Thursday, February 9, 2023

2023 MLF Tackle Warehouse Invitationals on Lake Okeechobee Day 1: David Walker Smashes 28-01lbs; Gallelli 26-11lbs

By EriK Gaffron


CLEWISTON, Fla. – Day 1 of the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals on Lake Okeechobee was an absolute banger, with 15 pros weighing 20 pounds or more to kick off Power-Pole Stop 1 Presented by Phoenix Boats. In the lead, David Walker stacked up 28 pounds, 1 ounce to edge out Italian pro Jacopo Gallelli (26-11) in second. Behind the top two, Jason Vance and Tai Au also crossed the 25-pound mark, and 18 pounds was good for just 30th after Day 1.

Walker’s day started trending in the right direction from the jump, boating a keeper just a few casts into his morning.

“You know, it started good, but it didn’t start with big fish,” he said. “It just started with some bites. In the area I went to I was sure I could get some bites there. I’d had a few bites there in practice and just kept going through it. I caught one about a 2-something (pounder); I didn’t make two or three casts and thought ‘well, that’s good, there’s still some more fish here.” 

Not long after, Walker was able to boat a 4 1/2-pound fish that flipped the switch on his day. 

“I was really surprised because I didn’t expect that (caliber of) fish there, and little did I know I’d end up culling that fish. I mean, what a day,” he said.


Walker’s Day 1 success can be largely attributed to acting on a hunch about his area during a challenging practice. The Tennessee pro also leaned on experiences from Okeechobee that date back to 1995 that he recalled to the crowd at the weigh-in.

“Practice for me was more about finding an area that the water was good in,” he said. “I wanted to cover a lot of areas, but towards the end of practice, I was like ‘man, there’s just not a lot of places.’ Conditions were so bad. Generally, that tells you if there are bites in an area that there’s quite a bit more (fish there). I was optimistic about the day as far as getting bites, but I had no idea I’d be catching fish like that.”

Walker got off to a good start, boating several keepers and a pair of bass in the 4-pound class, which he took as a sign to pump the brakes a bit and get methodical with his approach. 

“I started slowing down a bit, then I caught a 7,” he detailed. “I had two 4s and a 7 and I thought ‘I’m in good shape.’ I ended up moving to a different area. In that other area, I caught three 5s. I ended up culling everything that I had other than the 7.”

Walker expects Day 2 to be just as bite-filled, but he knows that it can be a game to find the quality of fish he caught on Day 1.

“I don’t anticipate it will be hard to get bites (tomorrow),” he said. “It’s just (today) you know everything was going my way because there was a lot of boats fishing (in my area), but I was the one catching.”

Jacopo Gallelli believes luck was part of his Day 1 success. Photo by Jody White

Gallelli has challenging ‘best fishing day of his life’ 

Gallelli’s 26-11 bag looks great on paper, but the Italian transplant claims it was far from his easiest day of fishing. 

“I had one fish that I think was the smallest keeper I’ve ever had in my livewell – less than three-quarter pounds,” he said. “I mean, it was all beaten up and really sick. I thought it was going to be a really bad day. That’s what you learn being a professional; you learn how to handle a bad situation and you get up and go make a good choice while under pressure.”

Gallelli started picking off fish one by one before his day improved with about four hours left to fish.  

“I had four fish with about four hours to go, and then I hooked my fifth fish, and it was a big one and I jumped to about 14 pounds,” he explained. “From that (fish catch), I felt like I was flying, and I started just fishing more confidently. Then I caught another one and culled that little dink with a 6-pounder.

“It was just one of those days that started out tough and turned into the best fishing day of my life. I’ve never posted three big ones like this in my entire life.”

Gallelli admitted he feels like Day 2 could become a grind, but feels that even a mediocre bag could keep him in the hunt after the cut to Day 3.

“I feel like I got a bit lucky today,” he said. “I feel like it will be a struggle again tomorrow for me. I mean, I didn’t catch that many fish, to be honest with you. I only had eight bites all day long. I think if I get five (keepers) – and to be honest, 10 pounds – tomorrow, then perfect, I would be happy. With 37 pounds I make it to the third day. Now I have to think about not bombing the tournament before thinking about winning.”

Worth noting

  • Jason Vance and Tai Au both sacked up bags topping the 25-pound mark, putting them in third and fourth place, respectively. Brett Hite found his way into fifth place with a more-than-respectable bag of 23-3.
  • The field of 150 anglers plucked 15 bags topping the 20-pound mark. The Top 50 cut line sits at 15-7, and with even better weather in the forecast in the coming days, anglers expect weights to continue to trend in a positive direction as fish continue to move into spawning areas.
  • Wyatt Frankens caught the biggest bass on Day 1, boating a 7-12 largemouth and netting himself a $1,000 payday.
  • For Lance and Kollin Crawford, today was a special day as Kollin made his debut on the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals circuit. The pair of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, pros are the resident father-son tandem on tour, as Kollin qualified out of the Toyota Series in 2022. Lance spoke as any proud father would of his son after Day 1: “Ever since he was 3 years old, that’s all he’s wanted to do. He fished the high school stuff and was successful there. He had two junior state championships and a high school state championship. He made nationals about six or seven times, and I just finally told him, ‘Hey, it costs just as much to do the Toyotas as it does to do all of this.’ I never dreamed we’d get to do it together. If he keeps his head down and doesn’t get sidetracked in some way, I think he can be something someday.”

Top 10 pros

1. David Walker – 28 – 1 (5) 

2. Jacopo Gallelli – 26 – 11 (5)

3. Jason Vance – 25 – 9 (5)   

4. Tai Au – 25 – 4 (5) 

5. Brian Latimer – 23 – 14 (5) 

6. Brett Hite – 23 – 3 (5)       

7. William Fletcher – 22 – 1 (5)        

8. Colby Schrumpf – 21 – 15 (5)         

9. Tom Redington – 21 – 11 (5)          

10. Jonathan Dietz – 21 – 3 (5)

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