Surprisingly productive day puts Schultz atop Bassmaster Elite on Okeechobee
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Expectations did not match reality for Bernie Schultz, but the veteran Florida pro was delighted with a surprising day that yielded a five-bass limit of 28 pounds, 11 ounces, which leads Day 1 of the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee.
Hailing from Gainesville, Fla., Schultz anchored his bag with an 8-10 that leads the Phoenix Boats Big Bass standings. He heads into Day 2 with a 3-pound lead over local favorite Scott Martin.
“It was a remarkable day; I didn’t expect to catch that,” Schultz said. “I thought I’d get one — if I was lucky maybe two — big bites, but I got four big bites.”
Schultz caught his bass in two main sections of one general area that he found prior to the off-limits period. With depths of about 3 feet, the area held a mix of vegetation — a key ingredient, given the lake’s present condition.
High water has altered much of the traditional spawning areas, while herbicide treatments have dramatically reduced the hydrilla and eelgrass that once covered vast acreage. The area Schultz fished had a mix of these submerged aquatic plants, along with dollar pads, bulrush and cattails.
“I knew this area was going to be good because the vegetation is very healthy; that’s really a rare thing in this lake these days,” Schultz said. “The lake has shrunk because of habitat loss. Places that were once lush and healthy are barren right now.
“There’s not a lot of filtration in places that were historically really productive this time of year because the fish aren’t using them.”
Schultz caught all of his fish on a 5-inch Yamamoto Senko. He’s using two rigging styles — one for open-water presentations and one for tighter spots amid vegetation.
“I’m fishing slow because I’m in an area where there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “I got my first big bite pretty early. I had a limit early, but it took a pretty good while to get the second big bite. That was the 8-10.
“I moved areas and caught another 8-pounder and one that was about 6.”
Schultz noted that, while the first half of his day produced more numbers of fish, the latter half yielded the biggest bites.
“I think the afternoons are better once you get that water temperature up,” Schultz said.
Tournament practice saw colder and mostly windy conditions whipping the lake and limiting the opportunity level.
“The first day of practice it was blowing like crazy throughout the day and it was just hard to fish,” Schultz said. “I was getting bit on moving baits but I never had a big bite.
“I had one 4-pounder, and I think that really tipped me off that I’m in a good area.”
Schultz said he will return to his area on Day 2. He’s confident he left plenty of bass there, but he’s unsure of how the overall fishing pressure will affect it.
“I don’t know what’s left (in my area); there were a lot of other boats there so we’ll have to see what happens,” Schultz said. “I’m trying to out-fish guys that are really good.”
Hailing from Clewiston, Fla., Martin admits that home-field advantage is often overstated, but his lifetime of local knowledge served him well by delivering a second-place limit of 25-11. Fishing the lake’s south end, Martin spent his day in a tucked-away area that he had all to himself.
“I prepared for this week, but I didn’t find a whole lot,” Martin said. “A couple of things gave me some clues as to what might happen. I kind of went with my gut this morning and it paid off big time.
“We have, maybe, three more days of fishing out here, so I may have to make adjustments throughout the week.”
Martin caught most of his fish with a prop bait. A slow, methodical presentation proved most effective for provoking fish that were becoming increasingly active with the week’s warming trend.
Martin also caught keepers by flipping shallow vegetation with a Texas-rigged Googan Squad Bandito Bug.
Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., is in third place with 24-5. Clearly enthusiastic about not only his Day 1 performance but also his upcoming prospects, Rivet credited his success to making good adjustments.
“I was doing what I like to do, flipping an Xcite Baits Sucka Punch and throwing a ChatterBait and a few secret deals that I found would work,” Rivet said. “There’s a ton of fish the way I’m catching them, so I think I can go out there tomorrow and catch them.
“I haven’t had this feeling for a tournament in a while, and I think it can happen for this one. There are a few people in my area, but what they’re throwing and what I’m throwing are different. Hopefully, it can stay that way.”
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET at C. Scott Driver Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:30 p.m. Only the Top 50 anglers will advance to Semifinal Saturday. Bassmaster LIVE coverage begins at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster.com, Tubi and the FOX Sports platforms.
The Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee is being hosted by Okeechobee County.
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