Salewske Cracks 26 at Harris Chain - Major League Fishing

Salewske Cracks 26 at Harris Chain

Pretty much everyone caught ‘em on day one in Florida
Image for Salewske Cracks 26 at Harris Chain
Rusty Salewske Photo by Charles Waldorf. Angler: Rusty Salewske.
February 20, 2020 • Justin Onslow • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

Rusty Salewske is, by his own admission, not a “Florida guy.” The Alpine, Calif., pro, who last fished the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit in 2011 before returning for this season, doesn’t have local knowledge. He’s not someone who will get intimidated by Florida fish in the face of a cold front, either.

Knowing what he knows and doing what he likes to do, Salewske weighed in 26 pounds, 10 ounces to take the lead on day one of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event on the Harris Chain, which is presented by Bad Boy Mowers.

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“I don’t know enough about Florida to know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he says. “It’s known for fair-weather fish; they like it sunny and nice. But if they’re there, I think I can make them bite.”

That’s not to say Salewske hasn’t spent his fair share of time in the Sunshine State, bit his previous experiences haven’t been as pleasant as sacking up a 26-plus-pound bag. Far from it.

“In general, I struggle in Florida,” he admits. “I usually win practice, then the weather changes – like it is supposed to tomorrow – and then I catch like 10 pounds. I caught them once at Okeechobee in my three visits there and got a good check. In that one, practice was terrible. I was catching 12-inchers the whole time, and then during the tournament they came to me.”

Salewske’s practice this week was no exception. On day one of practice, the 54-year-old pro caught about 15 fish, including a 6-pounder, a couple 4-pounders and a “bunch of little ones.” From then on, he was shaking off everything that bit.

In previous events in Florida, that would maybe spell disaster for Salewske come tournament time. Not so this time around.

“After I caught them today, it just happened,” he says. “It’ll never happen like that again. Twenty-six pounds is hard to do. But, after that, I went practicing, and I had a secondary pattern that was working today, so, I’m excited. If my area is no good in the morning – I’ve got another four spots that I think might be good – but if all that is no good in the morning, I found another pattern for tomorrow, and I’m excited about that.”

Rusty Salewske

Salewske’s special spot was just what some anglers might think is a run-of-the-mill offshore spot, but it’s been stacked with fish, potentially staging to move up to spawn – or maybe just a lucky school. Salewske’s not willing to bet on either.

“I caught seven fish there by about 8:30,” he adds. “I culled a 3-pounder with a 4-pounder, and I told my Marshal I’m done. It was stupid to keep catching them, so I’m hoping – I don’t know this place well enough – I don’t know if there are more there or if a school just swam up or if they’re staging. I don’t know, but I’ll find out tomorrow.”

After Salewske caught his limit early, he spent the rest of the day “practicing.” He was just looking for new water and a secondary pattern he hopes might hold up if his primary spot fails him. With a major front rolling in overnight, it can’t hurt to have a little extra in his bag of tricks.

While Salewske may not be a Florida guy, he certainly knows what baits work on the Harris Chain and other similar fisheries. He caught all his fish on day one on a “dark-colored” Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm, a Zoom Trick Worm or a Zoom Brush Hog, Texas-rigged with a 1/4-ounce weight – typical Florida stuff from a California pro.

Salewske is playing it cool about the cold front moving in, but he seems to have good reason to.

“I’m comfortable knowing that I have the secondary pattern to run, though, because I can do that all over the lake,” he says. “Three different spots in a row I got bit doing it. You’ve got to be around them to get bit, and I found something that I can do – doesn’t matter if there is wind, rain, whatever.”

That’s good news all around with a lead to protect – a lead that’s razor-thin thanks to a 26-8 bag second-year pro Miles Burghoff weighed not long after him. Still, Salewske isn’t going to let a little pressure or his history in Florida beat him up this week.

“I found four areas that I really like, but I only fished one today,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean anything. At least I have fresh water to go to. I’ll start my day tomorrow in the area that I fished today, and then just go bounce in those other spots and see what that brings.”

Simple enough. And it’s hard to argue with a 26-plus-pound bag and a pro who has a score to settle in not-so-sunny Florida.


Miles Burghoff

2. Miles Burghoff – Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. – 26-8 (5)

Second-year pro Miles Burghoff bounced back from a bad practice this week to weigh in 26-8 on day one, and he did it slowly but surely, one upgrade at a time.

“Pretty much right at 9:30 I was starting to catch them,” he says of his Thursday morning. “This practice I was pretty scatterbrained. Every single time I found myself on a lake during practice I’d want to go to another lake, so I never really got in a groove and was able to slow down and figure out the fish.”

He managed to figure out something, though, and it’s potentially something he can expand on tomorrow.

“I really don’t think I can duplicate it tomorrow in that area,” he adds. “I can duplicate it some other places. I’m pretty much going to have to wing it tomorrow to find more fish.”

Burghoff thinks his best area will be beat up tomorrow, mostly from pressure. Luckily, he has a pattern he thinks he can duplicate elsewhere on the chain.

“I’m essentially just flipping and just trying to cover water,” he says. “Today, I ended up catching one off a bed that was my biggest – maybe my second biggest.

“I’m fishing reeds and a mixture of reeds and lily pads, just fishing for bedding fish that I’m not able to see.”

The one Burghoff caught sight-fishing was the first fish he’s ever caught sight-fishing in Florida, and it was a good one – close to 7 pounds. The Tennessee pro is tight-lipped about his bait selection, but does admit his primary bait of choice today was a Texas-rigged Z-Man soft plastic.


Jared McMillan

3. Jared McMillan – Belle Glade, Fla. – 22-1 (5)

While Jared McMillan, who calls Okeechobee his home lake, is plenty familiar with the Harris Chain, he doesn’t have much experience fishing it amidst a cold front. That didn’t seem to bother him today, but he’s apprehensive about what it will mean on day two.

“I don’t have a lot of experience here on cold fronts, so that’s going to be all new to me,” he says. “An Okeechobee cold front would mess them up pretty bad.”

Even so, McMillan had a good start to his day on Thursday, landing a couple small keepers while essentially killing time targeting a shad spawn and waiting to lock into Apopka. Those fish allowed the 24-year-old pro to settle in and fish with more confidence and less pressure.

“I got down there and pulled up on my first stretch and got a bite – it was a 3 1/2-pounder. From there it was one every hour or so. I got eight bites. Overall, not too bad.”

Those eight bites were the right ones, and most of them came from blind-fishing several grass patches where he thought fish might be bedding. He didn’t get a look at any of his fish until they were in the boat, but he has a pretty good idea of what to target to find those fish based on bottom composition.

As with most anglers in the top five, McMillan is guarding his day one bait selection with some secrecy. All he’ll divulge is that he caught his fish on a couple different Texas-rigged Strike King soft plastics.

As for the areas he fished day one, McMillan says most of them will likely be “torn up” tomorrow, so he’ll be looking for some new water and hoping his 22-plus-pound day-one bag can sustain him into the weekend.


Grae Buck

4. Grae Buck – Green Lane, Pa. – 21-7 (5)

Asked what Grae Buck’s plan is to build off a strong showing on day one come Friday, the Pennsylvania pro had a novel answer:

“I’m going to go try to get my limit quick again and then go catch a couple big ones,” he quips.

Simple enough. That’s a good plan no matter where you’re fishing.

For Buck, though, Harris isn’t just another fishery. He’s had a tough time fishing in Florida in the past, and he’s happy to have gotten that monkey off his back on Thursday.

“It’s about time in Florida,” he jokes. “This place had kicked my butt the other three time I’ve been here.”

Buck didn’t just luck into a few good bites, either. He caught “25 or 30” fish off his first spot, though most of them were small, and a timely 4-pounder kept him hanging around that spot late into the morning.

From there, Buck started expanding on his area and his pattern, working a large grass flat with a white and silver Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Z-Man Razor ShadZ trailer and also with a lipless crankbait.

Buck plans to replicate that pattern tomorrow in the same area he eventually moved to and fished for about two hours on Thursday. Because there’s not much pressure in that area and because the forecasted wind (potentially up to 25 mph on Friday) shouldn’t do much to affect the positioning of those fish, he’s fairly confident he can weigh in another good bag on day two.


Robert Nakatomi

5. Robert Nakatomi – Sacramento, Calif. – 21-5 (5)

Sometimes persistence pays off. At least that was the case for Pro Circuit rookie Robert Nakatomi on Thursday.

Despite telling himself he wasn’t going to chase around bed fish to start his tournament, Nakatomi stumbled upon what he thought was a quality fish while beating the bank. After making a couple passes in that area, he spotted a different fish on a bed – a 7-pounder – and went to work.

Nakatomi leaned on a Texas rig and a drop-shot to coerce the fish into finally biting after about two hours of working on it.

“I fished it for about two hours on a bed and then I fished the other one for about an hour,” he says. “Once I got that one to bite, I knew I could get the other one to bite.”

Both fish turned out to be in the 7-pound range, helping him piece together a solid day-one bag. Nakatomi also made the decision to make a 20- to 30-minute run at the end of the day to cull up about half a pound. It might not seem like a crucial decision on its face, but every ounce counts in what might prove to be a difficult tournament for most of the field.

“One thing that played in my mind is that I have people mentoring me and helping me out with the mental aspect of fishing,” he explains. “Multiple guys with a lot of experience told me a lot of these tournaments are ‘flip-flop.’ You see a guy with 21 pounds and then 10 or 8 pounds the next day and you’re never out of it. It’s usually one fish that decides your bag.”

Nakatomi isn’t too worried about what the weather will do on Friday, and he’s certainly not going to stick to his original plan of eschewing bedding fish altogether.

“I’m actually licking my chops because I need the wind,” he says. “I can’t catch them without the wind. I want it to blow. I was hoping it blew harder today.

“I think when the fish are on beds, when you get that wind, it takes their aggression level up a notch. When it’s calm, they can see a long distance away and they feel comfortable. When it’s rough, they can’t see as far, and they’re very amped up and they’re a little more aggressive.”


Top 10 pros

1. Rusty Salewske – Alpine, Calif. – 26-10 (5)

2. Miles Burghoff – Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. – 26-8 (5)

3. Jared McMillan – Belle Glade, Fla. – 22-1 (5)

4. Grae Buck – Green Lane, Penn. – 21-7 (5)

5. Robert Nakatomi – Sacramento, Calif. – 21-5 (5)

6. Kyle Gelles – Pingree, Idaho – 21-3 (5)

7. Jimmy Washam – Covington, Tenn. – 20-0 (5)

8. Tim Frederick – Leesburg, Fla. – 19-9 (5)

9. Joshua Weaver – Macon, Ga. – 19-7 (5)

10. Erik Luzak – Fenelon Falls, Ontario, Canada – 18-1 (5)

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