(To see all the photos from the 2008 event won by Mike McClelland, click here)
When it was announced that Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes was to be the first stop on the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series trail, many assumed a sight fishing slugfest would ensue. In talking to past winners Mike McClelland and Peter Thliveros after their first day of practice, that doesn't seem to be the case.
"When I won here in '08 (59-2), water temps were in the 50s," McClelland said. "A cold front passed through (during) the middle of the event and made it pretty tough. But we were facing prespawn conditions, and the bass were full of eggs. This year, water temps are already 68 to 70 degrees, and every fish I've caught has been spawned out. So, I think weights will be down."
Thliveros, champion here in 2005 (69-5), agrees.
"I've seen a few beds so far, but there's certainly not enough sight fish to go around. I think this will be the toughest event we've ever had on this body of water," the Florida pro predicted.
Water quality in lakes Eustis and Dora is excellent, and all the lakes are clearer than Thliveros can ever remember them being (a result of very little rain over the past few months in central Florida). So, for those competitors lucky enough to stumble upon bedding fish, the opportunity should be excellent for taunting the bass into biting. However, neither McClelland nor Thliveros is hanging his tournament on spawners.
"I really think it's going to be a hodge-podge event," Thliveros explained. "We are right in between everything, and it will be tough to find a large concentration of fish doing the same thing. So, I think the successful guys will have three patterns working at the same time: sight fishing, prespawn areas and postspawn areas."
Echoing that sentiment, McClelland thinks the conditions will favor the more versatile anglers in the field.
"I don't believe this is going to be a Florida-boy tournament. In other words, flipping the grass is not going to win this thing. I feel like we'll catch 'em on topwater baits, cranks and a variety of plastics," explained the Arkansas pro.
And both pros agree that both shallow water and deep water techniques will be productive.
"If a guy can find deep hydrilla or eelgrass, which I am seeing vey little of right now, he might find a wad of postspawn fish," McClelland elaborated. But those who stay shallow, according to Thliveros, will likely find plenty of willing bass, although they may be scattered.
"There are always bass in the shallows in Florida -- doesn't matter the time of year or the conditions. A lot of these Florida bass simply don't move deep. The trick is figuring out exactly how shallow and what they'll eat. And based on my practice so far, I can't tell you what that is!" Thliveros admitted.