By Todd Ceisner
Hurricane Irma did its part last fall to put a dent in the fishable water around Lake Okeechobee. The water's been high and pretty dirty since then and a cooler-than-average January put a chill in the water that held back the spawning routine of the lake's prodigious bass population.
A warming trend last week set things in motion just in time for the FLW Tour season opener and Tim Frederick found himself in the right place at the right time, near Harney Pond with a soft plastic stickbait tied on and a patient, target-fishing mindset.
The Leesburg, Fla., native picked apart patches of reeds, clumps of lily pads and just about anything he felt might be a staging spot for bass on the migration route to their spawning grounds.
He endured lengthy stretches without a bite, but he caught a bevy of beauties over the final three days that convinced him he was where he was supposed to be. With less than 10 minutes to go Sunday - he'd already alerted the camera boat monitoring him that he was preparing to leave - he landed an 8-plus pounder that closed the door on his first career FLW win. It turned out to be enough to give him a 1-pound, 2-ounce victory over Bryan Schmitt, who'd led the event over the first two days.
"I haven't had a whole lot of time to sit and think about things," Frederick said Tuesday. "The last 48 hours have been a whirlwind. I'm still in shock and it hasn't set in."
After filming with FLW on Monday at Okeechobee, Frederick hit the road to the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes where he'll compete in this week's Bassmaster Eastern Open. A new souvenier made the trip more enjoyable.
"Driving from Okeechobee up here, every time I'd look in the rearview mirror I'd see that big check with $100,000 on it and smile," he said. "I can't even believe it."
Here's how the custom closet builder captured the season opener in the Sunshine State.
Frederick's practice started slow, but he remained confident in the area he focused on close to Harney Pond. He'd probed it several weeks ago, prior to the FLW Series at Okeechobee, and already knew the landscape.
"I'd had an incredible practice there," he said. "There was a little bit of hydrilla in there, but it wasn't that tall. It was the fresh stuff that bass like."
He said the area was largely inaccessible prior to the hurricane, but had turned into a bass magnet this week.
He struggled the first two days of practice last week, coaxing a total of three bites, but it was the final day of practice that allowed him to piece together his game plan.
"Once the water heated up, I went back to that area and got 40 bites with my hooks cut off," he said. "I knew the males were there and it was a matter of time for the females. If half of the females pulled in there, I figured I'd do ok."
He described the area as a 300-yard circle dotted with bulrushes, lily pads and various species of vegetation. He had innumerable targets to pitch and cast to as he believed he'd be fishing for fish that were preparing to spawn or starting the process.
"I believe in that particular bay, I had the sweet spot," he said.
> Day 1: 5, 16-04
> Day 2: 5, 25-15
> Day 3: 5, 23-03
> Day 4: 5, 19-14
> Total = 20, 85-04
Frederick found himself in 23rd place after day 1 with a 16-04 stringer that had him anxious to get back on the water Friday.
"I feel like I should've had 20 pounds, but I missed a good one," he said. "I didn't see it, but I've caught enough big ones to know it was a good fish. It felt like it was in the 6- to 8-pound class. It just pulled off. I definitely had a small one that day, but it gave me confidence that the females would pull in there."
The area attracted 15 to 20 boats over the first couple days, but Frederick felt insulated from the crowds because of how he was fishing.
"It was maybe a 30-acrea area, but the boats didn't bother me that much because they fished through it too fast," he said. "I went behind people and caught fish. It seems like you had to soak it and barely move your bait."
While a soft plastic stickbait was his most effective bait, a vibrating jig keyed his massive 25-15 bag on day 2 when he moved into the top 5.
"I caught three 6-pounders on that (Strike King) Pure Poison," he said. "I'd always been told it's a good way to trigger big ones, but that bait has always had my number. I've just never done well with it. I told myself I had manufacture a big bite on it at some point."
He said he'd been fishing buggy whips and pencil reeds on day 2 before coming to an isolated clump of cat tails. He began firing the vibrating jig near them as the sun broke through and caught two of his 6-pounders that way.
"Those were the last two I caught on it," he said.
Catching those big fish further fueled his confidence in the area.
"What I was thinking was coming true - with all the males in there, the females had started to move in," he said. "My confidence went through the roof and that was the key to my win. I stayed in there even when it was horrible."
He produced the only 20-pound bag on day 3 by sticking to his plan and his area despite long lulls. He carried a 15-ounce lead over Schmitt into the final day.
"The area was pretty protected (from the wind)," he added. "That was key. Guys across from me, their stuff got muddy on day 3."
He compiled a 12-pound limit in the morning on Sunday, but he knew he'd need a bigger stringer to hold off the other contenders.
"I was really nervous at noon, but I kept going through it in my head that each day had been similar and that noon until 2 had been my big bite window," he said.
He tied on a double-prop topwater and caught a 3-pounder to calm his nerves. Shortly after, he went back to his Ocho and got the bite he was looking for. He set the hook, but the fish pulled off.
"I thought I gave it away right there," he said.
He sat down and retied and gathered his thoughts. As the afternoon drew to a close, he alerted the camera boat driver that he'd be leaving in about 10 minutes. Just then, he felt a thump on his line.
"It was a big bite and it doubled me over," he said. "I got a glimpse of it so I knew it was a big one. My heart was racing. I told myself, 'I have to get this in.'
After a brief fight, he deftly netted it and lifted it into the boat.
"When I got it in the net it felt almost like winning the lottery," he said. "I still wasn't sure if I had enough, but it gave me a shot."
Winning Pattern Notes
Frederick's Florida roots allowed him to be comfortable with his target-fishing approach.
"It plays to my strengths because being from Florida, I've been in super clean water and seen how they set up on the reed heads and lily pads," he said. "They all do the same thing - they set up on the edges, but they could also be six feet off the cover because of how big some of the root systems get to be."
He tried to dissect everything, from the prime area to the little irregularities.
"I tried to visualize what it was like underwater in my head," he added. "My confidence was high because I knew my best chance to get a big bag was fishing this way."
It was not a fast and furious pattern, though. On several occasions, he went hours in between bites.
"It's the hardest thing mentally I've ever done - to stay there that long without a bite."
He said had he been at another venue outside of Florida, he likely would've bailed.
"No doubt I would've left if we were somewhere else," he said.
Winning Gear Notes
> Worm gear: 7'3" magnum-heavy Enigma Fishing Aaron's Edge casting rod, Okuma Helios casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound P-Line Tactical fluorocarbon line, 3/16-oz. Strike King Tour Grade tungsten worm weight, 5/0 Mustad Grip Pin worm hook, Strike King Perfect Plastics Ocho (green-pumpkin).
> While others opted for braided line, Frederick went with fluorocarbon because "I still think fluorocarbon will produce more bites in clean water," he said.
> Vibrating jig gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Enigma Fishing HPT casting rod, same reel (6.4:1 ratio), same line (20-pound), 3/8-oz. Strike King Pure Poison swim jig (black/blue), Strike King Rage Tail Denny Brauer Structure Bug (black and blue flake).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success - "Patience, no doubt, and having the willpower to stay where I was."
> Performance edge - "Power-Poles. I probably cycled them 300 times a day. To be able to set up and make the presentations I needed, the Power-Poles were a key to my win. Also, my Falcon boat. It's big and heavy and stable. It doesn't drift around in the wind."
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