LEESBURG, Fla. — After three days of practice on the Harris Chain of Lakes, Jeff Kriet knows fishing pressure will play a big role in the outcome of the Bassmaster Elite Series Sunshine Showdown, which started here Thursday.
"It's unbelievable, dude," Kriet said. "I don't think anybody around here works.
"These fish, I would say, are harrassed to the fullest."
The four-day tournament, which kicks off the Elite Series 2008 11-event schedule, officially started at 7:30 a.m. under clear skies, practically no wind and temperatures in the high 50s.
The luck of the draw will also play a big part today. The pros who drew low numbers and got to take off first definitely have an advantage in catching the bass that are on spawning beds.
"Alton Jones is going to be really tough," said Ben Matsubu of the newly-crowned Bassmaster Classic champion. "I saw him in the same canal I was in (during practice), and there are a lot of fish in there. There are some big ones.
"They're not on beds yet. They're cruising around, and Alton knows how to catch those fish. He's got a low (takeoff) number, and once you go up there, you've got to commit to it. I think Alton's going to catch them pretty good and maybe a couple of other guys who go in there this morning.
"But after the boat traffic goes through there, they get really skittish. It gets really tough to catch them."
Spawning started in January in the Harris Chain of Lakes, which is comprised of nine lakes in central Florida connected by canals and river channels. While post-spawn is the dominant pattern, there are still some bass in the pre-spawn stage in this vast waterway.
"You've got just about everything you could imagine this time of year in Florida," said Matsubu, who won the last time BASS came here — the Elite Series Wild-Card Qualifier in November 2006 — and won the last time the Elite Series came to Florida — the 2007 season finale at Lake Toho last September. "You've got post-spawn, pre-spawn. They're just scattered all over the place. They're really tough to locate."
The Harris Chain has its fair share of 10-pound-plus Florida strain largemouth bass. But it's a 10-pound total in a five-bass limit that stuck in the minds of many Elite Series pros.
"Ten pounds a day will always get you a check (top 50 finish) here this time of year," said Matsubu, who lives in Hemphill, Texas.
And it could take less than 10 pounds a day to make the top 50.
"I figure it will take about 11 pounds a day to make a check," said Kriet, who is coming off a sixth-place finish at the Bassmaster Classic on Feb. 24 at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. "(Mike) McClelland thinks it will take eight (pounds per day). (Greg) Hackney thinks it will take about eight a day.
"It's tough out there. You can fish a long time without a bite. Typically, when you do that, you get in a hurry. And when you get in a hurry in Florida, it just doesn't work."
Kriet's strongpoint is fishing slow and "grinding," as he puts it. He thinks that could be a winning formula here this week.
"If I have a strength, it's that I'm a grinder," said the Ardmore, Okla., angler. "I'm having to fish really, really slow. I hope I get about eight bites. If I get eight bites today, I think I'll have a good sack.
"I feel really good about it. I've never made a check here. I've been here three times and my highest finish is 100th. But at Toho, the last three or four times we've been there I've made the top 12. At Okeechobee, I've only been there once and I finished in the top 12.
"Florida seems to suit my style. I practiced here a lot different this time. I had the best practice I've ever had on this lake."
If there's one thing Kriet is 100 percent certain about, it's that he'll have an audience wherever and whenever he catches a bass.
"I know where I'm starting they're going to be all over me," Kriet said of local anglers. "I'm just going to have to put blinders on and ignore them."
Weigh-ins will be held daily beginnning at 4 p.m. at Leesburg's Venetian Gardens. The 100-plus angler field will be cut to the top 50 after Friday's weigh-in. The top 12 will compete for the $100,000 first-place check on Sunday.