Any time there is a Florida tournament on the schedule, John Cox is bound to be high on the list of favorites. That proved true coming into the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite on the Harris Chain of Lakes this week and for good reason. The sunshine state native is not only one of the best sight fishing and shallow water anglers on planet earth, but he also has over 25 years of experience fishing the puzzle that is the Harris Chain.
“The first time I fished this place I was 11 or 12 years old,” Cox recalled. “My mom and I came and put in at this very boat launch (Venetian Gardens). We brought my dad’s 1990 silver minivan and took both back bench seats out of the car so we could fit our 12-foot aluminum row boat in the back of the van.
“We got the boat in the water, used oars to row out of this bay over to 9th Street canal, and I caught two fish on a lipless crankbait. I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Cox told this story just minutes before takeoff for Day 2 of competition with the same big smile and sunny disposition he seemingly always has. If he was feeling any nerves, he certainly wasn’t showing it. Cox has since upgraded the minivan to a 2021 Toyota Tundra to tow his Crestliner boat around the country. His Tundra earned him an extra $2,000 of Toyota Bonus Bucks last week for his fourth-place finish on the St. Johns River.
John Crews took home the tournament trophy and the first-place Bonus Bucks payout, but Cox wasn’t complaining with his earnings for being the second highest finishing participant in the popular contingency program.
The Berkley Fishing pro is off to another solid start this week after weighing more than 18 pounds yesterday, but he knows the opportunity for a much bigger bag of fish exists on the Harris Chain.
“Honestly we didn’t really show the potential of this place yesterday,” Cox said. “I mean, I saw lots of fish over 8 pounds in practice, including one like 12-pounder. I have no idea how big she really is, but she looked as long as my leg and the day I found her she was ready to eat.”
Unfortunately, Cox experienced what many Elite Series pros mentioned on stage yesterday … the big females being vacant from their beds. With a full moon, a warming trend, over 60-degree waters temps and fresh spawning beds spread throughout this fishery famous for sight fishing, it’s easy to see why many anglers were scratching their heads.
“In my opinion, I think it has a lot to do with boat pressure,” Cox explained. “The canals and some of the more historical spawning areas received a lot of pressure during practice. I was shocked at how many people I was seeing, and those big girls just won’t hang around when that’s going on.”
Cox isn’t letting absence of big female bass on Day 1 discourage him, however, as it can happen at any time. He proved that last week on Day 3 of the St. Johns River event when he brought over 30 pounds of sight-fished bass to the scales and rocketed himself up the leaderboard. If the females up shallow get in a better mood, there are few anglers better equipped to put them in the boat than John Cox.
“I’m just going to stay optimistic and keep my head down,” Cox said. “I’ll see how many miles I can cruise on my trolling motor and try to find a pocket of fresh fish that haven’t been messed with. If I can do that, it can go down in a hurry.”