Either an awesome three-day blast of incredible fishing or a tough-luck skills contest awaits anglers who'll compete in the Bassmaster Southern Open set for Jan. 29-31 on the Harris Chain of Lakes out of Tavares, Fla., the first Bassmaster Open and BASS event of the 2009 season.
In March 2008, the Bassmaster Elite Series made its first visit to the Harris Chain, where Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., took home the season-opening Sunshine Showdown trophy with a four-day winning weight of 59 pounds, 2 ounces.
As patience and slow fishing were a necessity during that event, McClelland stuck with a Zoom trick worm all weekend on lily pads and grass on and around the Dead River and Lake Eustis.
Florida native and 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year Bobby Lane of Lakeland, who started his Elite Series career with a third-place finish on the Harris Chain, figures the late January weather will bring a completely different outcome at the Southern Open.
"These Florida lakes are tough, simply because they're not that deep," Lane said. "And the cold fronts play a major part. We could see some really nice limits brought in, but if another cold front comes through it could be miserable fishing because of that north wind — there's really nowhere to hide on some of these lakes."
The Harris Chain, which includes lakes Apopka, Beauclair, Carlton, Dora, Eustis, Griffin, Harris and Yale, as well as three tributaries, has rich shoreline vegetation and has featured some impressive winning weights. In February 2005, Peter Thliveros of St. Augustine, Fla., scored a victory at a Bassmaster Tour event with a four-day total of 69 pounds, 5 ounces. Thliveros' total was one of three in that event that totaled more than 60 pounds.
With the chain less than two hours from his home, Thliveros likely will fish Lake Harris and Lake Eustis in next week's Southern Open. Because he likes slow fishing, he prefers not to roam across major portions of the chain.
Lane said he thinks anglers could bring in two or three fish in one day instead of the five-fish limit.
"Those two, three fish might be anywhere from 13 to 20 pounds," he said. "You might see a lot of 6- or 7-pounders, but limits are going to be scarce if it stays cold. If the water temps stay in the mid-50s, it's going to take something like 45 pounds to win, but it could be as much as the low 50s. If you can catch an average of 15 pounds a day, you have a real good shot at winning."
Lane suspects to see a lot of boats bunched up in canals at least through the first two days of the tournament.
"One thing about Lake Harris is the clear canals — a lot of fish like to spawn in them. The water temperature doesn't drop as much because most of them are spring-fed. If the weather stays warm, there will definitely be some smack talk going on in the canals; everybody will be making their boats light as possible to get to these areas as fast as they can."
He added that putting in at Lake Dora will mix things up compared to past tournaments, at which BASS competitors have typically put in at Venetian Gardens or Old Hickory.
Lane, who did a lot of flipping and cranking in last year's Sunshine Showdown, anticipates a lot of reaction baits and a few dark-colored worms to be used in the Southern Open.
"This ought to be more of a rattletrap, spinnerbait deal in the first day, and we ought to be able to catch some sight fish," Lane said, "but those will be few and far between, but their ought to be some big ones."
The next stop in the three-tournament Southern Open division is the April 30-May 2 event on Wheeler Lake out of Decatur, Ala.