forrest Wood Cup will be in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 14-17 on Lake Murray and anglers could win as much as $500,000 – the sport’s biggest award.

Anglers will take off from Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort located at 920 E. Del Monte Ave. in Clewiston, Fla., at 7:30 a.m. the first two days of competition. On the last two days takeoff will be at the Clewiston Boat Basin at 7:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday’s weigh-ins will be held at Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s final weigh-ins will be held at the Walmart located at 1005 W. Sugarland Highway in Clewiston beginning at 4 p.m.

Fans will also be treated to the FLW Outdoors Expo at the Walmart on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. prior to the final weigh-ins. The Expo includes Ranger boat simulators, the opportunity to interact with professional anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by sponsors, and fans can learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities. All activities are free and open to the public. Also on Sunday, country music artist Josh Thompson will perform a free live concert on the Walmart weigh-in stage at 3 p.m.

As part of the FLW Tour’s community outreach initiative, FLW will be working in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County to host a Youth Bass Fishing Experience presented by Guy Harvey. On Saturday, Feb. 1, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m, multiple FLW Tour pros will offer a fun tutorial for more than 60 Boys & Girls Clubs youth taking place at C.B. Smith Park, located at 900 N. Flamingo Road in Pembroke Pines, Fla. The youth will learn the importance of teamwork, discipline and sportsmanship as they learn how and have the opportunity to bass fish alongside the pros.

Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs May 17 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET. The Emmy-nominated “FLW” television show is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.

For complete details and updated information visit FLWOutdoors.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.

Logo courtesy FLW Outdoors

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