By the numbers
Perfect mid-January weather punctuated remarkable fishing during the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #1. Sunny skies, light southerly breezes and daytime highs in the low 80s made the week pleasant for fishing in Florida.
The bass responded accordingly in the Harris Chain of Lakes.
Looking at the numbers of bass caught and their weights provides a snapshot of just how great the fishing was on the first two days, when 400 pro and co-anglers fished the tournament. Here’s the scorecard:
1,767: Total bass caught
4,068: Total pounds weighed
11: Pros catching 20-pound or more limits
9-4: Weight of largemouth caught by Jordan Lee
14-14: Weight of 3-bass limit caught on Day 2 by co-angler Fred Rigdon
32-14: Pro weight needed to make Top 12
Jordan Lee’s personal best also rewarded him with the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award. Numerous 8-pounders were caught and there were too many weighing in the 6-pound range to count.
Any more evidence of how good the fishing really was can be viewed in the steady stream of big bass photos posted to the blog on Bassmaster.com
The Harris Chain has a long history of Bassmaster events, dating back to 1986. That was when the first B.A.S.S. MegaBucks was held in the host city of Leesburg, which hosted the event four consecutive years.
Like the name implied, the tournament was destined to be a milestone for bass tournaments at the time. It succeeded after the first event.
The field of 220 pros paid a $2,200 entry fee to fish for the $101,000 first-place. The package included a 10-year annuity payment of $63,000, a fully rigged boat and truck to tow it. Total payout was $667,000, an amount unheard of at the time in cast-for-cash angling.
Little Lake Harris was divided into 10 fishing holes with the Top 10 anglers rotating through each flagged-off area every 50 minutes. The idea was to emulate the idea of golf fans following players as they moved along the links in a tournament.
The far-fetched idea worked well on Little Lake Harris. The first year, an estimated 3,000 people watched the action unfold along the shoreline. More came to the weigh-in at Venetian Gardens.
As MegaBucks matured and built a loyal following the weigh-in site moved to 2,000- seat Pat Thomas Stadium. That move came in 1989, when Larry Nixon won his first of four MegaBucks titles.
A dark moment happened on the Harris Chain in 1992. Californian Mike Folkstead won a three-day Bassmaster Invitational with a cumulative weight of only 14 pounds, 10 ounces.
Griffin is good, too
Connecting to Big Lake Harris is Lake Griffin, covering 9,428 acres and spanning 7 miles. It’s the last lake in the Harris Chain before the collective water empties and flows north into the Ocklawaha River.
On Days 1 and 2, roughly one-half the field squeezed through the tiny lock connecting the fisheries. On Day 3, the trend continued with 7 of the Top 12 anglers making the trip.
That lineup included Marty Robinson, Hunter Shryock, David Kilgore, Derek Hudnall, Brandon Card, David Hudson and Joshua Stracner.
“It has some great water and fishes much different with more options,” noted Shryock.
Native Californian Justin Lucas moved four years ago to Guntersville, Ala., on a mission. After three years he’s already succeeded.
Lucas, 30, moved east and got closer to the action for a shot at making it in the pro ranks.
It was indeed a good move. After joining the Bassmaster Elite Series the young angler has already won two of the marquee events. The first came in his hometown of Sacramento and the other was last summer on the Potomac River.
Lucas was the only angler this week to eclipse 20 pounds on both days of the qualifying round leading to the championship.
While he didn’t win, Lucas hopes the momentum from a Top 12 finish continues with the upcoming start of the Elite Series. The season begins in three weeks on Cherokee Lake in east Tennessee.
Fletcher Shryock made a three-hour drive in hopes of watching his younger sibling Hunter land his first career B.A.S.S. win. Upon arrival, he launched his boat and found Hunter landing a pivotal 6-pounder.
Hunter, 28, like his brother, raced motocross professionally until injuries forced his retirement at age 21. The fishing bug bit after he watched Fletcher’s success on the Bassmaster tour.
He wants to join his brother soon on the Elite Series. He’s off to a good start after fishing the top 12 at the Harris Chain. At the season conclusion the top three anglers in the Southern Opens division get invitations to the 2018 Elite Series.