Tyler Rivet called his shot on the first day. The fifth-year Elite Series pro from Raceland, La., said Thursday he had the location and game plan to win the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee — and on Sunday, his claim came to fruition as he finished with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 15 ounces to earn his first career blue trophy.
After placing third on Day 1 with 24-5, Rivet gained one spot with a second-round limit of 29-2 on Friday. A slower Saturday yielded only 14-11 and Rivet dropped back to third. But he turned in a Championship Sunday bag that went 18-13 to seal the deal and collect the $100,000 top prize.
“This is what I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid,” Rivet said. “I remember every day at the (Lake Cataouatche) Tank Ponds during the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, hearing boats coming through the fog and seeing all the big names and thinking ‘One day, I want to do that.’”
Rivet spent this week in the Kissimmee River, about two miles upstream from the lake. With the exception of a few local boats, he had the river all to himself.
“Nobody else was doing what I was doing and that’s the key to winning an Elite tournament — finding that one little thing off the wall,” Rivet said. “That’s how it’s won (most) of the time.
“I thought this one would be won out in the lake on one of the community holes. But when I found my spot in the river, I thought, ‘This could be something.’ But I didn’t know until that first day and I was like ‘We could win.’”
The story of how Rivet landed in this area enhanced his victory experience.
“I just went sac-a-lait (French for crappie) fishing before the tournament,” Rivet said. “I’m the cook in my travel family, so I went up the river and caught some sac-a-lait. Then I looked to the left on Garmin LiveScope and said ‘That looks like a bass.’
“I threw over there with a jerkbait and caught a 6-pounder. I went down about 20 yards, saw another one, caught it on the first cast — 4-pounder. I just kept going down the river and they were staging everywhere.”
In the river, Rivet targeted hard-bottom spots off the bank. These classic prespawn staging areas attracted groups of bass that seemed to periodically come and go throughout each day.
“The main spot was a dead-end canal with a little dam at the back of it, and I guess the fish were going in there to spawn, or they were sitting on a little hard point that was coming off of it,” Rivet said. “They would come in waves. You’d see them on Garmin LiveScope.
“You’d have to hit them perfectly. You’d have to throw in front of them and not behind them. If you come from behind, it would spook them away, so you had to have that perfect angle.”
Rivet said he caught 80% of his bass on a Berkley Stunna jerkbait. He also caught a few of his weight fish by punching hyacinth mats and Kissimmee grass with a black/blue and junebug Xcite Baits Sucka Punch. A Carolina-rigged Xcite Baits Hawgalicious produced a couple more keepers.
Rivet dedicated his victory to his grandmother who passed in January.
“She was watching me from up there every day,” Rivet said with a trembling voice. “Every fish that I caught this week that was over 4, I said, ‘Thank you Mammaw.’”
Elite Series veteran Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, placed second with 83 pounds. Committing all four days to the South Bay region, Wendlandt turned in daily bags of 18-9, 25-5, 23-4 and 15-14.
“I just felt most confident in that area,” Wendlandt said. “I practiced at the north end, too, but I just felt like my better bites would be down south.
“I honestly didn’t get any big bites in practice, but I caught some big fish in the tournament.”
Wendlandt caught the majority of his bass on a junebug Strike King Cut-R Worm with a 3/16-ounce weight. He also caught a couple of key fish on a Strike King Thunder Cricket with a Strike King Blade Minnow trailer.
“I was fishing dead reeds that were below the surface,” Wendlandt said. “In between the clumps were open spots, so I’d fish my worm over those reeds and let it fall down into those lower spots.”
Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., placed third with 81-9. After placing sixth in the first round with 22-9, Cobb added 32-15, 14-4 and 11-13.
With days 1 and 2 bringing warm, partly sunny conditions, Cobb found his bass in shallow cover mostly cooperative. The cold front on Day 3 rattled his area, but he hoped the final day’s calm warming conditions would deliver a revival that never materialized.
“Day 1, most everything I caught was spawning fish,” Cobb said. “On Day 2, most of my big ones were prespawn, so that made me excited. On Day 3, the weather wasn’t right and they weren’t ready. Today, I fully expected them to be spawning. I expected it to get hot any hour, but it just never did.”
After catching his bass on a black and blue 3/8-ounce ChatterBait with a Zoom Super Fluke and flipping a Texas-rigged Zoom Fluke Stick, Cobb’s tough final day saw him switch to a Yo-Zuri prop bait. The color was bluegill and Cobb accented the belly with a black marker.
Rookie Logan Latuso of Gonzales, La., earned the $1,000 daily bonus for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day Sunday with his 6-14 largemouth. Cobb won the Day 2 award, as well as the overall $2,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the tournament title, with an 8-12.
Cobb’s Day 2 catch of 32-15 won the $2,000 VMC Monster Bag honors.
Rivet also took home an additional $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program while Cobb earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.
As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Wendlandt also earned an additional $2,500 as the highest-placing entrant and Australian pro Carl Jocumsen claimed an additional $1,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.
Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Kelley won the $1,000 BassTrakk Contingency award for the most accurate weight reporting.
Since this was the first event of the Elite Series season, Rivet claimed the lead in the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 104 points. Wendlandt is in second with 103, followed by Cobb with 102, Latuso with 101 and Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., with 100.
Latuso also leads the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings