This week officially kicks off the 2019 Bassmaster season with the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla. I’ve had a great “offseason,” but I’m ready to get back to fishing. I’m really excited about this season, both the Opens and the Bassmaster Elite Series, and there's no better place to get started than right here in the sunshine state.
It’s the third week of January, and we had a full moon this week which means these Florida strain bass have spawning heavily on their minds. Mother Nature has different plans though. I got here last Sunday, and we had a cold front come through at the beginning of the week and another came through causing the cancellation of the first day of the tournament. Even so, I’ve seen plenty of beds and caught plenty of males up shallow messing around, but in my opinion the big females know better. They won’t show up until the weather gets stable enough for them to do their thing, and I don’t believe that will happen this week. Someone may prove me wrong and win on bedding fish, but I don’t think so.
This is my third trip to the Harris Chain. I actually fished my very first B.A.S.S. event here in 2012 so it’s always special to come back here and think about all that has happened in my career since that first event. Every time I’ve been here the lakes have been completely different, and this time is no different.
There’s more grass this time than I’ve ever seen, especially in Lake Harris, which is a good thing. Lake Griffin usually plays a big role in this tournament, but recent rain and wind has it churned up and dirty for the most part this year. I’m sure someone figured out how to catch them over there, but I didn’t. Another thing I noticed a lot more of this time is eel grass. There’s quite a bit of it on the Chain now, and I don’t remember seeing that as much the last couple times I’ve been here. Florida bass love to spawn in eel grass so that’s good to see in my eyes.
I don’t want to say which lake I’ve settled in on, but one of them really stuck out in my eyes during practice. I haven’t caught a great number of fish in practice, in fact I’d call my practice pretty tough, but the lake I plan on fishing just feels like the most fertile part of the system to me right now. I have a couple areas where I had some bites, and I’ll just settle into those areas and see what happens. I’ve never done well in Florida by running around a lot, so we’ll just take it slow and easy and fish what’s in front of me.
As far as techniques that we’ll see this week, I think there will be a lot of fish caught in offshore submerged grass. In my opinion that’s where most of the prespawn females still are and undoubtedly someone has found a big school of them. It’s really a needle in a haystack kind of deal when you’re looking for these groups of fish, but if you find them the reward can be great for sure.
Rattle baits and bladed jigs should be big players as well as light Texas-rigs fished slowly through the grass. I’m sure there will be plenty of fish caught shallow and closer to the bank as well. There’s plenty of targets to pitch at, and there are definitely big ones to be caught that way as well. I plan on doing a little of both offshore and on the bank.
Like I said I’m fishing an area, so I’ll fish around and try to get dialed in during the tournament. I’ve got brand new Mustad trebles on all my rattle baits and my flipping setup will be an MHX NEPS90HF rod rigged with a half-ounce weight and an X-Zone Lures Adrenaline Bug. That rod blank is a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy power that when matched up with 50-pound Vicious No-Fade braid it is the perfect setup for “lighter duty” Florida pitching. On my rattle baits I throw the NEPS86MHF. It’s 7-foot, 2-inch medium heavy power and is just a great all-purpose rod. I use it for a lot of different applications and you need something with a little more power for ripping the rattle bait free of the grass. This rod does great for that.
I’m looking forward to getting this one started, and one thing about it in Florida any cast could be the fish of a lifetime. Hopefully I get to catch one of those this week.