The Big O, Bass, Baseball and Beer

Over the weekend, some friends who work for Palm Beach County (Florida) tourism invited me to "try bass fishing on Lake Okeechobee." I laughed and almost blew it off. I'm the third generation of the Gibson clan who grew up fishing and hunting Big O, I taught high school in a community on its shores, and I've been part of a long hard fight to see it treated like something better than a sewer. The Corps drowned the vegetation vital to fish production and waterfowl following the 2004/2005 hurricanes. It's not exactly enjoyable fishing or hunting in places you love when you know how badly they've been abused by special interests. Still, rumors of a rebound prompted me to go. I was stoked to learn that I'd be fishing with Jeff McMillan, whose nephew, Brandon, now a top tournament pro, I taught a decade ago. Few anglers know the lake as well as the McMillan boys. We met at the Belle Glade marina at dawn, and when we ran out into the marsh, my jaw dropped at the sight of the verdant marsh. I don't think I would have closed my mouth except for all the bugs splattering on my teeth. We were fishing a few days after the new moon--post-spawn. The fish had moved back to heavy cover along the lake edge. Despite howling winds, we did pretty well swimming Reaction Innovations' Skinny Dipper paddle tails in the penetration color, as well as pitching and flipping to the cattails. The next day, my wife Ericka and I went to a St. Louis Cardinals spring training game then hit Spoto's Oyster Bar for dinner. Bass, beer and baseball. What a weekend! It seems like all you ever hear about the Palm Beach County area is scandal, corruption and Donald Trump. After spending a day on a reborn Lake O with Jeff, and a day at the ballpark with my wife and 5,000 other normal people, I realized again how lucky I am to live in the region. There really are great people here and more recreational opportunities than you could hope to enjoy in a lifetime, including bass fishing on the lake, golf, a ballgame, the beach and all the saltwater adventure you can imagine--plus some excellent duck hunting--within short drives of each other. For more information, visit Palmbeachfl.com. We left the ramp in Jeff McMillan's Big O bass boat right after daylight, loaded for big fish.
We had a couple hours of calm weather to work open areas in the bulrushes and spikerush.
We buzzed the surface with Flapping Shads in low light.
Jeff nailed the first fish, a 4-pounder.
Jeff McMillan, on the board right away.
We caught a bunch of football sized fish on the pitchbaits.
The fish were tight to bulrushes.
It felt great to lift healthy fish out of a healthy lake.
Between catching fish like this one, we saw thousands of 4-inch bass darting around. In two years, unless the Corps kills the lake again, the fishing will be all time.
After watching Jeff, I got the hang of how to swim the Skinny Dippers.
That spikerush is thick, and we had to use heavy flipping sticks and 30-pound test.
As the sun and wind rose, we had to flip the thicker vegetation.
Blazing down a trail, through familiar waters that have changed considerably for the better.
These Reaction Innovation baits were the ticket.
There were bass beds everywhere. A couple more spawns like this one, and years of stable water management, and Lake O will again be the King of Bass Lakes.
This gator looks pretty well fed. Check the fat around his neck.
Roseate spoonbills brighten the marsh.
There isn't a bad seat in Jupiter, Florida's Roger Dean Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals hold spring training.
This lucky young lady got to meet the managers and umpires and get an autographed baseball.
Todd Wellemeyer pitched strong for the first few innings, then got shelled.
The Cardinals hit Orioles' pitcher Adam Eaton hard at first, but couldn't hang on to the lead.
Elvis lives in Palm Beach.
The Cards drew first blood.
But the O's came back swinging.
Dogs and coldies.
See ya!

Check out a great weekend in South Florida.