LAKE WALES, Fla.
Fantasy fishing fans got an unplanned overdose of Florida fishing reality at the Harris Chain, where the dominating factor at last week's Bassmaster Elite Series season opener was the weather.
And it went from great to ugly overnight. That's how it goes in late winter in the Sunshine State. One day you slather on sunscreen to fend off a red face and the next, you wear a parka to repel the bone-chilling north wind.
A sense of normalcy on two counts returns this week at the Kissimmee Chain. First, fantasy players can plug into their game plans a more typical (and predictable) weather pattern for Florida. Secondly aquatic vegetation, what is not growing well in the Harris Chain is growing abundantly down the road at Kissimmee.
Those constants will sharply reduce the odds of a crap shoot when it comes to laying out how the week will play out. That means the heavy hitters of flipping and pitching vegetation, and others skilled at cranking shell beds will rise to the top of fantasy lists. But don't discount the analytical minds who can analyze a grass bed, down to a single strand, on a lake where it grows end to end.
Sure to be on everyone's list are the local favorites, brothers Bobby and Chris Lane. Other long rod experts include the likes of Preston Clark, Terry Scroggins and Steve Kennedy.
One dark horse pattern that could fire up is the sight-fishing bite. A calm wind, bright skies and warming temperatures could ignite a spawning tsunami, not unlike the fantasy-turned reality event in 2001 when Dean Rojas cracked the 100-pound winning weight milestone.
"Everything is spawning later this year," confirmed Eric Johnson, a fishery biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Lakeland. "We sampled crappie just last week and the females were loaded with eggs and that's a solid indicator the bass population has not finished, or in some cases even started to spawn."
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the unpredictable world of late winter bass fishing in Florida, with or without the weather.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Citrus Slam on the Kissimmee Chain of Lake from Lake Wales, Fla., March 13-16, 2008. Daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 4 p.m. ET. "Hooked Up" will air Sunday at 10 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. ET.