LEESBURG, Fla. – The biggest irony of the Toyota Series Presented by A.R.E. Southern Division event on the Harris Chain is that Jonathan Semento caught the two biggest limits of the tournament offshore in Lake Griffin to come from 119th place to win the tournament. The irony rests in the fact that very few anglers found anything reliable in Griffin and, furthermore, found anything reliable offshore in any of the other lakes either.
Beyond Semento’s impressive win, a vast majority of the Top 10 came from fishing the Harris Chain’s shallower zones around the bank: canals, Kissimmee grass, docks and shallow bream beds. Here is a look at how the Top 10 got it done.
After bagging limits of 21 pounds, 5 ounces and 20-13 the first two days of the event, 19-year-old Andrew Ready took the lead and seemed poised to win the very first Toyota Series event he entered. But severe overnight thunderstorms and heavy rain chilled his frog bite on docks in canals on the final day.
“Plus, I think I might have been sharing some water with other guys in the Top 10 that I didn’t know about,” he said. “I was fishing them in the morning, leaving early and they were fishing them in the afternoon catching good ones late.”
Much of Ready’s catches his first two days were due to his mad frog-skipping skills under docks. The places he was reaching with his SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog 60 may be some of the last places on the Harris Chain to have seen a lure. Many of his bites came from so far back under the dock, the only way to distinguish a bite was to hear the flushing noise echo out from underneath the dock.
“There were so many bream around those docks in those canals,” Ready said. “It was unreal. Hundreds of them swimming everywhere.”
Ready also caught a few weigh fish over eelgrass beds in Lake Dora with a 1/2-ounce War Eagle double willow spinnerbait.
While many in the Top 10 spent time traveling outside of Big Lake Harris searching for greener pastures, Flint Davis made his best showing of the season by staying in Harris and maximizing his fishing time.
Davis employed two strategies during the week; one was flipping Kissimmee grass stretches on Harris’ main lake, and the other was running shade with a topwater. Each day he caught a 5- to 7-pound class fish flipping while the topwater bite provided better-than-average keepers.
For flipping, he used two different setups. One was a Z-Man ZinkerZ flipped on 20-pound-test fluorocarbon with a 3/8-ounce weight, the other was a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg with a 1-ounce weight tied to 65-pound-test Sunline braid.
“I had a couple of key stretches of Kissimmee grass,” Davis said. “When I made my first pass down them, I would pitch the lighter ZinkerZ to the very outside. Then I’d turn around and go back down it and flip farther back into the holes and gaps with the heavier Creature Hawg.”
If the sun came out in the afternoon, Davis began running any kind of shade on the main lake with a Bagley Bang-O-Lure on 15-pound-test mono.
“If I could find a big shade tree over a gap in the Kissimmee grass on those residential banks, it was game on with that topwater,” Davis said. “I love catching bass that way – it’s such a cool bite.”
Bream beds in Dora and Beauclair were a big player in Austin Baskette’s week at the Harris Chain. His best day was Day 2 when he sacked up 24-4 with a black SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog 60 and a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent General rigged wacky style, which were his go-to lures all week.
“I think with less grass in the lakes this year, a lot of the bream spawned up around docks instead of offshore,” he said. “The docks had a lot of bream around them this week and the bass knew it. And I’d much rather catch bass that are eating bream than bass that are eating shad.”
Kennie Steverson committed much of his practice to graphing offshore to find a mother lode of bass. But when those efforts proved futile, he retreated to the banks of Lake Harris throwing a 13 Fishing Dual Pitch Pencil 94 and wacky-rigged Berkley PowerBait MaxScent General.
“I spent most of my time fishing the Dual Pitch because it got the bigger bites,” Steverson said. “But when I came to a dock that just looked right, I would slide that General under it and catch a few that way too.”
Aside from a few casts each day with a ChatterBait and a Gambler Fat Ace, Eric Conant spent most of his three competition days haunting shallow bream beds in Lake Dora with a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog 60. His best day was Day 2 when he posted 23-3.
Though the frog was his main program, Conant tossed a 1/2-ounce Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer (green pumpkin) trailed with a Gambler EZ Swimmer on a couple of deeper bream beds. He used the Gambler Fat Ace as a follow-up bait when a bass would just swirl at his frog.
“It’s May and it’s bream-bed time, so that’s what I’m going to fish,” Conant said. “I’ve just learned from years of fishing here where the best bream bed areas are. I’ve found a lot of them just by fishing. Anytime I get three or more bites in a small area on the bank, it’s usually a bream bed.”
Mike Surman consistently ground out solid weights between 16 and 18 pounds each day to claim another Top 10. He used his vast Florida knowledge to get the best he could from Lakes Eustis, Dora and Harris.
When it was sunny and hot the first day, Surman found success flipping thick Kissimmee grass with a Gambler Fat Ace paired with a 5/16-ounce weight and punching small mats of junk in pads with a Gambler Crawdaddy topped with a heavier 3/4-ounce weight.
On Day 2, when the storms hit, he went to a Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe Lipless Crankbait to fish more open water.
“It seemed like the clouds and wind on the last two days sort of loosened those fish up off the Kissimmee grass lines and got them roaming a little more,” Surman said. “So at times, I resorted to seining the submerged, scattered grass adjacent to the Kissimmee grass with a Rattl’n Vibe.”
If you like topwater fishing then Dustin Smith is your guy. For three days Smith committed solely to fishing a Rapala X-Rap Prop topwater. He tied it to 30-pound Fitzgerald Vursa Braid with a 20-pound-test mono leader.
“I fished Helena Run in the mornings to get a limit and then ran to other canals to upgrade my catch with bigger fish,” Smith said. “I mostly fished anything that created shade – docks, trees, bushes and seawalls.”
Florida fishing guru Val Osinski knows the quirks of each different tournament fishery in the Sunshine State. He knew with nearly 200 boats on the Harris Chain, pressure would be a problem. With that, his strategy involved using multiple lakes the first two days – Dora, Beauclair, Eustis and Little Lake Harris – to make the cut.
“Ultimately, I wanted to make the cut on the other lakes and then stay on Harris the final day when there were only 25 boats in hopes of winning it on Harris,” he said.
No matter which lake he fished, Osinski was keying on the same things – offshore bream beds and the Kissimmee grass lines closest to where those bream beds were located.
“My theory is when it’s sunny, hot and still, those bream set up on their beds hard and the bass are all over them,” Osinski said. “But if it gets cloudy and windy, the bream don’t set up well and the bass slide over to the nearest Kissimmee grass lines to feed on minnows and other types of bait.”
On the first day when it was hot and sunny, Osinski found a good jam on the bream beds to the tune of 21-3. But when the clouds, rain and wind appeared the last two days, his bream beds fizzled and he resorted to pitching a Gambler Fat Ace into Kissimmee grass with 1/4- and 3/8-ounce weights.
Aside from Semento winning in Lake Griffin, Ben McCann was one of the very few who also made Lake Griffin work for him. McCann locked with Semento each day of the event into Griffin and they were the only two that went through the lock on the morning of the final day.
McCann found clearer water areas that were less than 6 feet deep.
“I found a couple of areas that were just full of life and bait – bream, shiners, minnows, needlefish and bass cruising everywhere,” he said. “The problem was the water was so clear, they were extremely sensitive to boat pressure.”
To cover water, Semento used a 3/8-ounce swim jig teamed with a Zoom Z Craw Jr., tied to 50-pound-test Seaguar Smackdown braid. While the swim jig would catch some fish, McCann noticed there were big bass ignoring his offerings. To remedy that, McCann began Texas-rigging a giant YUM Mighty Worm. The worm measures 10 1/2 inches and McCann fished it weightless with either a 6/0 or 7/0 EWG hook.
“The key was long casts,” McCann said. “I would get the wind to my back to help get more distance from the cast. After that I fished it slowly, twitching it through the grass.”
Once McCann ran out of Mighty Worms, he had to round up some Strike King Bullworms as a replacement.
“Those worked too,” he added. “It was apparent those fish wanted a big profile but presented in a more finessy way.”