Gallery: Kyle Austin practices on Harris Chain

Join Bassmaster Opens EQ pro Kyle Austin as he searches the Harris Chain of Lakes for the group of largemouth that will help him seal a berth in the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Just before daybreak on Tuesday, Ridgeville, S.C. native Kyle Austin is ready to hit the water for his fourth practice day ahead of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at the Harris Chain of Lakes, the final Open of the 2023 season. Austin enters the event in eighth place in the EQ standings, currently inside the Elite Series cut for 2024. He is far from safe, however, as he holds just a 24-point lead over Wesley Gore in 11th, who is the first man out of the cut as it stands.
“The goal this week was to not really get it in my head that I’m in the Elite cut,” Austin said. “I wanted to show up here like I was still 40 points out. That is what I’ve done all year, and it has worked so far. A lot of guys will let it get to them and they will play it safe, and that will usually result in their worst tournament of the year. My goal this week was to find the fish to win like I do every tournament.”
This is not his first time in central Florida. Austin competed on the Harris Chain in his first full season as an Opens pro in 2021 and has made a couple trips since, but never this time of year. So far, he has visited almost every one of the seven eligible lakes that make up this week’s playing field. Many anglers anticipated this event was going to be one of the best of the year. So far, Austin has found it isn’t particularly easy to get a bite, let alone a big one.
“The first couple days were pretty good. But it has just gotten tougher and tougher and now I am to where I need to get bites just to figure out how to catch a couple fish,” he said.
After retying and adjusting some tackle, Austin began to pick apart a grass flat.
Starting close by is Austin’s travel partner Sam George, who sits in 12th in the EQ standings.
Unlike his visit in 2021, he hasn’t found much submergent hydrilla in the areas he’s practiced so far. He remarked that this particular stretch is some of the best he’s seen so far. The water clarity on the lakes also has Austin a bit concerned. Normally relatively clear, a lot of the areas Austin has visited on the Harris Chain so far have been pretty dirty.
After moving through the area with no action, Austin quickly scanned around before putting his Falcon Boat on plane. “I don’t have a lot of experience here, but the last Open I was here for, there was a lot of grass. Every lake had good, healthy hydrilla and eelgrass. This year, it is very sparse. I was here in February for another tournament and there was not much grass then and it looks similar now.”
His second stop of the morning creates a bit more optimism. On his first cast, Austin hooked and lost a bass he believed to be around 4 pounds. The very next cast resulted in a quality keeper. With other competitors around, subtilty is the best defense.
With several bites under his belt, Austin quickly exited the area and moved to a stretch of Kissimmee grass. His biggest bites the first couple days of practice came while flipping and Austin believes there are several big bags to be caught fishing this way.
In the process of breaking down the Kissimmee grass, Austin also keeps an eye on his Humminbird MEGA 360, which reveals several shellbeds close to the grass. Neither the grass nor the shellbeds in this area yield a bite, however.
After another quick move, Austin hooked up again and lands his biggest bass of the day. This is a pattern that he will test a couple more times throughout the morning.
Austin snaps one more picture before releasing the bass back in the lake. While optimistic, he is looking for bass much bigger.
A short time later, he hooks up again, less pleased with the size this time.
That bass was relating to another shellbed Austin was able to locate with his MEGA360, which you can see here.
With a couple clues in hand, Austin goes back to idling, looking for isolated cover that could hold quality largemouth. On Saturday, the beginning of practice, Austin observed water temperatures around the mid-80s. Now on Tuesday, temperatures have dropped to around 75 degrees.
As the sun and temperature rise, boat traffic begins to increase. A mixture of pontoons and bass boats race across the lakes on a beautiful October day.
Recreation, whether by boat or by plane, will likely decrease in the coming days as a storm system from the Gulf of Mexico makes its way through the area. Heavy rain, thunderstorms and gusty winds are forecasted to accompany this system, throwing a curveball to anglers looking to excel in the Open. Combine that with the already tough conditions, Austin isn’t quite sure how the weather will affect the bass.
“Everyone is talking about how this is a fall tournament, I think this is a late summer tournament for Florida,” Austin said. “I don’t think we are anywhere near the fall fishing. They traditionally catch them really well in the fall. I think this is more of a late summer tournament and it is tough. The wind on Day 1 will make it hard for the anglers to catch them. Florida fish and smallmouth are very similar: they like the sunshine.”
Just before noon, Austin locates another stretch of thick hydrilla but struggles to generate bites. He can see several bass on his Garmin LiveScope, but can’t convince any to bite. The water is dingy, and he becomes less hopeful about this area by the minute. “It is the fall transition and Florida fish are a lot weirder,” he said.
Strands of hydrilla float on the surface.
After about 20 minutes without a bite, Austin pulls the trolling motor out of the grass and heads outs.
Time for a quick lunch break and a change of scenery.
With very little to show during the morning session of his practice day, Austin has become a bit more concerned about what is to come on tournament day. Much of his future will be determined at the Harris Chain, and without a sure-fire way to get a limit, he’s anxious.
“I think 12 to 13 pounds will be a really solid day,” Austin remarks. “Florida is a cool place where you can catch 8 pounds the first day and still get paid. You can still make the cut. You saw it last year with Logan Latuso at Rayburn. He caught two fish on Day 1, was way out of the Elite cut and then catches 31 pounds on Day 2 and jumps all the way into the lead. Now he’s on the Elite Series. Something very similar can happen here and is probably going to happen to somebody.”
There are still several hours of daylight left, however, and Austin is hopeful his next destination on the Harris Chain will give him some answers and path forward towards Elite qualification.
You can follow Kyle Austin’s progress all week long on as well as Austin’s social media platforms.