Big bags expected for Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee

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Florida’s Lake Okeechobee will kick off the 2024 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN season February 1-3. 

Photo by Craig Lamb/B.A.S.S.

January 25, 2024

Big bags expected for Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee, but weather will likely determine how many

 

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CLEWISTON, Fla. — The 2024 season of the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN is set to kick off at one of the top big-bass factories in the country — Lake Okeechobee. But like so many early-season tournaments held in the state of Florida, just how many big bags are caught will ultimately be determined by the weather. Longtime Florida pro Mike Surman is fishing the Elite Qualifiers division of the Bassmaster Opens, a division newly established in 2023 that requires anglers to fish all nine Opens events throughout the season as they compete for one of nine spots in the 2025 Bassmaster Elite Series.

 

Surman believes warm weather following a cold front could yield big bites, while a sudden temperature drop might make finding fish more of a challenge.

 

“If the bass are coming off a cold front and we get a warming trend, they will go crazy and you will see quite a few 25-pound bags,” the EQ pro said. “If it is the opposite, and it may have been warm in practice and we get a cold front, then fishing is going to be tough — 15 pounds a day will probably be good.”

 

Tournament days are scheduled for Feb. 1-3 with takeoffs each day from Roland Martin Marina at 7 a.m. ET and weigh-ins back at the marina each day at 3 p.m. The full field of pros and co-anglers will fish the first two days, while only the Top 10 pros will advance to Championship Saturday.

 

The winner will qualify for the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic, assuming they fish all three events in Division I.

 

Arguably the best lake in the country at one point, Okeechobee has a storied past with B.A.S.S. The most recent chapter was written during last year’s Bassmaster Elite Series event, when Tyler Rivet won a back-and-forth affair with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 15 ounces.

 

During the months leading up to this Open, Surman said Okeechobee has fished really well, particularly in December. Multiple 30-pound bags have been weighed in during recent tournament competition, and Surman said he caught a couple of 35-pound bags preparing for this event.

 

With cooler temperatures moving south, fishing hasn’t been quite as good in January, but a warming trend will heat the water and get the bass moving again.

 

“In early December, the fishing was on fire,” he said. “All the tournaments, they were just killing them. It has gotten a little tougher since. The water temperature had dropped to 62 to 64 degrees right before the [off-limits] cutoff [for the Open].

 

“It has been a fairly mild winter. We’ve had a few cold-front days, but we haven’t come close to freezing yet,” Surman continued. “Our cold-front days will be around 42 to 45 degrees, and that has happened a couple times, but it has warmed back up every time within days. The major fronts haven’t gotten down to us for the most part.”

 

Covering nearly 451,000 acres, Okeechobee is a massive lake. The amount of fishable water, however, is a quarter of that size — for a couple of reasons.

 

For one thing, Okeechobee is a couple of feet higher than it was during last year’s Elite Series event and slightly dirtier.

 

“There are five or six key places around the lake where guys have been catching big bags,” Surman said. “Outside of those places, it has been tough. Can guys find some secret places? Absolutely. That’s what everyone will be trying to do. But those five or six places will have 20 to 30 boats in each one. That makes it tough.”

 

Grass is far less prominent as a whole on the lake than it has been in past years. What’s left are mostly reed heads, Kissimmee grass, buggy whips, cattails and decaying debris.

 

“There was a lot of eelgrass last year that was essentially all over the lake, and there may be two or three little patches left,” Surman said. “That’s because the water is higher and that makes the water dirtier, which makes the plant life a little harder to grow. There is essentially no grass.”

 

At the beginning of February, the bass are usually in one of their spawning stages, whether that be prespawn, postspawn or actually spawning. Weather determines which one is most prominent, as well as the moon phase.

 

The Opens anglers will be four or five days behind the full moon. But with the right water temperatures, around 70 degrees, what Surman calls “lake fish” will move from the main lake to the shallows to spawn. With dirtier water than normal, Surman believes there will be bass caught off of beds, but sight fishing won’t necessarily be the key deal.

 

Many bass will still be offshore as well, chasing shad and other baitfish, creating interesting forward-facing sonar opportunities. Big bags will be caught either way, but cold-front conditions will make consistency difficult.

 

“It is very hard to be consistent during cold-front days,” Surman said. “You can catch a big bag, but you don’t see it very often. It would be good to get one really good day and then just hang out. But if it is a warming trend, you better go catch five big ones, and a bunch of people will do that.”

 

If water temperatures are below 64 degrees, Surman envisions a three-day winning weight in the vicinity of 56 pounds. If the water temperature is over 68 degrees, he says things could get interesting.

 

“I think it will take close to 70 pounds if it’s over 68 degrees,” he said.

 

All coverage from the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee presented by SEVIIN will be available on Bassmaster.com.

 

The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m. ET, with streaming available on Bassmaster.com, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

 

The tournament is being hosted by the City of Clewiston.

 

2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Title Sponsor: St. Croix

2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Presenting Sponsor: SEVIIN

2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro ShopsDakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2024 Bassmaster Opens Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Lowrance, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC

 

About B.A.S.S.B.A.S.S., which encompasses the Bassmaster tournament leagues, events and media platforms, is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting-edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), TV show, radio show, social media programs and events. For more than 50 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

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