Hey Tim: Thanks for the shout dude. Also, I appreciated your email on the anchor system. Turned out, I didn't even need to use the ones I built, but I still have them and will likely use them.
Here are some things I took away from Okeechobee, and yes, I was thrilled to finish 40th and get paid:
1) When sight fishing is a factor, sight fish.
2) When practicing for a sight fishing event, don't even pick up a fishing rod. Spend ALL your time marking beds, finding fish, and finding areas that they "will be" even if they are not there yet. Have confidence/faith that you can and will catch them, but find them first. I spent a little too much time "fishing" during practice when I should have been looking. My little swimmer bite was cool and all, but it wasn't gettin the quality fish that were on the beds.
3) Push Poles: As simple and old school as a push pole is, very few of us take the time to use them. I built one last year, and ditched it somewhere in my travels. I need another one. The Top 15 or so guys were using push poles to get into their fishing areas and not spook the big girls. Okeechobee is very shallow for the most part, and the fish are super trolling motor aware. Push poles paid off for the guys with the brains enough to use them.
4) Good glasses: I use Kaenon. I wore the Arlo in the C12 (copper) lenses. We had pretty good sunlight and light clouds for the 3 days. My partners wore grey lenses, Oakley, Costa del Mar....whatever. Understand, I'm on the bow of the boat and in control, but I'm shocked at how poorly some folks see fish and beds. Lots of factors contribute to not seeing them, but I believe wrong lenses account for a good chunk of it. Say no to grey in the Florida black water. It doesn't bother me when I'm competing with them for the same fish, but Lasik surgery asside, get yourself a good quiver of polarized glasses. Copper lens, Yellow Lens (for grey/cloudy conditions) and get it done.
5) Power Poles: If given the opportunity and you have the $, buy yourself one or ideally two of them. Enough said, Power Poles are the real deal and provide superior shallow water boat handling and ease of management, especially when it comes to sight fishing.
I've got another few weeks down here on the Big O, and am planning on soaking up some of the lessons I learned and putting it to use in a couple weeks....