LEESBURG, Fla. — His target zone shrunk, but Texas pro Ray Hanselman Jr., made the right adjustments and moved into the lead on Day 3 of the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 1 ounce.
A steady performer with an upward trajectory, Hanselman caught a 22-pound limit on Day 1 and placed fourth. He weighed 17-4 on Day 2 and added a Semifinal Saturday limit of 18-13 to edge second-place angler Kenta Kimura by 7 ounces.
Hanselman repeated the game plan he’s followed since Day 1 — diligently prospecting the 3- to 7-foot grass flats of Banana Cove on the east side of Lake Harris. He caught a 6-pounder around 10:45 a.m., but with several boats sharing the area, he saw his overall opportunity level decline.
“There were like three schools where you could get bit in a football field-size area, but now it’s down to about 1 1/2 (schools),” Hanselman said. “The others are depleted and we’re starting to crowd one another.
“You never know what can show up. Those fish know that the grass is there — it’s the only grass in the lake. The baitfish are there and they’ve been trying to have a shad spawn. It could recharge or it could be that’s what’s there.”
Hanselman described his area as a staging spot for fish that were coming and going from the spawn.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the area, the water’s getting warmer and I’m sure there’s a mixture of fish,” he said. “Most of the ones I’ve been catching have been postspawn fish, except for that big one — that one hadn’t spawned.
“I guess the ones that are there and are going to spawn are moving in. I think with that, plus the fishing pressure, you have to cast every inch.”
Hanselman caught one of his limit fish on a homemade 1/2-ounce bladed swim jig with no skirt and a minnow-style trailer. He caught the rest on a Strike King Hybrid Hunter, a rattling crankbait with a unique L-shaped bill.
Hanselman caught his biggest fish on the 3-inch Hybrid Hunter Jr. on top of a grass mat, but did most of his work with the full-size 3 1/2-inch model.
“That bill displaces grass and then it’s such a wide, hard wobble that it just deflects it more,” he said. “I put oversized hooks on both baits because I’m going so fast I want something to grab the fish.”
Hanselman threw his crankbaits on an 8-foot Power Tackle moderate swimbait rod, which allowed him to rip the bait through grass and get a firm hook set at the end of a long cast.
“I noticed I was seeing more fish off in deeper water, so I had to slow down because if you’re burning that bait, it tends to plane a little bit,” he said. “I slowed down my retrieve and used my rod tip to surge it.”
Hanselman said he’ll likely return to the place he’s fished for three days. He has options if he needs them, but he said it’ll be hard to leave what has steadily produced.
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Kimura placed second with 57-10. After a 23rd-place limit of 16-7 on Day 1, he added 18-2 and moved into 12th. Then on Saturday, he stepped on the gas and weighed a limit of 23-1.
After starting his day by targeting the early morning shad spawn, Kimura caught a quick limit and then transitioned to a big-bite pattern. The second stage of his plan involved shellbars.
“I had to change up today because the north wind changed the water color,” Kimura said. “I didn’t have a bite between 10 and 12 and I had a little bit of a hard time.”
Kimura caught all of his fish on a swimming worm rigged on a 6/0 hook and a Ryugi football head weight, which clipped to his hook eye. He used a plum color worm in the morning and junebug in the afternoon.
David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., is in third with 56-2. After placing 11th with a Day 1 limit of 20-2, Mullins improved to fourth by adding 18-13. Then on Saturday, he caught 17-3 and gained another spot.
Mullins spent his first hour in Lake Harris, then ran to Lake Griffin where he fished a mix of hydrilla and eelgrass in 3 to 6 feet. He started out throwing a crankbait and when the bite slowed down with increasing sunlight, he switched to a Texas-rigged 6-inch black/blue stickworm with a 3/16-ounce weight.
“I think they’re spawning out there in that grass, but I can’t see them,” Mullins said. “I’m just trying to drop it into a grass hole, so I’m fishing it as slow as I can. On my first cast, I caught a 4-pounder.”
John Cox of DeBary, Fla., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 11-pound largemouth.
Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., leads the VMC Monster Bag standings for the event’s heaviest limit with his Day 2 catch of 23-14.
Mullins leads the Angler of the Year standings with 194 points. Cox is in second with 194, followed by Frazier with 179, Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., with 177 and Jamie Hartman of Newport, N.Y., with 171.
Jay Przekurat of Stevens Point, Wis., leads the Falcon Rods Rookie of the Year standings with 155 points.
The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday from Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be held back at Venetian Gardens at 3:30 p.m., with the winning angler claiming $100,000.
FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday. Live coverage can also be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms.
The tournament is being hosted by Visit Lake, FL.