The Harris Chain of Lakes is primed and ready for what could be one of the greatest sight fishing tournaments in recent years — the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain.
There will be a full moon the day before the event begins. A cold front came through last week, and relatively cold weather for the last month has held that first big wave of spawners back.
On the eve of the second stop of the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series, a warming trend is in the forecast. Daytime highs are creeping into the 80s, and nightly lows are stabilizing around 60. Conversely, surface temperatures are averaging in the low 60s and rising.
The perfect storm is in place to see an epic tourney. There are always uncontrolled variables that can change the playing field. Here are some to consider.
Wind was on the minds of many Elite anglers at the midway point of official practice. Wind is the main variable left hanging out there, and it’s running these guys crazy. Countless times the last few days anglers have checked and re-checked weather forecasts, comparing this app with that app. They’re concerned more at this point with which way and how hard the wind will blow, having given up all hope days ago that it will simply lay down.
“I looked at the extended forecast about a week and a half ago, and I thought this might be the perfect storm,” said native Floridian Scott Martin. “I thought it could really turn into the most epic thing ever. Now, all of sudden we’re looking at the weather, and there’s a lot more wind in the forecast than what we thought.”
With steady winds throughout practice and winds forecasted for Thursday at 10- to 30-miles per hour or more, it’s not just about finding fish at this point, but more about finding fish you can get to and catch come tournament time.
“The wind is really going to complicate things,” said Martin. “I think sight fishing is definitely going to be the main gig, but the wind is going to cut down where you can do it on the main lakes by half.”
There’s a lot of water available to the anglers this week, with eight primary lakes in the Harris Chain: Apopka, Harris, Griffin, Eustis, Dora, Beauclair, Carlton and Yale. But with the wind, it’s going to be hard to see what’s happening on many of the main shorelines. There are, however, somewhat protected canal systems that connect the lakes as well as canals that make their way back into communities along the shores of these lakes. The canals are where many anglers will seek refuge from the wind to try to sight fish, but even this plan isn’t foolproof, according to Martin.
“Depending on which direction the canals lay, there’s going be a lot of ripples in them too.”
Making things even more difficult, the wind is forecasted to change directions near the start of the event.
“It’s kind of a bad scenario,” said Martin. “We have had real strong northeast winds in practice, and then we have south winds coming for the tournament.”
This means the fish anglers are finding on bed in protected areas now may be blown out come time for the tournament to start, if the winds really do shift as predicted. Protected areas are catching the worst of the wind now, which makes it hard for anglers to practice there. It seems though that the best strategy would be to practice where the wind is now and hope these areas are calm come time for the tournament as predicted.
“The banks that could be protected during the tournament are getting beat up pretty good,” Martin said. “So, it could stir the water up to a point where it may take a day or two for it to settle out.”
“Even though the moon and all that is setting up well, it could be a frustrating sight fishing event.”
Martin’s solution is keeping an open mind.
“Offshore grass is going to be a big deal, it always is,” said Martin. “You look back on the history of the Harris Chain, and I honestly don’t think it’s ever been won just sight fishing. It’s usually won offshore with some kind of moving bait. And I really think there’s a good chance it could be won again like that.”
Though the fish are wanting to spawn around lily pads and other shallow vegetation, Martin believes the wind will run a lot of bass out of the shallows and thinks that “fishing blind” will be key as well this week.
We watched last week as John Crews expertly junk fished his way to his second Bassmaster Elite Series title on the St. Johns River under ever-changing conditions, fishing several different patterns and catching fish in a wide variety of ways. Martin believes the wild card of wind this week has the Harris Chain setting up well to see that happen again.
“Winning it in one spot might be a little hard for this one,” said Martin. “This fishery has so many lakes, and there’s little key things to do in all of them.”
Martin believes there’s a good chance the angler who comes out on top this week will do so by mixing things up. The key will be finding a few sight fish and then developing a pattern, allowing himself to catch fish each day on new lakes based on how the weather sets up and what the fish start doing.
What the wind will do these last few hours leading up to the tournament is yet to be seen. The water clarity on several parts of the lake has already diminished throughout practice however, so the negative effects of the wind are starting to show up. But, for all we know the wind could still lay down and turn the weekend into a sight fishing slugfest by Day 2 or 3. All the other pieces of the puzzle are there.
One thing is for certain, whether the anglers see them before they bite or not this week, there will be some really big fish caught. Only time will tell if the majority come by way of sight fishing or fishing blind, for spawning bass that are unseen.