FLW Tour readies to kickoff 23rd season at Lake Okeechobee
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published January 18, 2018
When Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) co-angler Nik Kayler lost his life in an unexpected tragedy in an event in early January, it saddened the entire bass-fishing industry. Now, FLW is tasked with moving forward through the grief and getting back to competition on the water next week in their return to Lake Okeechobee.
"We've had thorough and thoughtful internal discussions as a company and the decision was made that we need to get back on the water," said FLW President of Operations Kathy Fennel. "We are still grieving as an organization, but fishing tournaments are what we do. It is what Nik loved, too. Getting back on the water, at Lake Okeechobee, is a way to help with the grieving process. Nik and his family will be on the minds of every single angler and staff member throughout the tournament.
"We will honor and remember Nik and his family throughout the weekend, as well as encourage our staff, anglers and fans to donate to the GoFundMe campaign that has been organized for Nik's family. We will honor Nik by continuing to pursue the sport that we all love."
The FLW Tour, the most competitive Tour in professional bass-fishing, will launch its 23rd season next week, Jan. 25-28, with the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude. Hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin's Marina and Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council, the tournament will feature 374 of the world's best bass-fishing professionals and co-anglers casting for top awards of up to $125,000 cash in the pro division and up to $25,000 cash in the co-angler division.
The FLW Tour has visited Lake Okeechobee 20 times previously, with 2018 marking the 21st visit in FLW's 23-year history. The total purse for the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude is more than $930,000, including $10,000 through 60th place in the Pro Division.
"Lake Okeechobee is fishing quite a bit differently than the last six or seven times that the FLW Tour has been here," said local FLW Tour pro Scott Martin of Clewiston, a 17-time Forrest Wood Cup qualifier with more than $2.7 million in career earnings in FLW competition. "The water levels are much higher this year, and we lost a good amount of our vegetation in some of the more traditional places due to the hurricane last fall. The wind and water clarity are going to play a big role in this tournament and a lot of guys that have been coming here for years are going to have to approach this tournament quite a bit different than they normally would.
"The good news is that the fish didn't leave, and they still have to eat," Martin continued. "Some of the traditional areas will still be good, but there will definitely be a few new wildcard areas. Somebody is going to figure out a way to catch them in the stained water."
Martin said that due to stained water and lost vegetation, he expects moving baits to play a larger role than normal this time around.
"I think moving baits like Rat-L-Traps and ChatterBaits will be pretty good," he said. "Flipping will also play a big factor this year. We're fishing a little earlier than we normally do, and January is still prime flipping season. With some stable weather being forecast, I could also see another wave of bass moving up to spawn and sight-fishing playing a role as well. It's going to be an interesting tournament.
"The weights may be down just a little bit, but it's still Lake Okeechobee and the potential is always there for a mega-bag, especially if you can find a wildcard area to yourself," Martin went on to say. "I think the winner will likely have a four-day total around 74 to 76 pounds, but if a guy can find the mega-juice flipping or out in open water, the potential is always there to challenge 100 pounds."
Anglers will take off at 7:30 a.m. EST each day from Roland & Mary Ann Martin's Marina and Resort, located at 920 E. Del Monte, Ave., in Clewiston. Thursday and Friday's weigh-ins, Jan. 25-26, will be held at the resort beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday's weigh-ins, Jan. 27-28, will also be held at the resort, but will begin at 4 p.m.
Television coverage of the FLW Tour at Lake Okeechobee presented by Evinrude will premiere in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) March 28 from Noon-1 p.m. EST. The Emmy-nominated "FLW" television show airs on NBCSN, the Pursuit Channel and the World Fishing Network and is broadcast to more than 564 million households worldwide.
Prior to the weigh-ins Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 27-28, FLW will host a free Family Fishing Expo at Roland & Mary Ann Martin's Marina and Resort from noon to 4 p.m. each day. The Expo is a chance for fishing fans to meet their favorite anglers, enjoy interactive games, activities and giveaways provided by FLW sponsors, and learn more about the sport of fishing and other outdoor activities.
Also for youth, the FLW Foundation's Unified Fishing Derby will be held at the marina on Saturday, Jan. 27 from 9-11 a.m. The event is hosted by FLW Foundation pro Cody Kelley along with other FLW Tour anglers, and is free and open to anyone under the age of 18 and Special Olympics athletes. Rods and reels are available for use, but youth are encouraged to bring their own if they own one. The 1st and 2nd place anglers that catch the biggest fish will be recognized Saturday on the FLW Tour stage, just prior to the pros weighing in.
As part of the FLW Tour's community outreach initiative, FLW Tour anglers will visit patients, guests and staff at the Hendry Regional Medical Center, located at 524 W. Sagamore Avenue, in Clewiston on Wednesday, Jan. 24 from 8:30-10 a.m. to interact with guests, snap photos and sign autographs for patients, give away some goodie bags and share fishing stories.
In FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field of 374 anglers competes in the two-day opening round. Co-angler competition concludes following Friday's weigh-in, while the top 30 pros based on their two-day accumulated weight advance to Saturday. Only the top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from the four days of competition.
Throughout the season, anglers are also vying for valuable points in hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup, the world championship of professional bass fishing. The 2018 Forrest Wood Cup will be on Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Aug. 10-12 and is hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs.