BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Martin’s mega sack leads Bassmaster Open on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee


Local knowledge certainly helped, but Bassmaster Elite Series pro Scott Martin said patience was the key to his massive limit of 33 pounds, 2 ounces, which leads Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee presented by SEVIIN.

Martin, who grew up fishing Florida’s largest lake, heads into Day 2 with a lead of 5-12 over Tucker Smith of Birmingham, Ala.

“When you fish in Florida, you have to be slow and methodical and make accurate casts and pitches,” Martin said. “That’s the only reason I caught ’em — I stayed very patient.”

Noting that he did not fish the same places he targeted during the 2023 Elite Series opener on his home lake, Martin said he dialed in his main area late Wednesday afternoon. Knowing how to exploit what he found was the difference maker.

“I got very fortunate yesterday, in the last 20 minutes of practice, I found where I wanted to start and we just rolled with it,” Martin said. “It wasn’t a secret bait, it wasn’t a secret deal. I was around a bunch of people.”

Starting with a big bite at 7:45 a.m., Martin’s action lasted through the afternoon. Anchoring his bag with a 9-12 that bit around 12:30 p.m., Martin said he caught bass on a mix of presentations that included a ChatterBait, a swimming worm and Texas-rigged pitching baits.

Locating a strategic area in about 3 to 5 feet of water, Martin put himself in position to catch bass in multiple stages of the spawn.

“It was an area that has some spawning fish, some prespawn fish and some postspawn fish, so there was a lot going on in there,” he said. “When you find the right water, when you find the right clarity and when you find some areas that these fish are starting to pull into, that’s how you do well on Okeechobee.

“When you find where they’re pulling into, you can catch them coming and going.”

Sizing up his second-round potential, Martin said he suspects he’ll need to move around and fish other spots within his main area.

“You usually don’t sit in areas, but this is a little different deal,” Martin said. “I found some stuff late in the day where I think I can catch a few fish, so that’s probably where we’ll start and we’ll take it from there.”

Placing second with 27-6, Smith’s day required mobility and patience. Diligently working through his options was tedious, but a late-day cull gave him the surge he needed.

“I bounced around and hit three main areas,” Smith said. “Some set up the same, but others were a little bit different. I was fishing groups that I had found off the bank. There was a mix of prespawn and post. I think the fish were just moving back and forth.”

Using reaction and slower-moving baits, Smith had a solid limit by 9:30, but his best bites came during the midday period.

“I caught most of my fish when that sun popped out and warmed the water,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I caught a 6 that culled out a 3.”

Matt Adams of Oxford, Ala., is in third place with 27-4. His day started quickly, with BassTrakk showing an unofficial limit of 23 pounds by 8:49.

“I had some missed opportunities, but all in all, it was a good day,” Adams said. “I caught all but one keeper in the first 45 minutes.”

Adams said the key to his success was solitude. He managed to avoid the crowds and, while that’s no easy feat on a legendary fishery like Okeechobee, his seclusion was the result of practice disappointment.

“I think these fish are unpressured,” he said. “The way these fish are eating, I don’t think they’ve seen a bait. A tough practice will make you do things that are outside your norm. It makes you look outside the box.

“When practice is a struggle, you really start trying to figure out something that no one else is doing. I think I found that, but whether there’s enough fish in there for three days, I don’t know that.”

Noting that he caught his fish on a mix of reaction baits and bottom-contact baits, Adams said he worked a large area that he believes has sufficient potential for a solid Day 2 effort.

“I saw the right bites in practice,” he said. “I just didn’t see a lot of numbers. Also, I left some stuff untouched, so I don’t really even know what I’ve got.”

Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Fla., is in the lead for Big Bass honors with his giant 10-3 largemouth.

John Soul of Philadelphia, Miss., leads the co-angler division with 16-15.

Jason Shapiro or Concord, N.C., holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 7-11.

The Division 1 season opener includes 175 competitors who have committed to all nine Opens events in the Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifiers division, which will award Bassmaster Elite Series invitations to the top nine finishers in Angler of the Year points standings.

In addition to the top prize of $49,860, the winning pro angler will qualify for 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic, assuming he fishes all three Division 1 events.

The full field will take off Friday at 7 a.m. ET from Roland Martin Marina. The weigh-in will be held at the marina at 3 p.m. The co-angler champion will be decided Friday and the pro field will be trimmed to the Top 10 for Championship Saturday.

All coverage from the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee presented by SEVIIN will be available on

The final day of competition will be broadcast live on FS1 Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m. ET, with streaming available on, as well as FS2 and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

The tournament is being hosted by the City of Clewiston.

Major League Fishing - Bass Pro Tour/Cup Events

Jacob Wheeler Earns Group A Qualifying Round Win at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole

MANY, La. (Feb. 1, 2024) – Group A pros faced a stingier Toledo Bend Thursday as conditions began to change across the fishery, with many of the pros weighing considerably less scorable bass on their second day of competition. But less was still good enough for Harrison, Tennessee’s Jacob Wheeler – the two-time Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) winner – who maintained his spot atop the leaderboard to win the Qualifying Round for Group A at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole. Wheeler caught 91 pounds of scorable bass on Day 1 for Group A, and added 60 pounds, 7 ounces on Thursday for a two-day total of 47 bass weighing 151-7.

Bass Pro Tour rookie Drew Gill of Mount Carmel, Illinois, finished the round in second place with a two-day total of 42 bass weighing 139-12. Pro Spencer Shuffield of Hot Springs, Arkansas, boated a two-day total of 44 bass weighing 130-3 to end the round in third place, while local favorite rookie Justin Cooper of Zwolle, Louisiana , finished the day in fourth place with a two-day total of 27 bass weighing 80-9. Spring City, Tennessee’s Wesley Strader rounded out the top five with a two-day total of 31 bass weighing 80 pounds even.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Wheeler’s objective during Group A’s second day of qualifying on Toledo Bend wasn’t really to catch bass. The Tennessee pro had already secured a spot in Saturday’s Knockout Round by catching 91 pounds on Day 1. Thursday was all about exploring new water in preparation for the weekend.

Still, no one caught more weight on the day than Wheeler. He added 19 bass for 60 pounds, 7 ounces to SCORETRACKER®, bringing his two-day total to 151-7. That topped Gill by 11-12 on the day to lead the way in Group A.

Wheeler said he wasn’t necessarily trying to stay atop the leaderboard. He fished only water that he hadn’t visited on Day 1, and his 19 scorable catches were simply a product of sampling each new area.

“There’s a lot of junk fish out there, catfish and everything else, or they’re smaller bass,” Wheeler explained. “If I was going to pull into a new area, I wanted to catch one or two to know, okay, yes, this is 2½– or 3-pounders, or this is all catfish.”

On a day when both total numbers and weights dipped across the board, that should be a scary thought for the rest of the field.

While Wheeler estimated about a third of his Day 2 weight came from areas he won’t revisit this week, he felt like he achieved his goal of expanding his pattern and identifying some options he can turn to if conditions change in the coming days.

“I feel like I definitely can catch ‘em, and I feel like I found a couple areas that I definitely would like to fish a little bit more,” he said. “A lot of stuff I was just fortunate to catch a fish or two on, and I won’t be going back, so it just depends on what’s really going down and how those fish are acting come Saturday.”

Wheeler said he caught virtually all his fish on a Rapala CrushCity Freeloader after pinpointing them on forward-facing sonar. While it’s been on the market for less than a year, the minnow-style soft plastic should be familiar to Bass Pro Tour fans, as Wheeler used it to dominate on Lake Guntersville last season. Key this week, he said, has been experimenting with jighead size. He’s affixed the bait to ball heads ranging from 1/8 ounce to 1/2 ounce.


Wheeler is far from alone in his approach – each of the top five finishers in Group A caught the bulk of their weight using a jighead minnow and forward-facing sonar. At this point, he feels confident that “there’s a good chance the tournament is going to be won doing what I’m doing.”

But while it might look like it to viewers on MLFNOW!, the technique isn’t as simple as scanning the depths until you see a bass, then casting to it and reeling it in – especially given the number of anglers that will likely be doing the same thing during the Knockout and Championship Rounds. Wheeler believes his day of exploration allowed him to further dial in the subtleties that could make the difference down the stretch.

“That’s literally the goal to start the week,” Wheeler said. “If you can make a Top 10 cut in one day, you better dang well do it, because that’s going to give you the time and opportunity to go check some other stuff out.”

The top 10 pros from Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Toledo Bend are:

1st:          Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 47 bass, 151-7
2nd:        Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 42 bass, 139-12
3rd:         Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 44 bass, 130-3
4th:         Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 27 bass, 80-9
5th:         Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 31 bass, 80-0
6th:         James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., 26 bass, 76-14
7th:         Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 23 bass, 73-2
8th:         Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 23 bass, 72-3
9th:         Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 25 bass, 69-6
10th:       Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 26 bass, 67-3

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:      Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 21 bass, 66-2
12th:      Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 16 bass, 58-12
13th:      Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 21 bass, 57-15
14th:      Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 16 bass, 57-4
15th:      Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 19 bass, 54-14
16th:      Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 17 bass, 51-0
17th:      John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 15 bass, 49-2
18th:      Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 15 bass, 47-9
19th:      Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., 16 bass, 47-8
20th:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 18 bass, 46-5
21st:      Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 20 bass, 45-14
22nd:     Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 13 bass, 43-0
23rd:      Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La., nine bass, 40-0
24th:      Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 14 bass, 37-5
25th:      Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 11 bass, 29-6
26th:      Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., nine bass, 26-15
27th:      Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, 10 bass, 26-12
28th:      Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., nine bass, 26-5
29th:      Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 10 bass, 26-5
30th:      Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., 10 bass, 26-5
31st:      Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, eight bass, 26-4
32nd:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., eight bass, 26-4
33rd:      Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, 10 bass, 26-0
34th:      Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., nine bass, 24-5
35th:      Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 22-13
36th:      Scott Suggs, Alexander, Ark., eight bass, 21-5
37th:      Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 16-5
38th:      Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., four bass, 10-6
39th:      Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., four bass, 9-4
40th:      Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., zero bass, 0-0

A complete list of results can be found at

Overall, there were 312 scorable bass weighing 931 pounds, 8 ounces caught by the 39 pros Thursday, which included one 8-pounder, four 6-pounders and 13 5-pounders.

Pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with an 8-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass that he caught on a jerkbait during Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The six-day tournament, hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000, and valuable Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

The 40 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. After each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finish first through 10th from both groups advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to Sunday’s Championship Round. In the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. CT each day from Cypress Bend Park, located at 3462 Cypress Bend Drive in Many. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard and event coverage at

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Toledo Bend Lake Country will host an Education Day in conjunction with the tournament at Cypress Bend Park, where 260 eighth-grade students from local area schools will have the opportunity to learn about lake ecology, casting techniques and the Toledo Bend fishery. Bass Pro Tour pros will be onsite throughout the event providing instruction and working with students.

On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 3-4, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF invites fans of all ages to visit Cypress Bend Park for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the action from the water live on the MLFNOW! big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing each day. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration on Championship Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

The B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Bass Pro Tour anglers will also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) award and its $100,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League.

Television coverage of the B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole Knockout Round will air as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 20 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering on July 27. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.