2009 Southern Open #1 Harris Chain Of Lakes - Tavares, FL, Jan 29 - 31, 2009

A Pro's Approach: Josh Guess

Second year BASS pro Josh Guess describes fishing the Harris Chain this week as typical early season Florida bass fishing.

"The lakes are in good shape, but the weather has played havoc with the bass. The cold front last week set the bass back. Then they started moving towards the beds, but we're looking at another one (cold front) on the first day of the tournament which will set them back again," he says after several days of practice.

Interestingly, Guess doesn't believe sight fishing will play as big a role in this tournament as you might expect. He points out that the bass mostly spawn in the canals and that there's only a half-dozen or so with water clear enough to spot the big tournament-winning females.

"I rode around all day Tuesday and looked, but every canal I found with clear water was full of boats. If you get an early draw you might get one, but it's not something I'm willing to bank on. And even if you get a big one on the first day, they'll be gone before noon. Then what are you going to do?"

He answered that question by developing a different pattern. The DeLand, Fla., resident has located prespawn bass on shallow shell beds near grass. His weapon of choice will be a Zoom Trick Worm — junebug in color — on a Carolina rig with a short leader.

His equipment is a 7-foot St. Croix medium heavy rod with a fast tip and a Shimano Curado D reel (7:1 gear ratio) reel spooled with 17-pound-test Berkley Sensation line. His sinker is a 1/2-ounce, black Tru-Tungsten worm weight, and his leader is made with 12-pound-test Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon.

Although that's Guess' game plan, he admits that a lot of fish will be caught flipping and pitching the grasslines around this legendary chain of lakes.

"It'll be a spot tournament, I think. Guys who have planned out a good milk run will do fairly well. Some of us will target shell beds near grass — that's my plan — but others will find good bass flipping and pitching to the grass.

"I noticed that the warm weather between cold fronts pushed the males into the back edges of the grass. They were on the front. Guys who can flip and pitch, and who can find a few females, will do really well. I still think, however, that in the end a Carolina rig on shell beds is the way to go."

Guess believes the weights will be solid, if not extraordinary. He predicts a 20-pound bag on the first day. That, combined with the quality of anglers fishing this event, will push the cut weight to 30 pounds or more by Friday evening. And in his opinion it'll take 45-50 pounds to win the first Southern Open of the season. Mixed into those weights will be at least one bass that'll weigh 9 pounds.

"The fishing isn't as good as you might think. But don't forget there are almost 200 boats out there. Somebody's going to get on them. Most of these guys can fish, and a lot of them are familiar with the Harris Chain. Somebody's going to catch a bunch of them. It's that simple."

When it comes to predicting a winner, Guess says that watching local anglers who know the turf is the way to go. He defines knowing the turf as being able to skillfully pitch and flip and Carolina rig. In his opinion that means we should keep a close eye on the Lane brothers (Bobby and Chris) and Peter Thliveros.

When all is said and done, however, Guess warns us that the weather may be the most important factor of all.

"Remember what I said about the unstable weather we've been having in January. A couple of weeks ago the bass were moving on the beds. Then it turned cold and they moved out. Last week's warm weather moved them back in. If we get a nasty cold front they'll move back out. Finding fish that'll bite could be tough.

"These are Florida bass. When it gets cold or the wind blows they shut down, hard and quick. That could mess with my fishing and weight predictions."