By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Nine Floridians competed on the Bassmaster Elite Series this year, but only one finished among the top 50 in the points standings and qualified for next week's Angler of the Year Championship. Bobby Lane left his home in Lakeland on Wednesday evening and doesn't know whether it'll still be there when he returns from Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake.
Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record, has homed in on the Sunshine State and will arrive over the weekend. Even in a best-case scenario, the massive storm carrying incredibly powerful winds will wreak havoc on parts of the state. Precisely where and to what extent are the big questions.
"(Lake) Okeechobee is supposed to take a direct hit and my place is about a hundred miles from there," Lane said. "It's scary as hell thinking what I might be coming back to.
"I've got a ton of family there so I know my stuff is going to be looked after. State Farm (the insurance company) can rebuild my house, but they can't rebuild my family."
Lane spent Wednesday night at the home of former Elite pro J. Todd Tucker in Tipton, Ga. While traveling through his home state, he never saw a service station that wasn't out of gas or a motel with a vacancy.
"All we can do now is hope and pray. My parents are well-prepared to ride the storm out. Whatever happens, I'm not going to have any control over it."
McMillan: Tough Call to Make
Brandon McMillan's home in Clewiston, Fla. sits only a quarter-mile from the Okeechobee dyke nobody in the vicinity lives closer to the big lake. He's boarded up his house as best he could and spent Thursday morning helping one of his brothers do the same.
"We're going to get bad, bad winds and the biggest problem I worry about is this lake," he said. "With the wind spinning all the way around it, water's liable to slosh over. With 130- to 150-mph winds blowing for 10 minutes in one direction and then 10 minutes in a different direction, pushing all that water around, it's going to creep up and over the sides.
"As for the dyke, I don't necessarily think it's going to break, but I don't really trust it, either."
Brandon McMillan's home near Lake Okeechobee is in an area that will likely be hit hard by Hurricane Irma.
Fortunately, his wife is in Arizona, where her sister lives. However, he has other family members in precarious positions.
"My aunt and uncle down the road have been talking about leaving, but my aunt has a broken leg and her daughter has a 2-year-old and another baby due Sept. 20. And her husband, who's 28 years old, just got out of the hospital after open heart surgery. I really can't leave four people to fend for themselves."
His brother has an 18-foot Tracker that's been tied to a large tree in case their only way to escape in the aftermath is via boat. There's no guarantee, though, that the boat, the tree or anything else in the area will be in the same place once the storm has passed.
"I got up at 4 o'clock and started unloading my steel building where I keep all my fishing stuff I put all the rods and reels in the house. That building will be gone, there's no question about that."
Martin will Remain
Scott Martin, who lives just a couple of houses from McMillan, has sent his family out of the storm's path. He'll remain in Clewiston or somewhere close by so he can tend to matters at Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina.
"This is pretty serious stuff," he said. "We're prepared for the worst.
"We've seen a lot of these things over the years and (the forecasters) never seem to get the path quite right. Usually at the last minute it takes a turn that they didn't expect, or it doesn't turn like they thought it would."
He moved his boats to a large warehouse that's rated for 150-mph winds. He also relocated his collection of Cotton Cordell Big O lures to that facility.
"I had to get those out of here. A couple of those my dad won tournaments on back in the '70s."
Scott Martin has moved his boats into a warehouse capable of withstanding 150-mph winds.
There's been no bottled water for sale locally for several days, but he's well-stocked with fluids. Sqwincher, the manufacturer of electrolyte-replacement sports drinks, is one of his sponsors.
"They recently sent me a whole palate of it probably 50 cases. I've got enough for myself and the rest of the neighborhood, too."
(UPDATE: Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered Friday morning a mandatory evacuation of seven cities around Lake Okeechobee, including Belle Glade and Clewiston.)
Cox Staying Put
John Cox's home in Debary is about 20 miles from the coast. It's right on the St. Johns River, though, and the water was already very high at mid-week.
"That's probably going to be an issue," he said. "The town I'm in has a ton of small lakes, and the last time we had a hurricane about 8 years ago, just about everybody who lived on a pond got flooded.
"I live right on one of them, but I'm on the high side. The four houses on the low side all flooded."
He considered going somewhere else, but realized such a move would be a logistical nightmare. His parents and his girlfriend's mom and dad all live in the vicinity and I-75 already resembles a parking lot.
"We figured it might be even more dangerous to try and leave and that we'd better stay put with all the craziness going on. We'll probably end up just staying. I've got both boats filled with gas and we should be okay as long as the windows don't blow out."
Scroggins Hopes for Best
Palatka resident Terry Scroggins also lives hard by the St. Johns, and he's staying home. He hopes the eye of the hurricane remains to the east of his locale.
"If it does, it won't be as bad as if it was farther west," he said. "That northeast corner around the eye is where it'll be really bad.
Shaw Grigsby spent time on Thursday making sure all of his chainsaws and generators were functioning properly.
"Nobody knows exactly what path it's going to take and everybody's prepared for the worst. We're prepared for the power to go out and for the roads to get shut down, and it might be quite awhile before we get gas again."
Schultz, Grigsby Cautious
Elite Series veterans Bernie Schultz and Shaw Grigsby both live in Gainesville, which is in the north-central part of the state. Irma's impact likely won't be as severe there as it will be farther south and along both coasts, but it'll still be significant.
"I'm going to ride it out here at the house," Schultz said. "I've got a dry lake bed next to me, but we'd have to get torrential rain like they had in Texas (from Hurricane Harvey) for us to witness any major flooding.
"We're not out of the danger zone, though. With any hurricane, bands of storms can spin off, and a lot of times those are the worst. You can get tornadoes and gale-force winds."
Grigsby spent Thursday making sure all of his chainsaws and generators were fueled up and in good working order.
"It looks like the worst of it will be to the east of us, but I'm praying that the whole thing will turn and go offshore at the last minute," he said. "That kind of a break would be nice.
"I've been here for 61 years now and there's been a bunch of these in that time. They say this one's the biggest and baddest and that kind of stuff. If it was coming on our west side, I'd reconsider (staying).
"We're all hoping that it'll be a little milder than what they're thinking."