LEESBURG, Fla. — Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., turned in a dominant performance during Friday’s second round of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes with a five-bass limit that weighed 24 pounds, 14 ounces.
Added to his Thursday catch of 20-11, Wetherell now leads the event with a two-day total of 45-9.
Although he’s fished the Harris Chain only once before, Wetherell said he has figured out a couple of key details about Sunshine State bass.
“I’ve learned how to understand the grass and distinguish what I’m looking for,” he said. “I’m targeting offshore grass and there’s a lot of it out there. But just because you mark grass doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.
“I found areas in practice and I’m expanding on those areas and really dialing in the sweet spots. It just seems that certain clumps of grass have fish and others don’t.”
Stating that the crisper, cleaner grass was best, Wetherell said he covered water until he got bit and then explored the spot to determine its potential.
“Once I get a bite, I’ll sit on that spot and work it very meticulously,” he said. “I’m using two particular baits — one to locate a (productive) area and one to fish it slowly.
“It’s really efficiency based. I want to be able to work a bait through the grass without getting hung up too much to where I’m not efficient in my cast.”
Similar to bed fishing, Wetherell found it beneficial to hit his key areas from multiple angles. In some instances, repetition was his ally.
“It’s amazing because you’ll make the same cast 15 times and then all of a sudden you’ll get bit,” he said. “I caught an 8-pounder pretty early in the morning and then I caught a 6.
“I had this bag and I lost (an estimated 7-pounder) so it was a pretty unbelievable day. I was done by noon and then I was just scanning around for other spots.”
Wetherell started in Lake Harris and then moved to Lake Dora after the first hour. His better bites came from Dora.
Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., leveraged a lucky break and fished his way into second place with 38-9. After catching 15 pounds on Day 1, Foutz added 23-9 Friday.
“Fortunately, they came up schooling around me and they were all big ones,” Foutz said. “It’s just one of those things that happens every couple of years.
“I caught three big ones and jumped off two other really big ones, so I could have had a really big day.”
Fishing in Lake Dora, Foutz watched the subsurface activity on his Garmin Panoptix LiveScope and caught his fish on a gizzard shad-colored jerkbait and a Texas-rigged Zoom Magnum Trick Worm in the red shad color.
Day 1 leader Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., is in third place with 37-5. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro held the top spot after Thursday’s opening round with 24 pounds, but he managed only 13-5 Friday.
“Today was the second day after a (cold) front and it was really slick and calm, so they didn’t bite as well,” Walters said. “Also, we had some muddy water and I didn’t relocate them until (late in the day).
“At 4:30, I moved farther into the little cove I was fishing and caught five fish in a row and saw more swimming by. I caught a good bag on Day 1 and I knew I couldn’t do that again unless something magic happened.”
Charles Proctor of Conway, S.C., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-0 largemouth.
Paul Gelles of Pingree, Idaho, won the co-angler division with a two-day total of 21-2. Gelles placed 14th on Day 1 with 10-13 and added 10-5 Friday to claim the victory. Charles Crumpton of Ocklawaha, Fla., won the Phoenix Boats Big Bass competition among co-anglers with a 9-1 largemouth.
The Top 10 anglers in the boater division will take off at 6:45 a.m. ET Saturday from Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be held at Bass Pro Shops in Orlando at 4 p.m.
This year’s Opens circuit includes three divisions — Southern, Central and Northern — with three events in each. All nine tournament winners will earn an automatic berth to the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk if they fish all events in their division. Additionally, the Top 3 finishers from each division’s points standings will receive an invitation to fish the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series, as will the Top 3 from the overall standings accumulated in all three divisions.
The Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year title will award a $10,000 prize to the overall points winner in the boater division. The top co-angler will have entry fees into the Opens division of his or her choice fully paid for a value of approximately $5,400.
Lake County and the City of Leesburg are hosting the tournament.