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The Apopka appeal

It’s the southernmost lake in the Harris Chain, but Lake Apopka’s reputation as a straight-up toad factory exudes an alluring appeal that often justifies the long run. Forming the headwaters of the Ocklawaha River and the Harris Chain, Florida’s fourth-largest lake covers about 30,900 acres and consistently cranks out tournament-winning quality.

Anglers competing in the the Strike King Bassmaster College Series at Harris Chain of Lakes presented by Bass Pro Shops have access to the entire Harris Chain. And while the majority of the field fished the chain’s upper lakes, a few made the run to Apopka.

To reach this distant gem, anglers depart the takeoff at Venetian Gardens on Lake Harris’ western shore, run northeast across the lake, take the Dead River into Lake Eustis, then link down to Lake Dora through its namesake canal. On Dora’s east side, you’ll take the channel down to Lake Beauclair, run to the southwest corner and follow the Apopka-Beauclair Canal down to Apopka.

About midway through that canal, the Apopka-Beauclair Lock adds a significant delay. Considering this time commitment, calculating travel plays an integral role in determining a day’s outcome.

Eighth-place Brody Robison and Jack Alexander of University of Montevallo got an early boat number and made the most of their head start by devoting their day to Apopka.

“We know what lives down there and when we got the text that we were Boat 9, we said ‘We gotta go,’” Alexander said. “We’ll have a late draw on Day 2, so we’ll play it safe and try to qualify for the (College Series National Championship).”

Carson-Newman University’s Stevie Mills and Brady Duncan also fished Apopka and caught a Day-1 limit of 24-7. Entering Day-2 in third-place, they’re committed to making the long run one more time.

“A lot of times you hear about it going down (in Apopka) and sometimes you don’t want to go play bumper boats (with other competitors), but when you hear about big ones coming out of there, you gotta go,” Mills said. “We’ve been down here for two weeks and it’s been a tough go around for these lakes around here for us, so we spent our last few days in Apopka trying to pick it apart. I think we found something a little special down there. We caught everything in a span of 30 yards.”

Mills added: “I don’t think there was anything unique about that spot. They were there and we hit ‘em at the right time.

“We’re going back tomorrow — we have to. If you want to win, you have to make the run.”