Chad Morgenthaler Wins BASS Lake Okeechobee Wild Card

Chad Morgenthaler was on the fence about fishing the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card at Lake Okeechobee. Even though he has a strong track record at the Big O, he just wasn't sure about the payoff of committing to fish it. He has no doubts now. With the help of title sponsor Jasper Engines and Transmissions, the Missouri pro opted in with 1 day to spare, then proceeded to average more than 21 pounds a day to win the Wild Card and claim the final berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. It's the first B.A.S.S. win for Morgenthaler, who will compete on the Elite Series next year as well. "It's an exciting deal. I knew I had a shot at winning that tournament, but for it to all come together and pan out, it's a dream come true," he said. "I almost didn't fish this tournament because of the financial commitment I'd made to the Elite Series. I mulled it over for about a month before I finally got up the nerve to call Jasper and asked them if they'd pay my entry fee. "They paid my entry fee to get into this tournament and I am so fortunate to have people like that behind me. That literally bought my Classic ticket. I came a short breath from not being there." The bass at Okeechobee were in their pre-spawn mode during the tournament and Morgenthaler said he happened upon a massive school of fish on the first day of practice. Despite the area he uncovered being targeted by spray boats before the tournament, he found the fish were largely unaffected and didn't vacate. He got off to a strong start with 24-04 on day 1 that had him in 3rd place behind Shaye Baker and Russ Lane. He slid up to 2nd after day 2 before erasing a nearly 6-pound deficit to Baker on the final day to claim the victory. "The fish on Okeechobee, as I've learned over the years, use the same things and frequent the same areas," he said. "You just have to move with them and locate that school of fish."

Morgenthaler first fished Okeechobee 10 years ago and had four Top-10s there to his credit between FLW and B.A.S.S. entering the Wild Card. He said the lake is higher than it's been in several years and he was a little unsure how the lake was going to fish in December. His previous experience there had been gained from time spent in January or February or in the fall. "Those are two pretty distinctly different times of year," he said. "I wasn't really sure, but I had a pretty good handle on the two or three things that I thought were going to work. "The lake was in great shape. The water was clean, there was good matted vegetation and the reeds were in good shape." On the first day of practice, he went to an area that he felt held the best potential. He hit the mother lode immediately, catching several big fish and shaking off dozens of other bites. "I can't even believe it happened, but within the first 2 hours I found those fish," he said. "It was like I drove right straight to them. It was insane. That's never happened to me before. You usually have to work your (butt) off." He found a couple backup areas and then spent the next couple days just checking other areas around the lake. On the second day he witnessed five spray boats go through his best area. Surprisingly, though, the fish held their ground and didn't leave. "I was just crushed," he said. "It happened to me in the FLW Tour there earlier this year. There was enough hydrilla in this particular area so (the spraying) didn't run them off. I didn't know it because I'd pretty much written it off at that point." At the end of practice, nothing had come close to what he'd found right off the bat, but his high hopes were tempered after witnessing the spraying episode. "I really liked the looks of that spot. It had a good mix of everything - hyacinth, pennywort, reeds," he added.


Thinking the spraying had really messed up his best area, Morgenthaler opted to start day 1 of the tournament on a secondary spot. It produced like a primary spot, though, as he laid the foundation for a big day with two big fish before running to the spot he wanted to start at. "I ran to that area just to check it and get it out of my mind," he said. "I started getting bit right away. That's when I realized they hadn't left. I had to follow them around because they'd moved a little, but every day they were there. "I just pretty muchstayed there. I'd fish another spot for an hour or 90 minutes, but most of the time I stayed in that general area and followed that school around." He tallied 30 bites on the opening day and despite trailing Baker by 5-plus pounds, he was happy with his strong start. "I knew I had to come out swinging," he said. "This was for all the marbles and no points. You had to go for it. The first day played out exactly like I'd hoped because I hadn't lost the tournament on that day. You can lose it on the first or second day. Even though the weights were falling off, mine included, I kept moving up. That was my gameplan all along. It worked out even better." He said when he and Baker ended up on the same exact mat on day 1 in one of his secondary spots, he got the feeling that he was around the right fish. "When that happened, I knew that area was good for some big fish," he said. "I also knew it would get a lot of pressure. On the second day, the 3rd-place guy came in there. I had a pretty good idea that they were going to compete with some local traffic and some other competitors and that that spot was not going to produce the winning fish because I didn't feel like there was a new wave coming in. It just didn't have the cover to support it."

The other thing Morgenthaler had going for him was because of the spraying his primary area received, many other competitors wrote it off. "As soon as they spray, you can tell the next day," he said. "The hyacinth turn brown and shrivel up. They look like they've been dead for a year. The pennywort mats start disappearing. What saved me was a lot of the guys wouldn't fish it, the first day especially. They just overlooked it because it'd been sprayed. That kept the pressure down. It got a little more severe the second day because guys who'd seen me in the area knew I had a big bag the first day. "Luckily for me, they moved around a little on the second day and I was able to catch key fish just moving with them." He bagged 18-13 on day 2 and moved into 2nd place. He had his prime area to himself on the final day and despite a slow start, sealed the win with a 20-12 sack, one of only two 20-pound bags on day 3. "The cool part was they were over the spraying by the third day because they'd moved in and started to go on beds that day," he said. "The males I was catching had red bellies and bloody tails. All of the fish I weighed in were females that were full of eggs so I knew I'd found those pre-spawners." His livewell was still empty at 9 a.m. on the final day. Shortly thereafter, he moved to a reed head in his best area and at 9:10, he got his first bite and the key indicator for how the fish were set up. "I caught four, one of them being a 7-pounder, in 15 minutes," he said. "Once I figured out what they were doing that particular day, then I just stayed and fished that type of vegetation and structure. They were bedding in that reed head. They'd moved in there over night. I knew I'd found a sweet spot." He caught a 4 1/2 to complement the 7, then culled several other times. "It was a very small area so I knew the majority of fish had to come to me," he added.

Winning Gear:

Flipping/pitching/punching gear: 8' XXH Carrot Stix Wild Black casting rod, Lew's Super Duty casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), 66-pound Toray Bawo finesse braided line, unnamed 2-oz. tungsten punching weight, 5/0 Gamakatsu heavy cover worm hook, Missile Baits D Bomb and Baby D Bomb (love bug & bruiser flash), Morgenthaler said when it started to get tough or he encountered extremely thick cover, he switched to the Baby D Bomb "because it entered the stuff better," he said. "I also noticed right away in practice that big D Bomb, with that 2-ounce weight, would catch my bigger fish every single time. There's something about the profile and action of that bait that just triggers that bigger bite. It's just a good flipping bait." The only tweak he made to how he rigged his bait was opening the hook just a bit to improve his hookup ratio.

Main factor: "There were so many parts that played into me winning this tournament. The smaller field obviously helped. Falling on those fish and having the experience on Okeechobee to know which areas could withstand the pressure and which ones couldn't by looking at them was the biggest factor. I've finished 2nd down there and just by making a few small adjustments and recognizing that Shaye and some other guys were fighting over the same fish, that let me know that they'd probably opened the door for me."

Performance edge: "This is the first year I've run the Phoenix 920. On the second day, there was another competitor who was in the same area that I was and I was going to one of the secondary spots that I started on. I was able to overtake him by a pretty large margin on the way down and not knowing, I went exactly to the waypoint that he was heading to. By simply having a boat that performs like the 920 does, I was able to get there. I caught a limit off that spot in 20 minutes that day and caught two of the fish I weighed in out of that area. This was my first tournament out of that boat. To say that it performed beyond expectations would be an understatement."

Lake Okeechobee Wild Card Winning Pattern Bassfan 12/10/13 (Todd Ceisner)

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