LEESBURG, Fla. – Keith Ellis and Roger Kendrick have made countless memories in 45 years of fishing together, but there’s little doubt that Day 1 of the Bassmaster Team Championship on the Harris Chain of Lakes will go down as one of their finest.
Ellis and Kendrick, who qualified for the championship via the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Bass Association, caught a five-bass limit of 22 pounds, 2 ounces on Wednesday to grab the lead in the final tournament of the 2020 Bassmaster season.
The haul gave the lifelong friends a narrow lead over Rodney Chastain and Robby Hipps of South Carolina’s Palmetto Boat Center Trail, who are in second place with 21-12. Mark Condron and Tony Simeri of the Alabama Bass Trail are third with 21-11 and Ryan Kelly and Joshua Schumaker of West Michigan Bass are fourth with 21-2.
There's a trio of teams within 1 pound of Ellis and Kendrick, so the leaders know they cant sit on their Day 1 showing. That's partly because the Harris Chain seems primed for production this week, with 90 limits caught Wednesday and a handful of bucket-mouthed bass brought to the scales that weighed more than 7 pounds each.
Ellis and Kendrick relied on a more uniform bag on Day 1, with their biggest bass weighing approximately five pounds and the others registering around the four-pound range. They are fishing in Lake Griffin, which is on the northern end of the Harris Chain, and they caught all of their best bass in one area of that fishery, they said.
“It was a consistent day, but we started with a good early bite and then got a good bite right before we left when it warmed up,” Kendrick said, referencing the temperatures that started in the upper 40s Wednesday morning in central Florida, but climbed into the low 60s by weigh-in at Venetian Gardens Marina.
“We’re targeting grass, all that hydrilla,” Ellis said. “We’re in about 8 feet of water, looking for a little bit of wind.”
The friends, who’ve fished together since they were 10 years old, are confident they can catch another sizable limit on Thursday.
“We pulled off with them biting,” Kendrick said. “We had to make a pretty good run, so we left early to make it back. But we certainly can duplicate what we did today.”
That confidence bodes well for the leaders, who are looking to win the $20,000 cash prize provided by Ranger/Mercury that will go to the leading team after Thursday’s weigh-in is complete. It’s part of a $77,000 total purse to be distributed on Day 2 when the field will be cut to the Top-3 teams and competition will move into the Classic Fish-Off portion of the tournament.
The six remaining anglers will have their weights zeroed at that point and they’ll fish individually on Friday and Saturday in the fish-off. The leader after those two days of competition will clinch the final spot in the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk when it’s held March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Tex.
Ellis and Kendrick realize the gravity of being one good bag away from the Classic Fish-Off and fishing for the final berth in the biggest bass tournament in the world next March.
“We’re really pleased,” Kendrick said. “Our first practice of this tournament, we hardly caught anything, but it got a little bit better every day.”
That’s sort of like their decades of fishing together, they said, with perhaps their finest moment coming Wednesday during their first competition ever on the Harris Chain.
“It may be a little beginner’s luck,’ Kendrick said. “But after spending as much time in the boat as we have, we’ve figured out a thing or two.”
Danny Lavoie and Sammy Bailey of weighed the heaviest bass on Wednesday – an 8-7 lunker that was one of three bass the bagged on Day 1. They’re in 40th place with a 12-8 total.
Day 2 of the Bassmaster Team Championship will begin at 7 a.m. Eastern on Thursday from Venetian Gardens Marina. Weigh-in is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be shown live on Bassmaster.com.