Tackle Warehouse 2014 ICAST Video Coverage 2014 ICAST Award Winners

Keith Fels Wins Lake Okeechobee Rayovac

The overall weights were much lower than anticipated at last week's Lake Okeechobee Southeastern EverStart, likely due to a cold front that swept into Florida in the preceding days and sent the water temperature plummeting as much as 15 degrees. Only two sacks exceeding 20 pounds were brought to the scale - both courtesy of wire-to-wire winner Keith Fels. The 46-year-old Ocala, Fla. resident's victory provided vindication for last year, when he would've prevailed if not for a final-day disqualification due to a kill-switch violation that stemmed from a dead trolling motor. The most significant triumph of his career garnered him $40,000, plus a new boat package. He carried 12-pound lead into the final day and needed almost all of it as powerful winds blew up his pitching pattern. He weighed just four fish that day (he had the fifth hooked up several times, but was unable to boat it) for 7-15 - less than a third of his day-2 haul. His 54-15 total held off runner-up Jared McMillan by 2 1/4 pounds. Here's how he went about compiling it. There's not much to write about here as Fels practiced for just one day and didn't get a single bite. "I had a wheel bearing go out on my trailer and that took some time to get fixed," he said. "I was planning to go for 3 days, but it was okay because I always seem to do better there when I don't go and practice." He lives 3 hours from the closest Big O boat launch ramp and doesn't have a great deal experience on the lake - he considers the Kissimmee Chain his home water. Understandably, he wasn't brimming with confidence going into day 1.

Competition:

The places at Okeechobee at which Fels is confident he can catch fish can easily be counted on one hand. The first one he tried on day 1 was a bust. "There were 30 boats in there," he said. "I fished around for a little while and watched everybody else catch them." He'd come upon an area during practice that was surrounded by thick hydrilla, but was somewhat open in the middle (about 100 yards from the bank). "Most of it, you could almost walk across it, but there was place in there that was about 30 yards around where it opened up like a big canopy. The fish are usually under the mats in a cold front, and I think when the front left, those fish came off the main lake. "Some were real light (colored), but some were dark." He boated all his weight within about an hour of arriving and was back at the ramp by 11:00 after helping his co-angler procure a limit. His sack gave him a lead of a little more than a pound over the 226-angler field. His day-2 sack was far and away the best of the derby, courtesy of a 10 1/2-pounder that he was forced to hand-line into the boat after it busted his 65-pound braided line at the reel. "That's never happened before, but I guess there's a first time for everything," he said. "I think when I got hung up earlier, some of the line got down in there (inside the wraps on the reel) and got pinched in." That fish replaced a 12-incher in his livewell and thus represented a cull of more than 9 pounds. His advantage over the massive field swelled into double digits. Things were much more difficult on the final day as the fierce wind wreaked havoc with his program. "You had to make these perfect pitches, and I couldn't do it that day even with an ounce-and-a-quarter jig. I was still missing the spots and the wind was blowing bows in the line and dragging it around. It was all about presentation. "I think the fish were still there - I had a couple that day that just didn't take (the bait). I had fish No. 5 on three times when I stopped at one spot and threw a frog, but they just came off." Because of the hefty lead he began the day with, though, he knew that all was not lost. "Well, somebody had to catch 20 pounds, and nobody (other than him) had done that all week, so I knew my chances were still pretty good. When we were standing in the weigh-in line, Jared told me he had about 19 pounds, but it looked to me like 21 or 22. "When (the emcee) said I only needed 5 pounds and something, I knew I had it."

Winning Gear:

Pitching gear: 7'6" and 7'10" heavy-action FitzGerald rods, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7:1 ratio), 65-pound Sufix braided line, 3/4-, 1- or 1 1/4-ounce Gambler Jigzilla (black/blue), Gambler Megadaddy or Gambler Why Not trailer (black/blue). He caught one weigh-in fish on a Stanley Ribbit Top Toad (black).

Main factor: "Probably the determination I had after what happened last year. I thought about that all year long."

Performance edge: "It'd have to be my Minn Kota Fortrex 101 (trolling motor). I wore that thing out putting so my pressure on it by pulling up all that grass and stuff."

Okeechobee Rayovac Winning Pattern Bassfan 1/14/14 (John Johnson)