With a three-day total of 54 pounds, 14 ounces, local pro John Cox is still leading the FLW Tour event presented by Ranger on the Harris Chain by just a smidge over 2 pounds. But after a meager day three, he is now charged with the task of holding off a pack of marauders waiting for him to make another misstep on Sunday. The trouble for Cox is that the other top five are all within 3-1/2 pounds, which isn’t a huge obstacle in Florida.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the top five plan to move in on Cox’s lead Sunday.
2. Shane LeHew – Catawba, N.C. – 52-12
At only 2 pounds, 2 ounces back, Shane LeHew is the closest to catching the leader. Even though his weights have dropped each day, Saturday he took a 4-pound chunk out of Cox’s margin.
LeHew is in a productive area. He has fish doing a little bit of everything all around him, from spawning fish to shad-spawn fish to open-water schoolers. Catching fish is not a problem, but size is. He did jump off a 4-pounder Saturday, but he didn’t make contact with any Florida giants that could close the gap fast.
“I caught two flipping pads almost immediately,” LeHew says. “Then a shad spawn started happening all around me, so I picked up a [lipless crankbait] and finished my limit quickly. Then they started schooling out a little farther and I caught a bunch of small fish. So I’m around a lot of fish, but if I’m going to catch John I’m going to need some of those big ones.”
This is the first time LeHew has been this close to hunting down a Tour win.
“I’m just going to go out there and fish calm and do what I can,” LeHew adds. “The thing with John tomorrow is he knows where to scramble and I don’t. All I can do is keep my head down and fish the area I have.”
3. Matt Reed – Madisonville, Texas – 52-8
As the final day of the Harris Chain event unfolds Sunday, the man to watch will be Matt Reed. Each day Reed’s weights have gotten stronger, with limits of 16-6, 17-8 and 18-10, respectively, putting him just 2 pounds, 6 ounces behind Cox.
Interestingly, with all the sight-fishing, pad pitching and winding going on in Harris and Griffin, Reed is the “kid doing his own thing,” in Eustis.
“I haven’t seen many tournament boats this week,” Reed says. “Other than the recreation traffic buzzing by me all day, I’ve been by myself.”
Reed’s primary play in Eustis has been dragging a Carolina rig on shell bars and rough spots.
“I just didn’t want to get caught up in that sight-fishing game here,” Reed says. “So I kept looking out. On the final day of practice, I started side scanning out offshore and began to get a feel for what those hard spots and shell beds looked like. After I got bit on a few them, I spent the rest of the day just idling and looking. I ended up finding about 30 hard spots and I’ve narrowed it down to about six really good ones.”
Reed believes the fish are retreating to the shell beds after the spawn and has high hopes they are replenishing. If his weights are any indication, he is right.
“I really think they’re coming out there to me,” he says. “I might not catch a fish tomorrow, but I’m pretty excited about getting out there and seeing if there are any left.”
4. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 51-13
Bryan Thrift should just change his address to PO Box Top-5, FLW Lane, since that’s where he lives all of the time these days.
Thrift dragged another 15 pounds to the scales Saturday to make yet another top five and give Cox a little something to think about going into Sunday.
All week Thrift has made a living in Lake Griffin, cranking and winding. When things came to a halt on his best place Saturday, he put the winding baits down, picked up a 5.5-inch Damiki Stinger with a light weight and proceeded to catch a pair of fish in the 3- to 4-pound class to close out his day.
5. Bradley Dortch – Atmore, Ala. – 51-7
Bradley Dortch moved up to his best position of the week – fourth – with a 15-1 catch Saturday.
After getting off to a rough start by losing his first two quality fish, Dortch finally capitalized on a 7-pounder that anchored his limit.
Dortch has made Florida fishing really simple: He’s running a one-two punch of trapping outside grass or pitching pads, which produced his big fish Saturday.
“I’m just going back and forth between the techniques based on conditions,” Dortch says. “If there is a little wind on the water, I’ll crank that trap. If it gets still and slick, I’ll pitch pads.”