LEESBURG, Fla. —The bite is on at the Harris Chain but not like what you might think. Early March usually brings massive waves of heavyweight females into the spawning areas, and tournament winning weights show it.
That’s not likely this week, according to many anglers interviewed on the competition eve of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Open at Harris Chain of Lakes. The scales are tipped more on the postspawn side of the spawning cycle at the Southern division season opener. All predictions point to impressive weights, because after all, this is Florida during the spawning season.
Several weeks ago, when the nation was slammed with three different winter storms, things got chilly in the Sunshine State, effectively shutting down the overall spawn. That was followed by unseasonably warm temperatures, with daytime highs going from the 50s to the high 80s, and even 90 degrees in Orlando. On top of it all was a full moon.
“When you have a cold front, then a huge spike in the temperature, with a full moon, then it triggers the females to move in,” said Rich Howes, a regional tournament pro from the Orlando area.
Just two weeks ago, Howes competed in a tournament on Lake Toho, where the water temperature was 48 degrees. Average water temperatures throughout the Harris Chain are now in the high 70s.
“You would have thought with the full moon there would be another wave coming up, but that’s not the case,” said Howes. “My guess is the spawn is 65 percent complete.”
Howes, like everyone else interviewed, predicts 20-pound limits will be caught, but not by the entire field.
Charlie Hartley, a snowbird from Ohio, has spent every day fishing since arriving in central Florida last October. Just two weeks ago, Hartley won a one-day event on Toho with 25 pounds of postspawn bass. He shared the same predictions as Howes about the bite weighted more on the postspawn side.
“That cold snap, then the warmup and full moon, had a big wave of females come in to spawn,” he said. “We are on the backside of the spawn, although there will be guys that focus specifically on what bedding bass remain.”
Joey Nania, of northern Alabama, has tracked the weather here for the past several months, and he’s spent time fishing in the area for several weeks. Nania believed the offshore grass bite will be key, with a twist.
“The last spawn was huge and those postspawn fish are offshore in recovery mode,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll be ready to get active and feed again during the tournament.”
Finding healthy, thriving aquatic vegetation will be a must. Nania said much of the grass was eradicated throughout Lake Harris, but untreated elsewhere in the chain of 8 lakes.
“Fishing in a crowd will be likely as anglers find concentrations of postspawn bass grouped up in the best areas of mixed grass,” he added.
His research validated the longer timespan of the spawn, beginning in October when the three-day winning weight was 84 pounds at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops.
Andy Thomasson likes what he saw during practice, and that was not bedding bass. The Virginia angler said a shad spawn is fully underway in many of the lakes.
“Boat draw number is going to be huge on Thursday,” he said. “There will be a very good topwater bite in Lake Griffin.”
The earlier the draw, all the better, when the shad are spawning in the low light conditions, although Thomasson said there could be prolonged activity later in the day.
“It’s going to be good, and I’ve never seen so many shad spawning in my entire life,” he added.
Thomasson said there could be another productive pattern in play during the tournament.
“Fry are everywhere, he said. “There will also be a bed fishing bite as I saw a lot of fry being guarded.”
Postspawn conditions, a shad spawn and an incoming low-pressure system on Championship Saturday will set the stage for productive fishing on the 75,000 acres comprising the chain of lakes.
Competition days are Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with daily takeoffs at 6:45 a.m. ET. Weigh-ins on Thursday and Friday at Venetian Gardens begin at 2:45 p.m. The final-day weigh-in is at Bass Pro Shops in Orlando beginning at 4 p.m.