By BassFan Staff

Brett Hite's up to his old Florida tricks again.

Six years ago, he blew away the field at Lake Toho and posted his first FLW Tour victory, winning by more than 20 pounds. As it turned out, he could've zeroed on the final day of that event and he still would've walked away with the trophy.

There's no telling what tomorrow will bring on the final day of the Lake Okeechobee Tour season opener. The Big O has certainly proven to be the Land of the Giants this week, so Hite won't be putting it on cruise control because he knows anyone in his rearview mirror can make up significant ground with a few good bites.

He did leave the door open today with a modest 15-12 stringer, but nobody was able to put a significant dent in his lead, which still stands at better than 12 pounds. He has 74-03 with one day remaining while Randall Tharp held onto second with a 16-02 bag that gave him 62-00.

"The door was open, but nobody walked in," Hite said. "I just had a feeling that something wasn't right today. Some days in Florida, they just don't bite as good. Today was one of those days. The conditions were good, but they didn't bite great and luckily nobody made a move."

James Watson made a sizable jump, rising from 10th to 3rd behind the day's big stringer, a 22-04 effort that gave him 60-02. Tour rookie Leon Williams hung tough again and made the final day in 4th place with 59-02. He's one ounce ahead of Greg Bohannan, who caught 18-04 today.

Here's a look at the 10 anglers who qualified for the final day, with deficit margin from Hite indicated by red numbers in parentheses:

1. Brett Hite: 74-03
2. Randall Tharp: 62-00 (12-03)
3. James Watson: 60-02 (14-01)
4. Leon Williams: 59-02 (15-01)
5. Greg Bohannan: 59-01 (15-02)
6. Matt Herren: 58-05 (15-14)
7. Scott Canterbury: 55-15 (18-04)
8. Cody Meyer: 54-11 (19-08)
9. Larry Nixon: 54-06 (19-13)
10. Stetson Blaylock: 54-04 (19-15)

Cody Meyer was the day's biggest climber, coming from 20th to 8th behind an 18-15 sack that gave him 54-11 and clinched a fifth career Tour Top-10. Scott Canterbury moved up from 11th to 7th with an 18-08 bag that was anchored by an 8-12 brute.

Brent Ehrler had 12-15 today and slid from 6th to 11th while Fred Roumbanis also bagged 12-plus and slipped from 9th to 16th.

The conditions changed yet again as the lake slicked off for a spell under overcast skies in the morning. For some, the cloud cover has meant more consistent action as a full-blown wave of females has yet to pull up to spawn. The flipping bite wasn't as hot as it has been for some competitors today as moving baits such as bladed jigs, swimjigs, swimbaits and spinnerbaits continue to be productive alternatives.

The forecast for Sunday is calling for intervals of sun and clouds with a high of 75 and a north breeze of 5 to 10 mph.

Hite Still Relaxed

> Day 3: 5, 15-12 (15, 74-03)

Sensing he dodged a bullet today, Hite's focus has shifted to strategizing for the final day. Barring a catastrophic mechanical failure or another unforeseen scenario, catching a bag in the 15- to 20-pound range should put the win on his ledger.

"I still have a 12-pound lead and if you were to ask anyone in the world if they'd take it, I think they would," he said."I was doing the math in my head and even if I catch 12, Randall's going to need 24. He hasn't had that yet. That's not to say he can't catch that because he can, but it's not like I'm going to fish a prevent defense-style tomorrow. I'm going to fish like I've been fishing. I want to make sure I catch a decent limit and hope to get a couple big ones.

"I'd like to catch 20 pounds and make it no contest."

FLW/Brett Carlson
Photo: FLW/Brett Carlson

Hite went to a backup pattern today and it produced some nice keepers.

He said the fish in the areas he's been fishing just weren't as active today, especially the bigger specimens he's had so much success with.

"It was just one of those days where I guess if the clouds don't look pretty enough they don't bite," he said. "They get so finicky, it's so hard to predict which days they'll bite. I just hope they bite tomorrow. I just want a nice limit early for like 12 pounds so I can go fishing the rest of the day and ease the emotions."

He had to get off his primary pattern for a bit today and it wound up benefiting him.

"I've fished really relaxed all week and today, I made a little adjustment around 11 o'clock," he added. "I had four fish at the time and three of them were smaller. I just had a gut feeling and something told told to change it up. I went to my backup pattern and caught three or four nice ones. I'm not saying the fish I've been fishing are shot, but they just weren't biting as well today. It's nice to have something else to go to when that happens."

He has confidence that 10 different areas he's fished have the potential to produce big fish, so he won't be lacking for options if he comes up empty right away.

"I think I have post-spawn, spawners and pre-spawn fish in those areas," he said. "I believe I'm catching fish in all three stages. There are just so many fish in that area. It's nice to have that many fish around. I'm going to catch them one way or another."

2nd: Tharp Shooting for 30

> Day 3: 5, 16-02 (15, 62-00)

Tharp saw today as a missed opportunity as he looked to draw closer to Hite in the standings.

"I hardly got any bites," he said. "I had three decent fish and weighed in a 3-pounder. I needed two more good ones to gain some ground. He left the door open and if I could've closed half of it with one, I'd be in better shape."

Instead, he finds himself in the same spot he was after day 2 trailing by more than a dozen pounds.

"I didn't think he could keep up the pace he had going," he added. "I knew the day he stumbled would be the day I needed to catch them.

"At any other lake in the country, 12 pounds is a pretty big lead, but here that's two bites. If he comes in with 15 tomorrow, that means I need 30 and that can happen here pretty quickly. I know we're doing two totally different things, but I'm not going to change. If it's meant to be for me to win, I'll go catch 30."

He moved around a little bit today after another competitor joined him in his primary area. He stayed there until 12:30, then ran to the spot that produced his big fish on day 2.

"I only caught small ones there today," he added. "Tomorrow, I'll probably be a lot more committed (to my first spot) and stay all day. I've found there are some dead sections in there so I need to quit wasting my time on those."

3rd: Watson Caught a Giant

> Day 3: 5, 22-04 (15, 60-02)

The highlight of Watson's day and fishing career, for that matter came in the middle of the day as he was working a spinnerbait across a flat-calm stretch of water.

"I was just randomly fishing along burning a spinnerbait just under the surface and this fish just smoked it," he said. "I'd caught a couple 3-pounders earlier doing that."

FLW/Brett Carlson
Photo: FLW/Brett Carlson

Leon Williams qualified for the final day in his first FLW Tour event.

That fish turned out to be an 8-05 Okeechobee giant and the key ingredient to his 22-04 stringer. It was the biggest bass he'd ever caught.

"I'm 41 years old and I've never caught one over 8 until today," he added. "Making the Top 10 is an awesome feeling especially with the schedule ahead. Pickwick and Hartwell are two lakes I'm not real fond of."

He weighed in one fish caught flipping today. The rest came on a spinnerbait, a worm or a swimbait.

"I had to jump around a bunch and I covered a lot more water today and it paid off," he added. "If I find I'm fishing a bait for 20 minutes and I haven't gotten bit, I need to switch it up and pick another bait. These fish are so scattered. I've just been fortunate to throw my bait in front of some big ones."

4th: Williams Riding High

> Day 3: 5, 18-00 (15, 59-02)

Williams is still flummoxed by the population of beefy bass at Lake Okeechobee, especially in the section he's pounded on the last 3 days.

"I still don't understand it," he said. "I've been fishing for a long time and this is the most big fish I've ever seen or caught. I'm just thrilled to death."

The 69-year-old from Fairdale, Ky., had never fished Okeechobee before this week. He was hoping to finish well enough to cash a check. Now that he's secured a pretty handsome payday by making the Top 10, he'll fish tomorrow care-free.

"At my age, I decided if I didn't try the Tour this year, I probably wouldn't be able to do it at all," he said. "It's a lot harder than a lot of people think it is. It really and truly is a young man's game. It takes a lot of out of you. I don't care what happens tomorrow. I made the Top 10. I'm glad tomorrow it's the last day because I am tired."

He said the bite was much tougher today and his first limit barely weighed 9 pounds. Then he caught a kicker female that was heading into a spawning area. He added three other nice fish to round out his bag.

"In the early morning, it was slick, but at 11 or 12, the wind changed a little and blew hard out of the north and the sun popped out," he said. "I think that's what pulled these fish out. The waves coming into this area move the baitfish around and the fish start feeding when that happens."

He's done most of his damage this week flipping a 4 1/2-inch Bruiser Avenger below a half-ounce weight.

5th: Blast for Bohannan

> Day 3: 5, 18-04 (15, 59-01)

Bohannan's confidence has gotten a big boost this week as he clinched his third career Tour Top-10 and first since 2009 at Table Rock Lake.

He attributes a lot of his success so far this week to the new Denali Kovert rods and Ardent Apex reels he's using this season.

"I really feel good about my equipment," he said. "It gives me more confidence than I've ever had. I've had some success down here in the past, but I've always lost key fish. That hasn't happened this week."

FLW/Brett Carlson
Photo: FLW/Brett Carlson

Greg Bohannan hasn't lost key fish this week like he has in the past at Okeechobee.

He's been targeting extremely shallow water amid fields of gator grass and has had better success under the cloudy skies that have stuck around most of the event.

"I noticed on the morning of day 2, the bite was better and then it got tougher when the sun came out," he added. "I'd love to see some drizzly rain tomorrow."

He continues to catch about 20 keepers a day, but says the key bigger fish are hard to forecast.

"There's just no rhyme or reason to when you catch a big one," he said. "I'm trying to cover a 400-yard-by-400-yard section as best I can and hope there are more in there."

Notable

> Day 3 stats 20 anglers, 19 limits, 1 four.

> Jay Yelas and Luke Clausen both had their struggles this week, mainly with getting around big fish at the Big O. Click here to read their tournament recap in BassFan's ProView Report.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., Feb. 9 Partly Cloudy - 75/59
- Wind: From the N at 5 to 10 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, Az -- 34-15 (5) -- 23-08 (5) -- 58-07 (10) -- 15-12 (5) -- 74-03 (15)

2. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, Fl -- 23-13 (5) -- 22-01 (5) -- 45-14 (10) -- 16-02 (5) -- 62-00 (15)

3. James Watson -- Waynesville, Mo -- 20-13 (5) -- 17-01 (5) -- 37-14 (10) -- 22-04 (5) 60-02 (15)

4. Leon Williams -- Fairdale, Ky -- 18-13 (5) -- 22-05 (5) -- 41-02 (10) -- 18-00 (5) -- 59-02 (5)

5. Greg Bohannan -- Rogers, Ar -- 27-02 (5) -- 13-11 (5) -- 40-13 (10) -- 18-04 (5) -- 59-01 (15)

6. Matt Herren -- Trussville, Al -- 20-06 (5) -- 20-13 (5) -- 41-03 (10) -- 17-06 (5) -- 58-05 (15)

7. Scott Canterbury -- Springville, Al -- 20-13 (5) -- 16-10 (5) -- 37-07 (10) -- 18-08 (5) 55-15 (15)

8. Cody Meyer -- Auburn, Ca -- 19-09 (5) -- 16-03 (5) -- 35-12 (10) -- 18-15 (5) -- 54-11 (15)

9. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 21-02 (5) -- 17-05 (5) -- 38-07 (10) -- 15-15 (5) -- 54-06 (15)

10. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, Ar -- 14-04 (5) -- 24-09 (5) -- 38-13 (10) -- 15-07 (5) -- 54-04 (15)

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.

11. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, Ca -- 16-04 (5) -- 23-11 (5) -- 39-15 (10) -- 12-15 (5) -- 52-14 (15) -- $12,000

12. Kerry Milner -- Bono, Ar -- 13-00 (5) -- 24-02 (5) -- 37-02 (10) -- 15-05 (5) -- 52-07 (15) -- $12,000

13. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 20-03 (5) -- 15-15 (5) -- 36-02 (10) -- 16-04 (5) -- 52-06 (15) -- $12,000

14. Peter Thliveros -- Saint Augustine, Fl -- 10-01 (5) -- 25-15 (5) -- 36-00 (10) -- 15-08 (5) -- 51-08 (15) -- $12,000

15. Scott Suggs -- Bryant, Ar -- 20-02 (5) -- 15-13 (5) -- 35-15 (10) -- 15-08 (5) -- 51-07 (15) -- $12,000

16. Fred Roumbanis -- Bixby, Ok -- 17-10 (5) -- 20-10 (5) -- 38-04 (10) -- 12-04 (5) -- 50-08 (15) -- $12,000

17. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 17-15 (5) -- 18-08 (5) -- 36-07 (10) -- 13-12 (5) -- 50-03 (15) -- $12,000

18. Matt Greenblatt -- Port St Lucie, Fl -- 21-06 (5) -- 15-00 (5) -- 36-06 (10) -- 12-09 (5) -- 48-15 (15) -- $12,000

19. Keith Amerson -- Bethel Springs, Tn -- 23-01 (5) -- 14-00 (5) -- 37-01 (10) -- 10-04 (5) -- 47-05 (15) -- $12,000

20. Ryan Chandler -- Valparaiso, In -- 26-01 (5) -- 10-03 (2) -- 36-04 (7) -- 8-13 (4) -- 45-01 (11) -- $12,000