Jigging at Okeechobee

Chris Daniels. Photo FLWOutdoors.com.

Chris Daniels. Photo FLWOutdoors.com.

Today it’s no secret that a jig is a top tool for fishing reed heads and other heavy cover at Florida lakes. It surprised no one that Ish Monroe won the Elite Series event on Okeechobee in 2012 by pitching and flipping. What surprised some people, though is that when the bite got tougher for him on Day Three he put down the punching plastics and picked up a black and blue Medlock Jig, a double-weedguarded leadhead that had become increasingly popular in the Sunshine State. He ended up beating his nearest competitor by nearly 13 pounds.

A year earlier, Florida guide Brandon Medlock had won his first major tournament , a Southeastern EverStart on Okeechobee, fishing that same jig, which is made by his father. As with Monroe, his jig was black and blue. He paired it with a black and blue Zoom Big Salty Chunk.

While those wins were noteworthy, no one raised an eyebrow at the winning bait. A generation earlier, or even a decade earlier for that matter, that might not have been the case. While some savvy anglers certainly fished jig and pig or jig and craw combinations throughout Florida in the early days of tournament competition, many anglers – even veterans who should’ve known better – firmly believed that a jig was not a useful lure choice among Florida’s highly vegetated fish bowls.

Rat-L-Traps? Definitely.

Plastic worms? Of course.

Devil’s Horse? Bring it on.

Jigs?……crickets.

Medlock jig.

Medlock jig.

A major challenge to that conventional wisdom occurred when North Carolina pro Chris Daniels won the FLW Tour event on Okeechobee in 1997. Daniels had a varied career with FLW Outdoors, which included not just competition from the BFL level to the Forrest Wood Cup, for which he qualified in both 1997 and 2001 (the latter event was canceled due to the events of 9/11). He also competed in two Kingfish Series events in 2006, as well as the M1 in both 1999 and 2002. Slightly more than half of his total of 95 tournaments came in FLW Tour competition, where he had a wide range of finishes – ending up a personal-best 10th in the points in 1997, his first full season on tour, and a personal-worst 147th, in 2004, his final season on the tour.

Nearly half of his $239,756 in winnings came in that single victory, in which he beat runner-up Marty Fourkiller by 10-12. Actually, you have to recall that in those days FLW zeroed out weights after Day Two, and then again after Day Three. As the Sun-Sentinel’s Steve Waters reported, Daniels fished the East Wall section of Okeechobee the first two days and weighed in 31 pounds, enough to get him through to the next round in 3rd place.

On Day Three, he caught 11 pounds, 2 ounces, but a series of cold fronts made the fishing tougher overall. Not for Daniels, though – as Waters reported, he moved to the West Wall and sacked 22 pounds 8 ounces. Bernie Schultz, Ken Ellis and Mike Surman finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

The winner’s lure of choice was a black and blue Water Baby Jig (usually ¼ ounce) paired with a Zoom chunk. He loaned one to his amateur partner and he too took the top slot.

As Waters wrote: “What amazed his fellow competitors and the overflow crowd at the weigh-in at Roland Martin’s Marina was that Daniels used the lure in such thick vegetation. Most anglers flip plastic baits in the area, dropping them in holes in the peppergrass and the reeds. Conventional wisdom said a jig and pig, which consists of a pork chunk attached to the exposed hook of a jig, would get hung up too often in the thick stuff to be practical. Daniels proved everybody wrong.”

Jigging Okeechobee Survivor LogoSeven years later, it appeared that the “conventional wisdom” had not changed much. Waters wrote an article about West Palm Beach angler Jay Stuart, a close friend of Steve Broughton, who had been Daniels’ final day amateur partner. Waters contended that “[b]ass anglers everywhere flip and pitch jigs to catch fish. Everywhere but Florida, that is.” Meanwhile, Stuart had met Daniels through Broughton, and said that “Chris really schooled me on jig fishing. I had tried it a little, but I couldn’t gain confidence in it. Chris keyed me in on certain things, like the type of chunk and color to use.” The improvement was immediate, Waters wrote, as Daniels won the Red Man Gator Division points title.

While Daniels never experienced another FLW Tour victory, he and fellow Tour pro Bud Goeke briefly experienced some more notoriety when they were semifinalists in auditions for “Survivor” in 2001, reaching the final round of 50 after an initial 50,000 aspirants submitted their applications. Had either one made it, he would’ve been the first pro angler to break into reality TV, preceding Byron Velvick’s stint on the bachelor.

“I was going to be one of the guys to try and help feed them,” he told FLW. “I really kind of grew up in the swamps of Louisiana, so I can prepare game, raw fish and so on. On the show, they categorize everyone. I figured they could put the ‘registered redneck’ symbol on me real quick. My wife asked me what I would eat when I was over there. I said I don’t know, but when I left there would probably be some three-legged elephants running around or something.”

In addition to running businesses such as a paint store, an auto repair shop and a store that sold western wear, according to FLW, Daniels was also the publisher of a regional magazine called “Bass Fever.” He continued to fish the FLW Tour through 2004, and then fished a few Rayovacs and BFLs through 2010. The website for his western wear store, “The Country Connection,” specifically mentions his passion for the outdoors.

  • JWM III

    The Water Baby jig had a small spinner attached to it for more flash/vibration. It got its name from Chris Daniels nickname I think he got after he fell off an oil rig in the Gulf. Lastly, he ran Bass Fever magazine which mainly focused on NC and regional tournaments and had local sticks write articles. They also put on two shared weight tournaments on Buggs Island that were way ahead of their time and drew some big names. You guys should try to get info on them!

    • Terry Battisti

      JWM, You don’t happen to have any of those old Bass Fever magazines, do you? I’ve never heard of them before.