Zach Parker and Matthew Roberts started their Carhartt Bassmaster College Series off with a bang. They set not one but two records; an all-time single-day weight record of 29 pounds, 2 ounces and an all-time two-day total record of 54 pounds, 4 ounces. We asked them to walk us through their practice and tournament. Here is Zach Parker’s account of how they put the puzzle together.
Journal Entry 1: The Best Way to Start the Fishing Year
We rolled into Leesburg, Fla., on Dec. 28 to start preparing for our first event of the year, the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Regional on the Harris Chain of Lakes. Florida fishing can be very tough this time of year, and having never actually fished in Florida before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only thing I knew for sure was that my partner, Matthew Roberts, and I had five full days from sun up to sun down to figure out the mystic Florida bass on the Harris Chain.
Practice Days 1-5:
From reading the fishing reports and gathering information months prior to my tournament, I decided to focus on four of the main lakes on the Harris Chain, and then narrow my search once I got there. We started our search on Lake Eustis mainly because it was the closest lake to our hotel, and we were excited to get out on the water. The primary vegetation on all of these lakes is Kissimmee grass, eel grass, pepper grass, lily pads, reeds and cattails. As soon as we dropped my Triton 21HP in the water, I was overwhelmed by all of this vegetation. It was everywhere! I had no idea where to even start, and since I still had to break in my new Mercury 250 Pro XS, we headed toward the far north end of the lake. Every bank I could see was swamped with Kissimmee grass and reeds, so we finally just put the Motor Guide down and started flipping. We kept flipping and flipping to no avail.
Finally, with about two hours left to fish, we found an underwater grassline that we fished with a Strike King Red Eye Shad. After ripping our Red Eyes through the grass for about 45 minutes, we finally found the sweet spot and caught a couple of 2-pound fish on back-to-back casts. We knew that this wouldn’t help us much in the tournament if we wanted to win, but it was a start. On the second day of practice, we went to Lake Griffin which is where Chris Lane blew away the field in the 2012 Southern Open event. The water on Lake Griffin was very stained, which is not what you want in Florida, and we came away from the second day of practice with only two bites. At this point, I was thinking we could be looking at a long three more days of practice and a rough tournament. On the third day of practice, we decided to put in at Lake Eustis and fish half the day on that lake and the other half on Lake Harris. Well, we ended up spending all day on Lake Eustis and found three more stretches of shoreline vegetation that each held loads of buck bass. Two of the stretches were Kissimmee grass, and the other was a stretch of isolated lily pads.
We knew we had to figure out how to catch the bigger fish in order to have any chance at all of winning the event. So on the fourth day of practice, we decided to go and check out Lake Harris. This lake had the same clarity as Lake Eustis, so we figured that we would be able to catch some fish, but we would still have to figure out where those big females were hiding. We fished a stretch of Kissimmee grass for about two hours that morning and never had a bite, so we decided to go back into some of the canals on Lake Harris, which are known for having the big females during the spawn. We saw a few males up in the shallow canals, but we never saw any big females that had moved up. We then fished our way out of a canal and found a stretch of lily pads in this one canal that was loaded with buck bass, but the biggest we caught was only 2 1/2 pounds.
We finished off day four searching for gin clear water and just hoping that we would find a wave of big females that had pushed into the back of a canal. Well, we never found the first fish, so we were back to square one. After seeing no big females in the back of the canals or up in the Kissimmee grass we came to the conclusion that those big females were still in a prespawn stage. Now, we had to figure out where they live on these lakes in the prespawn stage. We decided to take a few more reaction baits with us on the final full day of practice and cover as much water as possible. We went back to Lake Griffin to see if the water had cleared up, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out that it was still too dingy. We did find one canal on Lake Griffin that had about 25 to 28 pounds of females cruising getting ready to spawn, but they weren’t catchable. We took out of Lake Griffin at about noon and headed to Lake Harris. We started off throwing Strike Red Eye Shads on the outside of the Kissimmee grass. We caught a few fish and began to put a pattern together. Everywhere we found a small pocket with six feet of water, we found fish. We kept running this pattern and though we were only catching small buck bass, we were catching a lot of them, and I had a good feeling we were on the right track. We kept working hard and hit every pocket we saw.
Finally, about an hour before we had to go in we pulled up to a pocket, I fired my Strike Red Eye Shad (gold-and-black) out and started ripping it through some underwater grass and a 5-pounder crushed it! I knew that this could be the area we had been looking for, so we didn’t make another cast in the area waiting to explore it more on tournament day. We finished our final full day of practice on cloud nine. We spent the next half day of practice trying to find an area that was exactly like this one but once again, we only found buck bass.
Tournament Day 1:
Blast off was at 7:20 a.m., and we could hardly wait to see what the day had in store for us. We only hoped to pick up where we left off just two days before! The tournament blasted off from Lake Dora, which meant we had a 20 minute idle to get to Lake Eustis where we actually made a stop on the underwater grassline we had found the very first. We gave it about 20 minutes to no avail.
We started heading to Lake Harris, which was another 15 minute idle through the Dead River Canal. Our first stop on Lake Harris was on a spot where we caught two 2-pound fish in practice, and we ended up catching a 2-pounder and missing another fish. We were only about 400 yards from the spot where we caught the 5-pounder in practice, so we idled up to the area, and I fired my Red Eye out into the open water. I made one rip through a patch of hydrilla and a 5-pounder crushed it. It was at that point, I knew it was on! We ended up finishing our limit and culling several times by 11 a.m., and we decided to leave the area and let it rest for the next day. We weighed 29 pounds, 2 ounces of Harris Chain bass on the scales with a 9-ound, 11-ounce giant! That had us in first place heading into Day 2 with an 8-pound lead over second place.
Tournament Day 2:
We didn’t get much sleep that night because we were pumped to get back on the water and try and seal the deal on Day 2. We felt pretty good about things with an 8-pound lead, but we were in Florida and anyone could make up 8 pounds on one cast. Once we got our microphones on and all geared up for the camera that morning, we couldn’t wait for 7:20 a.m. to come around so we could see what the day held. We got to our honey hole at about 8 a.m., and it was on from the get go! By 11 a.m., we had a limit that weighed around 25 pounds, and we knew our competitors were going to have to crush them to have any chance at catching us. We never culled any more that day, but we did have an absolute giant in the 12-pound class come unbuttoned right at the boat! Luckily, that lost fish didn’t hurt us, and we claimed the win by 10 pounds with a two-day total of 54 pounds, 3 ounces!
Wow! What an awesome way to start 2013! After four horrible days of practice, that ONE 5-pounder I caught on our last full day of practice was the final piece of the puzzle that ultimately lead us to the mother lode and our first win of the season. With this win we also earned a berth into the 2013 Bassmaster Carhartt College Series National Championship and a shot at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic! We also set the all-time single-day record for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series with our 29-pound stringer on Day 1 and a new two-day total record of 54 pounds. Hopefully, we can carry the momentum and confidence from this win into our next event.