Elite Lakes: A Travel Guide to the Harris Chain

While the city of Leesburg hosts the different B.A.S.S. events generally in the spring months, there are plenty of reasons to visit the area year-round.

The Harris Chain — this legendary cluster of eight bonafide bucket list bass fisheries anchors Central Florida’s thriving angling community. A regular feature on the Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Opens, the Harris Chain is also a hub of activity for local and regional bass clubs year-round. And there’s good reason too — when these lakes are full of vegetation, they’re absolutely brimming with high quality, hard-fighting Florida bass.

While the city of Leesburg hosts the 2024 Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain in April, there are plenty of reasons to visit the area year-round.

Getting your grub on

Fuel up on traditional American bar food at Hurricane Dockside Grill in Tavares, home of a monster bacon cheeseburger loaded with fried egg, onion rings, enormous beer pretzels and baskets of loaded nachos. This national chain has made itself at home on the Dead River Canal between Lake Eustis and Lake Harris, making it an easy pit stop in between waypoints.

Not far from the shores of Lake Harris proper, Luna Azul Authentic Mexican in Leesburg has garnered a mythical status among bass fishing photographers for healthy servings of frozen margaritas, top-tier chips and salsa and a legendary carne asada burrito loco. Save this one for the postgame.

Celebrate a new personal best at the Goblin Market Restaurant & Lounge in Mount Dora. Handmade craft cocktails — think of a honey crisp old fashioned, strawberry-yuzu vodka sour or tiki-inspired vida verde — highlight a menu headlined by more refined options like petite filet chèvre, New Zealand rack of lamb and honey-lavender duck breast served in a laid-back setting that’s part Cracker Barrel and part French farmhouse. Dinner reservations recommended.

In no small part thanks to the proliferation of Rock N’ Roll Sushi locations spread throughout the bass fishing homeland of Alabama, Elite Series pros and support systems have a delayed love affair with sushi. Satisfy your own sushi craving at Wave Asian Bistro & Sushi, where sashimi and rolls pair perfectly with spicy butter krab bao buns, street corn and pork gyoza. Wave serves everything from sushi pizza to sushi burritos and donuts (surprisingly delicious).

Cabins, campsites and comfortable confines

Vacation rentals abound around the Harris Chain, some offering waterfront views and personal docks for a premium. However, more traditional confines like a Best Western, Hampton Inn and Comfort Suites are clustered in Leesburg offering reliable, if unexciting, lodging options.

For the more adventurous, Lake Griffin State Park provides the opportunity to slide into a shaded campsite beside one of the largest and oldest live oaks in Florida. Campsites here can accommodate both RVs and camper trucks. On-site showers and a double-wide boat ramp add to the allure.

During peak season, the 889-site Encore Southern Palms RV Resort provides a respite among the pines. This sprawling RV park features an on-site clubhouse with a fitness center, swimming pool and hot tub as well as Wi-Fi and laundry facilities. Both gravel pads for RVs and a limited number of motel rooms are available.

Nearby Fisherman’s Cove Marina harbors more than 300 campsites on concrete pads alongside 60 boat slips and a marine fuel station. A nine-hole golf course provides a year-round escape from harder days on the water, while annual golf cart drive-in movies from December to May provide fun for the family.

More family fun

Named for a landmark 184-foot hill, the town of Mount Dora is a quaint callback to America’s Main Street yesteryear. Though Leesburg is typically the hub of tournament activity on the Harris Chain, Mount Dora is flourishing with actives for a family escape. The Lake Dora Historic District features dozens of well-preserved historic homes and commercial buildings that merge into a walkable downtown brimming with antique shops and eateries.

The Mount Dora Trolley provides a one-hour historic tour twice daily, and Mount Dora Transit provides golf cart tours to the town’s historic sites — including the oldest inland yacht club in Florida. Make time to take a selfie with Old Joe, the 15-foot bronze alligator eternally sunning on the Palm Island Boardwalk. Swing by Renninger’s Flea and Farmer’s Market where a 200-booth antique mall filled with all manner of tackle shop oddities awaits.

Strap yourself to an outboard motor and a pair of pontoons on a Catboat tour of the Dora Canal. CatBoat Adventures operates this wild, unique way to navigate the Harris Chain’s smaller canals and tributaries via two-person catamarans

Near Leesburg, Flat Island Nature Preserve gives travelers a chance to stroll through sandy, single-track trails beneath swaying palms. Try the Daubenmire Trail for a fast, 3.7-mile loop maintained by the Florida Trail Association.

Wildlife fans can wander nearly endlessly inside Seminole State Forest, near Eustis. This labyrinth of hammocks, sand hills, wetlands and hidden springs harbors more than 20 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Keep an eye out for Florida scrub jays, red-headed woodpeckers, indigo buntings and nighthawks.