LEESBURG, Fla. – The Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Southern Division season-opener at the Harris Chain of Lakes didn’t disappoint. The event started under slugfest conditions, which included warming water temperatures and a growing moon. Anglers were concerned that the sheer amount of fishing pressure from previous events, plus the event’s 260-boat field, would curb the bite. However, the Harris Chain still showed out with numerous limitless over 20 pounds and five bags over 25 pounds.
The usual Florida suspects did most of the work: Senkos, ChatterBaits, beaver-style plastics, big worms and jerkbaits. Here’s a closer look at the lures that the Top 10 pros tied on at the Harris Chain:
1. Tournament winner Kennie Steverson was the only pro in the event that kept his daily limits above the 20-pound mark, which propelled him to victory lane with a three-day total of 71-13. Each day he made the trip to Apopka to fish a small stretch of haygrass and reeds that were loaded up with big, spawning bass. He couldn’t see the bass, so he had to pick the vegetation apart slowly, basically blind fishing for them, making repetitive pitches where he knew a bed should be. His primary lure was a 6-inch Yamamoto Senko on a 1/2-ounce weight, tied to 65-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa Braid. The power end of the business was done with a 7-foot, 6-inch Fitzgerald All-Purpose rod with a Fitzgerald Stunner reel.
2. Eric Panzironi led the tournament for two days after sacking the biggest limit of the tournament on Day 1 weighing 28 pounds, 1 ounce. A closing-round effort of 11-13 left him in the runner-up spot after Day 3.
Panzironi locked into Apopka each day and keyed in on a couple of stretches where big bass were spawning around reeds. He couldn’t see the bass on beds due to the water color in Apopka, but he knew they were there and he had to blind pitch to them.
As for lure selection, he also kept things simple with a black and blue Yamamoto Senko on a 4/0 Strike King Heavy Cover Flipping Hook, pegged to a ½-ounce tungsten weight. To winch them in, he used a B. Moore Hydrilla Gear flipping stick threaded with 65-pound test P-Line braid.
3. Jared Lintner caught the biggest limit on the final day weighing 27-7, rocketing him from 10th place to third. His key lures were a trio of 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammers in black and blue, golden shiner and white. He matched the ChatterBaits with 3.8-inch Jackall Rhythm Wave and Keitech swimbaits. All ChatterBaits were tied to 20-pound test Sunline Sniper FC fluorocarbon line.
“I used the different colors to try to match the conditions,” Lintner said. “If it was sunny, I’d go with the golden shiner and if it got cloudy, I go more to the black and blue. On the third day, they were biting so good, it didn’t seem to matter.”
He also used a 6-inch soft stick bait in junebug with a ½-ounce weight to catch a few weigh fish as well.
4. Ron Nelson mostly sight fished his way across the Harris Chain. On Day 2, he weighed in a big catch for 27-7. Most of his bigger fish came on a 10-inch 13 Fishing Big Squirm with a 5/16-ounce weight tied to 18-pound test Sunline Sniper FC.
“For some reason, the big females wanted that big worm,” Nelson said. “A lot of times I would throw it in the bed first, just to see how the fish were going to behave and the big females would eat it immediately. I used some other baits like a Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw and a beaver too, but the big ones really liked the Squirm.”
5. Cory Johnston spent his week sight fishing with a 3.7-inch 6th Sense Bongo in black and blue and green pumpkin. He riggged the Bongo with a Gamakatsu G-Finesse Heavy Cover flipping hook, topped it with a 5/16-ounce tungsten weight and tied it to 20-pound test Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon.
6. Chad Mrazek spent the week sight fishing with just a handful of 6th Sense plastics including a 4,2-inch 6th Sense Prawn in green pumpkin juice, a Stroker Craw in platinum white and a Divine Shakey Worm in cosmic black on a drop-shot rig.
“I mixed the Prawn and Stroker Craw while sight fishing,” he said. “Then, I pitched the drop shot in holes in the deeper grass while I was looking for beds.”
7. Ken Thompson kept his Florida fishing simple with just one lure, a Missile Baits D Bomb in ballistic bruiser on a 1/2-ounce weight tied to 65-pound braid. Thompson pitched the D Bomb into reeds choked by pads.
“The key was using the new Owner Jungle Flipping HD hook in a 4/0,” he said. “The Jungle Flipping Hook has been out for a while, but the HD Series is even a heavier gauge (X5) and has a unique kink in the bottom of the hook bend that makes it much more effective when hauling those big ones in.”
8. Darold Gleason chose to maximize his fishing time at the Harris Chain by staying in Lake Harris for the entire event and focusing on offshore hydrilla. He probed the grass with three different approaches. One was to reel a 1/2-ounce V&M Pacemaker HD swim jig with a paddle tail trailer (all white) through the grass.
“I chose a swim jig over a ChatterBait because I wanted something a little more subtle,” Gleason said. “Those fish had seen a lot of lures.”
In addition, he slithered a Carolina-rigged 4-inch V&M Swamp Hog (Okeechobee craw) with a 3/4-ounce weight on 17-pound test Seaguar Tatsu through the grass. Gleason also noted he caught an 8-pounder that he saw on forward-facing sonar with a Luck-E-Strike STX Jerkbait fished on 10-pound test Tatsu fluorocarbon.
9. Rodney Marks made the long trip to Apopka each day to fish open water hydrilla with a 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer in golden shiner teamed with a 3.5-inch Strike King Rage Swimmer in a ghost color. He fished the JackHammer on a 7-foot, medium heavy Level Rod with a Shimano Chronarch reel with 20-pound test Sunline Sniper FC fluorocarbon.
10. Tyler Sheppard mixed it up with the hordes of people in Lake Beauclair by fishing offshore, out deeper, to give himself a little more elbow room. He cast a 6th Sense Ridge Worm in dark water bug with a 3/8-ounce weight on 17-pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon to holes and grass clumps he could see on his forward-facing sonar. His secondary baits included a pair of jerkbaits: a Megabass Vision 110 in Tennessee shad and a 6th Sense Provoke 106X.