TAVARES, Fla. — The Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26, is only about a month away, but the 2012 Bassmaster Tournament Trail actually kicks off Jan. 19-21 with the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open of the year. It should be a good one, too, as anglers from as far away as Italy gather in Tavares, Fla., to cure their cabin fever at the Harris Chain of Lakes.
The Harris Chain is made up of nine lakes connected by a system of canals and covering around 80,000 surface acres. Lakes Harris, Eustis and Griffin are the largest of the waters, but anglers often find as much success in the canals as in the lakes themselves. Just ask Shaw Grigsby, who mined one particular canal to the tune of a six-figure Elite Series payday last March.
Elite Series pro Chris Lane believes that canals can be a factor in this Open, too, but doesn’t expect weights to be on par with the spawn-heavy Elite event.
“I think this thing is going to be wide open,” Lane said. “This time around it’ll be more prespawn, but there may be a few fish on beds. However, the cold weather and early (not full) moon may have them holding off. Eustis, Harris and the canals will be the big players lake-wise.”
In 13 previous Bassmaster events, soft plastics and spinnerbaits have ruled the day on the Harris Chain, claiming every win but one. A recent cold snap has thwarted an otherwise balmy winter and lowered water temperatures below traditional spawning levels. Nevertheless, expect some anglers to find bedding fish — and large ones.
Tournament lunkers on the Harris Chain frequently crack double digits, like the 10-pound, 4-ounce giant that struck Matt Greenblatt’s Zoom Trick Worm in last year’s Elite event. The biggest lunker in B.A.S.S.’s tournament history on the chain was Art Ferguson’s 11-1 that fell to a Yamamoto Senko in early February 2005.
Fishing on the Harris Chain has been strong in recent years, and if the weather is right — a warming trend that precedes competition by a couple of days — things could get exciting. But it wasn’t always that way. In 1992 Mike Folkestad won one of the toughest tournaments in B.A.S.S. history on the Harris Chain with a three-day catch that weighed just 14-10. That was then; things are much better now.
As with most Florida fisheries, the bass action on the Harris Chain is all about the vegetation, and the angler who finds the right weeds or the right canal will take home the big paycheck. Lots of Florida bassers maintain that the Harris Chain doesn't fish like most Florida waters, noting the extreme differences between these lakes and the Kissimmee Chain to the south. It may be why Florida anglers have not dominated here in the past. In 13 tournaments, only four Florida pros have won.
Jacopo Gallelli is an Italian B.A.S.S. Federation Nation member who will be taking his chances against the Harris Chain’s bass as he traverses the Atlantic to take on some of the best anglers in the world. Gallelli takes honors for the longest commute, but there will be plenty of Americans from northern climes looking forward to a few days in the Sunshine State.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to kick off the new season.