By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Skeet Reese finished 43rd on last year's MLF Bass Pro Tour final points list. The Top 40 qualified for next week's REDCREST Championship, and Nos. 41 and 42 (Jared Lintner and Bradley Roy) got in when Greg Hackney and Justin Atkins (Nos. 36 and 37) departed the organization for the Bassmaster ranks.

The veteran from California alleviated much of the sting of his near-miss by winning the Pro Circuit season opener at Lake Okeechobee in Florida. He began the final round in 3rd place, a little less than a pound and a half behind rookie leader Jim Neece Jr., then caught a tournament-best 27-09 to eclipse runner-up and fellow BPT competitor Chris Lane by 7 1/2 pounds.

It was his first regular-season triumph since a 2015 Elite Series event at Lake Guntersville.

"I can't ask for a better start to the season than that," he said. "Except for one bad day at Sturgeon Bay, I felt like I was fishing good last year when the season got cut a little short and I was hoping to carry that momentum over."

He competed in the three "Super Tournaments" last summer and is one of 20 BPT anglers who'll also fish the full Pro Circuit this year, where he rejoins brother Jimmy. The Reeses hadn't been on the same circuit since both were fishing WON Bass or West Coast Bass tournaments in the early 2000s.

"I wanted more events," he said. "My daughters are older now and they don't need me around as much and I fished more this offseason than I had in years, mostly at Clear Lake and Folsom Lake.

"With (Jimmy), it's definitely been a long time. He had his own place for this one, but there's three or four events this year when I'll be rooming with him. It's always nice to pick on your older brother."

Not Much Company

Reese found his primary locale in the late afternoon on the first of the two practice days. He'd gotten some bites early in the morning, then went about 10 hours without another until rolling into a mostly open-water area laden with flat reeds and tules at about 4:30 p.m.

"I got six or eight bites in there," he said. "None of them were over 2 pounds, but they were bites."

Photo: MLF

Reese's massive final-day bag included a 7-pounder and four 5s.

There were a couple of local boats in there at the time. The place drew only moderate attention on the competition days – Reese said he'd see eight or 10 fellow competitors come and go through the course of a day.

Four feet was his key depth range throughout the tournament as he compiled bags weighing 17-12, 21-09 and 16-00 before his massive haul on the final day. He enticed the late pre-spawn and actively spawning fish with a combination of a soft stickbait and a bladed jig.

He mostly focused on isolated clumps for the first three days before moving up closer to the "wall" on day 4.

"I struggled a little on day 3, so I decided to start on some new water and I caught a few 2-pounders," he said. "Then I decided to try (the thicker stuff) because it looked good and the wind was blowing on it right. Everything happened in a one-hour window and almost every bite I got was a good one."

He lost a 5- or 6-pounder right away, then moved about 20 feet and boated back-to-back 5s. Another 5 came shortly thereafter, then he broke off one at least that big. He corraled a 7 before hitting the end of the stretch, then added another 5 going back in the other direction.

He was pumped when it was over, but wasn't thinking that the trophy was surely his.

"I'd just had the most amazing start anybody could possibly want and jacked 27 pounds," he said. "On the flip side, I was also stressing because it was Okeechobee and Chris Lane was the one I was worried about – his weights had been going up each day and he told me the day before that he'd lost two good ones.

"I was thinking that it could be this good for others, too and if he catches 28, he's going to beat me."

In hindsight, he said his mediocre day 3 was a blessing in disguise.

"It allowed me to stay open-minded and not be locked in to what I'd been doing. I wasn't scared to try some new stuff."

Winning Gear Notes

> Stickbait gear: 8' heavy-action prototype Reese Fishing rod, Abu Garcia Revo Rocket casting reel (10:1 ratio), 25-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/4- or 1/2-ounce tungsten weight (depending on wind), 5/0 straight-shank hook, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General (junebug, black/blue or Skeet's green money magic).

> Bladed jig gear: 7' medium-heavy prototype Reese Fishing rod, Abu Garcia Revo AL-F casting reel (8:1 ratio), 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce unnamed bladed jig, Berkley PowerBait The Deal trailer (Skeet's green money magic).

> He said his Reese Fishing rods will be available for retail purchase toward the end of 2021.