Lake Okeechobee is legend among bass anglers. Visions of catching ten pound bass immediately come to mind anytime the lake is mentioned. A trip to this lake is a dream for many given the sunny weather, reputation for monster bass, and history of this lake.
The name Okeechobee comes from the Native American words oki (water) and chubi (big), and means “big water”. Both the origin of the name and the nickname “The Big O” are accurate and well deserved. Covering 730 square miles, the lake is a big bass factory filled with a plethora of species of aquatic vegetation. Nearly everything on the lake looks as though it will hold bass, but the downfall is that there are often miles of unproductive water that looks no different than the productive areas. Being able to locate differences in vegetation, water clarity and bottom composition are what separates a successful day on the water from a day of casting at the miles of endless vegetation.
The lake has many key areas that consistently hold big fish and are responsible for many tournament winning bags. The lake can be categorized into two areas – North and South. North would be considered areas closer to the city of Okeechobee, while South would include the areas surround the communities of Clewiston and Belle Glade. Both areas are productive at different times of the year.
Starting with the North end of the lake, which begins with the Kissimmee River entering the main lake, there are several areas known to produce: the river itself, King’s Bar, and J&S lock. Heading southwest towards the city of Lakeport is an area known as the North Shore, which includes Indian Prarie, and into Harney Pond and the Monkey Box. Major tournaments have been won time and again in these areas.
Then heading South towards Clewiston is Observation Shoal, Uncle Joe’s Cut and the West Wall. Further south are Ritta and Kramer Islands. All of these areas will hold fish on any given day, with the biggest factor being the wind direction, vegetation and water clarity. Water clarity is the most important thing on Okeechobee and both the vegetation and wind are crucial in locating the clear water bass prefer. With a lake the size of Okeechobee, wind can be a huge factor and make for a dangerous ride back to the ramp. One other area on Okeechobee that is always fishable is the Rim Canal. Created as a way to protect neighboring communities from flooding, the rim canal (or rim ditch) is a series of rock levees that create a channel of water set back from the main lake. This area is unlike the main lake and offers somewhat deeper water, rock banks and protection from the wind.
In southern Florida, there are four seasons, but they’re not your traditional four seasons. Things can be better categorized with its own set of seasons: 1) Pre-Spawn, 2) Spawn, 3) Post-Spawn and 4) Summer. Bass just seem to go from “summer” into an extended pre-spawn, spawning and post-spawn period that can run up to six months is neither exaggerated nor uncommon; beginning as early as November and running into April.
► Pre-Spawn. This period is typically known as one of the best times of year to flip and pitch thick vegetation. This is also one of the best times of year to punch hyacinth mats.
► Spawn. The very best time of the year to catch a monster bass. The clean and shallow water in the lake make it ideal for sight fishing. The key is the moon phase and the ever-present cold fronts. These fronts dictate when the fish move up and down to spawn and the weather patterns should be checked frequently this time of year.
► Post-Spawn / Summer. Fishing these periods on Okeechobee can be very exciting as bass school to chase shad and spawning bluegill. Fishing can be fast and furious in the morning and then slow to a halt as the heat is turned up in this muggy climate. Midday and afternoon is the time to slow down and flip and punch the thick matted vegetation.
No discussion of Okeechobee would be complete without mentioning the vegetation in the lake. As the entrance to the Everglades, Okeechobee is ideal for the growth of aquatic vegetation. The lake is home to miles of reeds, bulrushes and Kissimmee grass that grow along the bank. Mixed in, anglers will find pepper grass, hydrilla, eel grass, hyacinths, lily pads and more. All of these will hold bass and the time of year will dictate what the bass prefer.
One of the great things about Lake Okeechobeeis that bass can be caught on just about any type of lure imaginable. The diversity of vegetation and areas on the lake lend themselves to a variety of baits and techniques.
The colors used at Okeechobee vary, but a supply of soft plastics in june bug, watermelon with red flake and black blue would be enough to fish each month of the year on “The Big O.”
Swimming baits such as the Skinny Dipper, Gambler Big EZ, and Zoom Magnum Ultra-Vibe Speedworm are must-have baits on this lake. They are easy to use and catch fish in almost any situation in the shallow grass.
A Sweet Beaver or similar bait in black blue is another must for any flipping, pitching or punching situation.
For reaction baits, a lipless crankbait, topwater walking bait and spinnerbait are staples during the post-spawn and summer periods.
If You Go…
► Getting There: Both Clewiston and the city of Okeechobee offer numerous motels, cabins and condos for rent with easy access to the lake. Both cities are within a short drive to metropolitan areas and major airports.
► Tackle Stores/Guides: Lake Okeechobee is home to numerous bass fishing guides. With trips planned for artificial or live bait (shiners), there is something for anglers of all skill levels. The best bet is to contact one of the many tackle stores along the lake to arrange a trip. Two of the best stores on the lake are: Okeechobee Fishing Headquarters in Okeechobee and Angler’s Marine in Clewiston.
► Where to Stay: One of the most popular places to stay is Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s in Clewiston. They offer a full service marina, boat rentals (including bass boats), a motel and waterfront condos for rent, as well as a boat ramp. One place you don’t want to miss is Scotty’s Tiki Bar. Named after FLW Pro Scott Martin, it is the place to grab a drink or have a meal as you approach by boat or by land. Day or night, you never know who you will see here and might be ordering your drink right next to one of your fishing heroes.
Spending a day on the lake you are almost assured you will encounter a variety of wildlife – alligators, numerous bird species, and possibly manatees. You will also see some of the most breathtaking sunrises found anywhere and have the chance to catch the bass of a lifetime if you decide to visit Okeechobee.