By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Following is some pattern and gear information for the 2nd- through 5th-place finishers at last week's Lake Okeechobee FLW Pro Circuit in Florida.
2nd: Chris Lane
> Day 1: 5, 16-06
> Day 2: 5, 19-02
> Day 3: 5, 19-12
> Day 4: 5, 20-01
> Total = 20, 75-05
Chris Lane, a native Floridian who now resides in Guntersville, Ala., said his primary goal going into the season opener was to stay away from crowds as much as possible.
"That's a hard thing to do in Florida and a lot of times it doesn't work out very well," he said. "There were some people on my first starting spot, but there were so many fish that it was hard not to start there – it was loaded with boats and everybody caught fish in there."
He fished near the launch in Clewiston on day 1, then went north to begin the following day before eventually returning to the bottom end. He stayed in the southern portion for the final two days after the south wind really picked up.
He caught both staging and bedding fish – about half of them on a River2Sea Lane Changer topwater prop bait and the other half on a Bass Pro Shops Stik-O worm.
"I kept figuring things out little by little as I went along," he said. "The warmer nights and fewer boats (on days 3 and 4) allowed more fish to move up.
"Some were actively spawning and some were setting up, getting ready to come in. The (stagers) seemed like they were getting their last meal, as hard as they were hitting the bait."
He caught an 8-13 bruiser on the final day, but said he lost a couple of other fish in the same class.
> Topwater gear: 7'1" medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Pro Series rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 17-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon line, River2Sea Lane Changer (orange crush).
> Worm gear: 7'4" medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Triad Series rod, same reel, 50-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS braided line, 1/4-ounce Bass Pro Shops tungsten weigh, 4/) Bass Pro Shops straight-shank hook, Bass Pro Shops Stik-O (black/blue).
Rookie Jim Neece Jr. was the leader after both days 1 and 3.
3rd: Jim Neece Jr.
> Day 1: 5, 27-00
> Day 2: 5, 11-09
> Day 3: 5, 18-02
> Day 4: 5, 17-07
> Total = 20, 74-02
The event was the first tour-level outing for Jim Neece Jr., a 46-year-old roofing contractor from Tennessee. He's the father of third-year Pro Circuit competitor Corey Neece, who finished 24th.
The elder Neece found a big wad of quality fish on the north end of the lake on the second day of practice and ended up sharing the area with Keith Poche.
"We respected each other very well and he laid off my little spot within the spot," Neece said. "He even helped me guard it a little bit."
He was the leader after both days 1 and 3 and might've won his pro debut if not for a lackluster second day.
"I lost two good ones that would've given me at least a 17- or 18-pound bag," he said. "I just had a bad day."
He was also hindered by the loss of a gigantic fish on day 3 that straightened out the treble hooks on a topwater prop bait.
He focused primarily on small patches of dead reeds in the 2- to 4-foot depth range and caught weigh-in fish on a worm, a bladed jig and a frog.
"I caught a few fish that had already spawned and some others that were coming to me," he said.
> Worm gear: 7'6" medium-heavy or heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, Shimano Bantam casting reel (7:1 or 8:1), 50-pound Daiwa J-Braid or 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/8- or 1/4-ound Reins Tungsten weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu SuperLine offset-shank hook, Zoom Speed Worm (junebug).
> Bladed jig gear: 7' medium-heavy MudHole MHX rod, same reel (7:1), 50-pound Daiwa J-Braid, 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jackhammer (clearwater shad), Gambler Lures Little EZ or Reaction Innovations Little Dipper trailer (black/blue).
> Frog gear: 7'6" heavy-action Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, same reel (7:1 ratio), 50-pound Daiwa J-Braid, SPRO Bronzeye Poppin' Frog (killer gill).
Dicky Newberry posted a 4th-place finish on his first visit to Okeechobee.
4th: Dicky Newberry
> Day 1: 5, 20-12
> Day 2: 5, 17-04
> Day 3: 5, 15-06
> Day 4: 5, 19-06
> Total = 20, 72-12
Dicky Newberry spent the entire tournament in a single locale – once he shut off his big motor upon arrival, he never started it again until it was time to return to the launch.
"It was my first time there and I knew nothing about the lake," he said. "I found one group of fish and stayed there all four days. There were four or five other boats fishing the same stuff, but I think their largest bag was 14 pounds. The key for me was realizing the fish were sitting out there farther away from the reeds – they were either staging or they had beds."
His primary bait was a Gambler Burner worm. He made relatively long casts and employed a swimming retrieve and the proper speed was critical.
"If I let it get too deep it would get in all that much and stuff and foul up," he said. "If I reeled it too fast, I wouldn't get any bites."
He said the mornings were somewhat stressful, as all of his quality bites came after 11:30 a.m.
> Worm gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Lew's Custom Pro Mark Rose Ledge Series rod, Team Lew's casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 15- or 17-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, 3/16- or 1/4-ounce lead weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank, round-bend hook, 6" Gambler Burner (junebug).
Bill McDonald shared his best area with a couple of other Top-10 finishers.
5th: Bill McDonald
> Day 1: 5, 17-04
> Day 2: 5, 20-04
> Day 3: 5, 17-12
> Day 4: 5, 15-12
> Total = 20, 71-00
Veteran Bill McDonald was another competitor who relied on a single area. It was located on the West Wall and was also utilized by Top-10 finishers Miles Burghoff and Anthony Gagliardi.
"It was the best spot I'd found in practice, but I didn't fish it very long because when you've only got two days, you've got to cover some water," he said. "I thought it was a 12- or 13-pound hole and I could do that and get a check and start the season off good.
"After catching what I did the first morning (of competition), I realized there was more there than I'd thought."
It featured by haygrass and reeds, but he focused on the reeds exclusively as fish were spawning at their bases. He mostly threw a Strike King Ocho and also mixed in a Shim E Stick and some other offerings.
"I never could see the fish, but I'd pitch it to where they should be and that's where they were at," he said. "The key was slowing down until I thought I was fishing extremely slow and then fishing even slower. I might not move the bait for 15 or 20 seconds and when I picked up, they were there. Only three or four times did I actually feel them hit the bait."
> Worm gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Lew's Custom Pro Mark Rose Ledge Series rod, Lew's HyperMag casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 3/8-ounce weight, 5/0 Hayabusa worm hook, Strike King Ocho or Shim E Stick (black/blue or black/red).