By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Takahiro Omori started the second Group A qualifying round in 8th place at the Lake Okeechobee Bass Pro Tour, and moving to the top of the standings sheet wasn't really on his radar.
A really big bite in the early part of the day changed everything.
Omori caught an 8-04 giant midway through the first period to take over the lead. He boated a succession of 2-pounders over the rest of the day to maintain that position and gained a berth in the Championship Round with a two-day total of 33-09.
His numbers for the day were six fish for 19-13.
"To be honest, I did not expect to win (the group qualifying)," he said. "Then after I got the lead, I wanted to try to keep it up. I fished hard the whole day and it was very intense."
He flipped up his big one on a double-guarded Medlock Jig – long a popular bait for flipping in the Sunshine State.
"I caught about half of my fish flipping and half on moving baits," he said.
His two-day aggregate left him slightly more than 5 1/2 pounds ahead of Wesley Strader, who ended up 2nd after catching seven fish for 18-11 on the day. He was followed by Zack Birge, who zeroed in the initial qualifying round, but amassed a tournament best 27-03 on nine fish to climb all the way to 3rd.
"I scrapped everything and went practicing again," he said. "I just went fishing somewhere that I'd never been before.
"I was kind of on the west end of the lake, fishing isolated pad stems and clumps. There was nobody else in there."
He spent almost the entire day flipping. His biggest fish was a 5-13.
"I can't see (the bite) doing anything but getting better from here on out," he said.
Ott DeFoe and Cody Meyer retained their top-5 positions despite catching just two scoreable fish each on the day. Michael Neal, who led the initial qualifying round, posted a zero for the day and dropped to 6th.
Mike McClelland, Ish Monroe and Shaw Grigsby claimed spots 7 through 9 with strong hauls of 19-03, 18-15 and 15-13, respectively. Dustin Connell (10-11 for the day) rounded out the top 10.
Gerald Spohrer grabbed the 20th-place cut position by catching four scoreables for 15-06. He came into the day in 32nd place after registering just a single 2-pounder in the opening round.
Bradley Roy was first out of the cut – he caught a 7-pounder and a 4, but had nothing to go with them.
Bobby Lane, Brett Hite and Casey Ashley zeroed for the second consecutive day. Lane, a lifelong Florida resident, has extensive experience on the lake and Hite won an FLW Tour event at the Big O in 2014.
Group B returns to the water for its second qualifying round on Monday. Dean Rojas is atop the standings with 20-05.
> Mon., Feb. 24 – Partly Cloudy - 80°/61°
- Wind: From the SE at 11 mph
> Tues., Feb. 25 – Partly Cloudy - 87°/68°
- Wind: From the SSW at 12 mph
> Weds., Feb. 26 – Thunderstorms - 83°/55°
- Wind: From the SW at 13 mph