Horton Wins the Big Cash Elite on Okeechobee

Tim Horton, Elite Series professional bass angler, scored big to take home a $100,000 paycheck on Sunday. Forrest Fisher photo

  • Lure: 4-inch Klone Crawsome Creature Bait
  • Color: Black/Blue Swirl or Black/Red Copper
  • Rod: 8-foot Duckett Flip Stick, Gary Klein Edition
  • Reel: Lew’s Super Duty with 8.0:1 Retrieve Ratio
  • Line: 50-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS braid
Tim Horton, Elite Series professional bass angler, scored big to take home a $100,000 paycheck on Sunday. Forrest Fisher photo

By Forrest Fisher

At fishing tournament competition events like the Bassmaster Elite Series, ordinary weekend fishing friends can choose to become virtual super-fishermen for a few hours.  They can meet and talk with the best-of-the-best bass fisherman in the world.

They can learn details about fishing rods, reels, lines, lures, boats, sonar and motors, and the why behind the choices that pro anglers make every day.

The field of professional bass anglers for the tournament started with 110 anglers, including Kevin Van Dam, Rick Clunn, Aaron Martens, Alton Jones and lots of other big names in the bass fishing world.  The competition is stiff, many of these top names were not in the final 12, but all of the competitors are so very effective and all of them want to win and perform well.

Their goal is to earn a place to play the game of tournament fishing on Sunday, Day 4, the last day of competition, when the field is reduced from 110 anglers on Day 1 to just 12 anglers on Day 4, these top 12 all set to fish for the big money.

Who fished the final day is based purely on performance, measured by their total tally for their 5-fish bag weight for each competition day.

Lake Okeechobee is big at 730 square miles.  It offers an average depth of 9 feet and is the largest freshwater lake completely inside the borders of the USA.  Grassy, marshy areas are everywhere and at this time of year, they are crowded with bass beginning to spawn in the heavy cover.

King’s Bar was a hotspot fishing area for many anglers in the lake’s north end where a shad spawn was in progress.  Tim Horton, the tournament leader after Day 3 with over 71 pounds of bass, had been running to fish near Clewiston, some 35 miles south.

The Elite Series fishing event at Okeechobee saw thousands of people bring their families and enjoy an outdoor show of large fun and proportion with outdoor example displays that included trucks, boats, motors, lures and many local craft vendors. Forrest Fisher Photo

Heavy fog on the morning of the final day delayed high speed runs for the anglers, as tournament director, Trip Weldon, defined the rules for the 12 top anglers, keeping safety first.  He limited the anglers to a top boating speed of 30 mph as they left the Kissimmee River launch area.

Ott Defoe caught early fish on the final day using a rear-weighted Terminator Walking Frog, a swim jig sort of bait with extra heavy-duty VMC hooks.  The bait allows for long casts near thick cover.  Defoe keeps his rod tip down, jigging the tip quickly and reeling quite fast with his baitcasting outfit.  Ott landed two fish at 8 lbs-6 oz each on day 1.  He said, “These fish were sort of twins, but you know, they’re bigger than when my twin children were born a few years ago.”  The crowd cheered.

Stephen Browning, an affable angler with everyone and a LiveTarget Lure Company fishing pro, often fishing frog lures too, but fishes them slower.  He also likes to fish a bladed jig with a soft-plastic trailer in green-pumpkin or black-blue.

Greg Hackney, alias “Darthvader” as nicknamed during the weigh-in interview session on Day 3, was described by the host announcer to possibly be the most feared of all competitors when it comes to the final day.  He has a habit of winning by coming from behind.

The Day 4 leader at start, Tim Horton, uses a couple of favorite baits.  He likes the ¾ ounce “Hack-Attack” jig, it has a unique head design with a built-in weed guard that works well to flip in and out of heavy cover easily.  This jig uses a Gamakatsu heavy wire hook in black-nickel color with a 30-degree line tie.   He also uses Trokar hooks to present a favorite “Klone Crawsome” creature bait in black/blue swirl or black/red copper (color), taking it to bottom with ¾ to 1-ounce BPS tungsten weights. When fished with 50-pound braid, these were ideal baits for this water because the angler could flip it, pitch it, cast it or swim it through any cover at any depth.

All these top anglers can cast a lure with amazing accuracy, able to place a line toss within an inch of a target spot 25 to 100 feet away, exactly where a suspicious mythical bass beast might be hiding in cover.

At the end of the final day, Tim Horton retained his starting lead to edge out a victory from hard-charging Ott Defoe, 83 lbs-5 oz to 82 lbs-1 oz.  The difference?  $100,000 for 1st place and $25,000 for 2nd place.  Might make you want to take up golf!  Either way, it’s inches or ounces, close call.

Rounding out the Top 12 were: Ott DeFoe (82-1), Cliff Prince (78-3), Fletcher Shryock (77-10), Greg Hackney (73-12), Dave Lefebre (73-0), Bobby Lane (72-10), Jason Williamson (69-10), Dean Rojas (68-14), Andy Montgomery (67-12), Stephen Browning (67-5) and Adrian Avena (63-14).  These top 12 earned from $20,500 to $10,500.  Other anglers that made the day two cut – 51 of them in all, from 13th to 51st place each earned $10,000.  No paycheck for anglers that placed 52nd to 110th.

Horton won a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Okeechobee in 2004. He relied on his previous experience, but kept an open mind as Florida’s Okeechobee big-bass factory has been subjected to change over recent years.

The big lake has encountered hurricanes, droughts, water-level fluctuations and struggling habitat and local population argument about water control management. The vegetation provides big fish potential thanks to healthy vegetation for underwater oxygen generation, good for the forage and the predators.

Tim Horton’s favorite lure of the Okeechobee fishing week was a 4-inch Klone Crawsome made by Profound Outdoors. One of his favorite colors: black/blue swirl.

“Everything I weighed in this week was on a 4-inch Klone Crawsome in two colors: black/blue swirl and a black/red copper,” Horton said. “I rigged the creature-style baits on a heavy-duty flipping hook beneath a 3/4- to 1-ounce weight — depending on how thick the reeds were I was flipping to — on 50-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS braid.”

Horton’s fishing rod was an 8-foot Duckett Flip Stick, Gary Klein Edition, paired with a Lew’s Super Duty Speed Spool baitcaster in an 8.0:1 gear ratio.

Tyler Carriere of Youngsville, La., earned the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $1,500 with a 9-5 largemouth.  DeFoe was awarded $1,000 for the leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.  Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash Award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.  Horton earned $500 as the recipient of the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award.

Several thousand people were on hand in the audience to cheer on all the anglers at the final weigh-in.  It was an amazing time to be a spectator, but even better if your name was Tim Horton.

For more about the anglers and their fishing gear, visit: http://www.bassmaster.com/.

Whoever said it doesn’t pay to fish? Congrats to these guys for the example they provide to all for their conservation ethic and sportsmanship.  Kids around the country look up to them and so do some of us older kids.

The temperature at weigh-in? 86 degrees!  God bless America.