Following a warm winter, the FLW Tour landed at the Harris Chain at the tail end of the bass spawn. While there were still a few fish on beds early in the event, by day three it became apparent that those who were working the offshore game plans were ahead of the curve. Tournament winner Bradley Dortch had the perfect strategy of milking the last of the spawn the first day or two and then transitioning to offshore locations to catch the return wave of postspawn bass over the final two days.
Dortch was not alone in his approach. In fact, the top 10 was full of pros who worked a similar strategy.
JT Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., was having a pretty decent tournament right up until the last day, when things suddenly got a whole lot better.
Kenney toted the tournament’s biggest limit – 27 pounds, 3 ounces – to the scale to come from ninth place to within 2 pounds of winning the whole shooting match.
Kenney fished a pretty strong tournament on days one and two, blind-casting and pitching to bedding fish in eelgrass and pads in Harris to the tune of 16-12 and 17-14, respectively, to put him in seventh place at halftime. He caught those fish on a Texas-rigged Gambler Fat Ace (black/blue/green pumpkin) teamed with a 3/16-ounce Reins tungsten on a Halo Titanium Series flipping stick.
After catching just 10 pounds on day three by blind bed-fishing, Kenney decided to run to Griffin on the final day.
“It’s not like I was saving anything up there in Griffin,” Kenney says. “I practiced up there and found a few shell beds I figured might come in handy at some point. Once I only caught 10 pounds in Harris the third day and was in ninth, I figured I had nowhere to go but up. Why not gamble on those shell beds in Griffin? And apparently there were a few big ones on the shells.”
Kenney caught the giant limit by cranking lipless rattlers and dragging a Carolina rig over the shells. His lipless baits included a Strike King Red Eye Shad and a BOOYAH Hard Knocker fished on 20-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper. The Carolina rig was assembled with a 5/8-ounce Reins tungsten and a Gambler Fat Ace.
After leading the tournament for three days, John Cox of nearby Debary, Fla., fell to third on day four with a tournament total of 69 pounds, 1 ounce.
Cox preyed on the tail end of the spawn for the first two days, sacking up 25-11 and 18-15. But on day three his sight-fishing bite started to fizzle. Cox was betting on a fresh wave of new fish on the impending full moon, but the wave did not bring new ones in fast enough.
When sight-fishing, Cox primarily relied on a wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senko and a 5/16-ounce Dirty Jigs Tackle jig teamed with a craw to pick on bedding bass in lakes Dora, Apopka and the canal that connects the two.
Shane LeHew of Catawba, N.C., turned in the best performance of his FLW Tour career with a total of 66 pounds, 1 ounce.
LeHew spent the majority of his week fishing in the back end of Little Lake Harris where he caught fish by blind-casting to pads and by targeting bass that were feeding on a shad spawn or schooling.
“They were doing a little bit of everything back there,” LeHew says. “From spawning to schooling and everywhere in between.”
LeHew started the week sight-fishing canals using a Bizz Baits Killer Craw (white) to pester fish on beds. Then he moved out and pitched pads with a Bizz Baits Sassy Stick (junebug) with a 3/16-ounce weight on 16-pound-test Gamma to catch some bedders he couldn’t see. By the third day the shad spawn started blowing up around him, and he switched lures again to an original XCalibur One Knocker (gold and black) to weed through little fish for bigger bites.
“At times I was catching seven or eight fish in a row back there,” LeHew says. “Most of them were small, but every once in a while a 4- or 5-pounder would bite and help the cause big time.”
Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, “shelled” his way to fifth place with a total of 64 pounds, 14 ounces.
Reed dragged shell bars and “hard spots” in 3 to 6 feet of water in Lake Eustis. He used a Carolina rigged Zoom Trick Worm.
Reed found the hard fish-holding spots by side-scanning for an entire afternoon on the final day of practice. He scaled down his Carolina-rigging tackle, using 14-pound-test main line and 12-pound-test line for his leader, saying he felt like it earned him a few more bites with Florida’s heavily pressured bass.
Bryan Thrift collected yet another FLW Tour top 10 (his seventh in the last two seasons), finishing sixth with a total of 64 pounds, 9 ounces.
Thrift spent his week fishing a few choice offshore grass beds in Griffin. He preferred to wind a 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait with a Damiki Armor Shad trailer and a square-bill crankbait on 15-pound-test P-Line. He did his ChatterBait work with a Fitzgerald Rods Bryan Thrift Series frog rod. When conditions got slick and the winding baits wouldn’t produce anymore, Thrift resorted to a Damiki 5.5 Stinger (green pumpkin), which he rigged with a 1/8-ounce weight and 20-pound-test P-line. Thrift fished the worm with a Fitzgerald Rods 7-foot, heavy Stunner HD.
On the final day, Thrift felt like some of his offshore areas were tapped out. With the cloud cover, he went to the bank with a popping frog. He used the popping frog to tease fish up and then cast back on them with the Stinger to get them to bite.
Chris Whitson of Louisville, Tenn., caught a total of 62 pounds, 14 ounces to finish seventh.
Whitson ran to Griffin each day where he mostly reeled a BOOYAH One Knocker (Tennessee blush) through hydrilla and eelgrass for postspawn bass. He fished the One Knocker on 17-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon on a Dixie Custom Rods Meatstick.
To take advantage of the low-light conditions on the final day, Whitson pulled out some topwater tools, including a Strike King Sexy Dawg (oyster) and a SPRO Bronzeye Pop (nasty shad).
Joshua Weaver of Macon, Ga., caught a 22-pound bag on day two that rocketed him into the top 10. He ended up eighth with a total of 57-10.
Weaver did most of his big-fish damage winding a 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait teamed with a Zoom Swimmin’ Super Fluke (Houdini) on 20-pound-test Seaguar fluorocarbon. He spent a lot of time fishing in Little Lake Harris, where a sporadic shad spawn was occurring on the edge of Kissimmee grass. On Weaver’s best day, the wind was pushing into the Kissimmee grass just right to help turn on his ChatterBait bite.
Rookie pro Aaron Britt of Yuba City, Calif., posted his first top-10 finish in FLW Tour competition with a total of 56 pounds, 3 ounces.
Britt caught one of the biggest bass of the tournament on day three. It weighed nearly 10 pounds and helped him to slip into the top 10.
During the week Britt split his time between Griffin and Harris. He fished offshore grass beds with a variety of winding baits, including a BOOYAH One Knocker and a 6th Sense Snatch 70X, both on 15-pound-test Seaguar InvizX.
“I used the Snatch 70 more in the open water early in the mornings, when the fish were roaming a bit more,” Britt says. “Once the sun got up, I’d focus more on thicker offshore grass, and that’s when I’d switch to the One Knocker.”
The big bass fell victim to the One Knocker.
Britt’s other offshore tools included a 4.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT (gold flash shiner) fished on a 1/4-ounce Owner Beast Flashy Swimmer tied to 17-pound-test Seaguar InvizX, as well as a 5 1/2-inch Yamamoto Swim Senko with a 1/8-ounce weight.
Rusty Trancygier of Hahira, Ga., finished 10th with a total of 54 pounds, 14 ounces.
Trancygier split his time between Harris and Griffin. In the latter, he fished hydrilla and eelgrass with a Zoom Magnum Ultravibe Speed Worm and a Gambler Burner Worm (junebug), both with a 3/16-ounce weight. He slowly reeled each one through the grass. When fishing in Harris, Trancygier pitched pads with a Yamamoto Senko (black) and a 5/16-ounce tungsten weight.
Trancygier also visited some backwater marsh areas where he threw a weightless Zoom Super Fluke (watermelon red) for fry guarders.