Gambler in Florida is like RoboWorm or Keitech in California. Gambler is based in South Florida, near Okeechobee and is known for in particular for its goodness around grass. The owner, Val is a tournament fisherman and has won major events on Okeechobee. I have seen him, competed against him back in the day, and know he is a solid fisherman. They maintain a pro-staff of really good local and national anglers that tend to be good anywhere, but grass in particular. Think JT Kenny or Brandon McMillan. The BB Cricket is legend amongst the punchers. Super small profile simple bait that fishes well behind massive 1.5ounce punch weight and beefy punch hook.
When I first arrived in Okeechobee in January of 2009, the very first event I fished, within weeks of resigning from software world, was the 2009 FLW Series Event. That was they event the late great Jimmy McMillan won. I actually fished well the first 2 days and totally choked the 3rd. The irony, is I was fishing the Gambler Flappy Shad and sight fishing. Day 3, things got wicked rough and windy, but behind the grass lines, the water was uber fishy. I basically rookied out, and to this day cannot answer why I didn’t just fish the wind the throw a spinnerbait. I watched Dion Hibdon whack like 19 pounds all around around me. Anyway, I was out. Jimmy McMillan would go on to win. The winning bait? The Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper. Over in this place called J&S which of course was the only corner of Okeechboee I hadn’t seen! It would put me on journey of a braid on weedless swimbait fishing.
I had a golden opportunity to just put on a boot tailed swimbait like Basstrix paddle tail and would have made a $10K in my first event. I just didn’t. I fought the wind, kept looking for bed fish, and kooked out. I didn’t have that in my game, saddly, out of arrogance. I fished ‘bigbaits’. I fished other baits, but didn’t spend the time on the simple boot tailed swimmers, the paddle tailed swimmers, the simple swimbaits—–that I should have. I should have had that in my game and kept with it. It was a mistake I made all during my full time fishing journey. Anyway, after that Okeeechobee event, I had nearly a month to prepare for the next one on Okeechobee.
That next 30 days, in my mind, will remain as some my finest and biggest progression in fishing, probably ever. I will forever remember staying at the Roland Martin Marine. I got over the Clewiston part of the lake in a hurry, and was far more enamored with Harney Pond, Monkey Box, the North Shore all the up to Okeechobee. That being said, I learned that I could drive from Clewiston to Okeechobee and put in in the Kissimmee River and save the boat run, and wake up to some coffee and music of choice. I was driving my truck 1 hour each way from Clewiston, to go learn the ‘north side’. I found the north side of Okeechobee fished more more liking and had these great pools and runs that got me dialed-in. Braid was a huge part of the approach, boat handling, strong grass ready trolling motor and batteries…but most importantly was the mindset of shallow water weedless grass swimbait fishing.
Weedless Grass Swimbait Fishing
There is a steady progression of weedless swimbaits. You could start with paddle tails, Speed Worms, and even curly tailed worms, that come to find out, fish really well when you just reel them along. I quickly connected the dots between the Skinny Dipper and baits like the Yamamoto Swim Senko. Gambler is to Florida like Yamamoto is to the West too. I knew Gary Yamamoto had a great tournament on the Swim Senko, so I had to explore that bait too. I LOVE putting in the Kissimee River, shooting the gap at Kings Bar and making my way West. I really got to learn Okeechobee my first winter of 2009, by committing my time to the Midtown (aka Monkey Box/Harney Pond) and UpTown – Eagle Bay>JS<Kings Bar>Indian Prairie>. The bait was the Skinny Dipper. And the Swim Senko. Ken Huddleston’s Grass Minnow become a goto for me a little later. His 6″ weedless too, but the more simple, weedless 5-6″ swimbaits you use a screw lock hook to attach to, is what I’m saying. The Skinny Dipper was king for a bit. Other baits sorta came along, but nothing earth shattering. Then, one day the Gambler Big EZ broke.
All my South Florida buddies being all fired up about the Gambler Big EZ. It pushed more water, had a different swim signature than the others. It was catching better fish. It was the trailer on the back of a chatterbait. Of course, most lethal is the weighted screw lock (or unweighted too) just reeling it over, up and over, thru, and around as many good swim lanes and hot pockets as you can. Braided line. I remember guys at Santee Cooper getting good bites. Seminole. Okeechobee of course. The core grass lakes we hit.
I lived in West Palm Beach for like 5 months, hoping to be a S. Florida surfer and Okeechobee local. Not to be. As I was about to move from the thug life side of West Palm Beach to Jupiter, a bombshell went off in my life. I was at a software team event and somebody mentioned the new office in Aliso Viejo, CA. Boom, I literally undid my world, and jumped on the train back home. So, it’s been a minute since I been around guys named Wood, Luke, Carter, McMillan, Tharp, Fitzgerald…but yeah, the Seminole winds blow thru San Clemente often.
Gambler makes a whole series of the EZ Swimmer. It wasn’t really hard for me to buy a couple of packs of the Gambler Really Big GZ 8″ baits to ‘test’ them out on the calico bass. I had already gotten the 6.5″ versions, but I was intrigued to see the bigger version.
You have to see this bait next to other known baits to appreciate it’s size. Long, round, fat and a big paddle. Big round style paddle. Looks like a SUP paddle. When the bait swims, it has a lot of ROLL. The articulated section help the bait pulse and kick. You can feel this 8″ swimmer on the end of your big beefy calico bass rod, far better than most of the weedless swimbaits I’ve fished. It pushes a ton of water, and just happens to match up really well with the 12/0 Owner Beast Swimbait Hook and 3/4 oz weight.