After a slow start to this year’s FLW Tour, I knew my best fishing was ahead of me at the third Tour stop on the Harris Chain. Low temperatures at both Lake Guntersville and Lake Travis froze me out early, but the experience also gave me the motivation to dial in my focus and my fishing for a big comeback in Florida.
Not only is the Sunshine State my home, but I also love competing on Florida’s Harris Chain because it brings back my favorite fishing memories – from recalling key spawning areas to winning previous tournaments. I returned to the Harris Chain ready to make much more than a splash.
When things kicked off on day one, I spent the first two to three hours cruising with the trolling motor on high speed searching for the biggest fish on beds. Once I marked about 15 good fish, I reached for my 7-foot, 4-inch Casting Rod with a craw-style plastic and got to work.
As I approached the first big girl I found I knew it could be a time-consuming process to get her to bite. Luckily, I love to sight-fish and feel very confident that I can catch a fish when I can see it, so I was OK with maybe only getting a handful of bites per day.
It took about 15 minutes of enticing, but I finally managed to catch the bigger female, and it really helped set the tone for the rest of my day. I continued to target females on beds, while managing to leave the smaller, less-interested males behind. Some people like to catch the males, but by leaving them I kept the opportunity open for another big female to pull up in the coming days, hopefully giving me another shot in some of these high-percentage bedding areas.
After a long day of cruising on the trolling motor and staring into the water looking for beds, I ended day one with just five bites that led to a five-bass limit weighing 25 pounds, 11 ounces – taking me to the top spot on the leaderboard.
On day two, I aimed to repeat my previous day’s weight and maintain the lead, so I stuck to my game plan of looking for beds. The only difference on day two was that I spent the day looking for some new spawning areas versus re-checking places from day one.
Although I found plenty of new spots with a lot of potential, the fish in these areas were easily spooked. This led me to swap rods and go with my Spinning Rod for a more finesse approach.
After making the change, I finally landed three nice fish, and time was no longer on my side. With an hour and 15 minutes left, I was a solid hour away from the weigh-in with hardly any options. Then like a bolt of lightning, a memory from my past hit me to give me just the inspiration I needed.
In a Fishers of Men tournament on the Harris Chain years ago, I found this perfect spot, and as time expired I quickly caught two fish to secure the win in that event. Now under the same circumstances, my memory took me back to the exact spot, and, luckily, it paid off again. I scraped together an 18-15 limit to maintain the lead heading into day three.
Entering the third day I hoped to stick to my guns just as I had done the previous days. There was no doubt that two days of 160-plus pros running around the Harris Chain had pressured a lot of fish, and it was becoming clear that my luck may be running out when it came to finding spawning bass.
My first 15 to 20 stops were all duds. In fact, one chunky 7-pound female was downright disrespectful. I flipped over to her bed, but instead of taking the bait, she swam straight to my boat. Once she got out to my boat, it was as if she had seen me before because she just took off. I shook off her accompanying male three times in hopes of her return, however, I had to catch him when she didn’t show back up.
At the end of day three, I felt a little disappointed looking back on my fishing. Although I caught another limit, missing that hefty female dropped my weight to just 10-4. It was enough to hang on to the lead, but not enough to hold off the looming pressure of the remaining pack heading into day four.
By the final day of the tournament I was mentally and physically drained from running up and down the Harris Chain for six straight (three practice days plus three tournament days). Exhausted, but hungry for a win, my strategy for the final day was to fish outside the grass to keep both my lead and my sanity.
After five stops fishing the edge of the grass, I could feel myself up against the ropes, so I resorted back to bed-fishing. This was the right call as I quickly caught a 6-pounder that seemed to get my mojo going again.
I stuck with sight-fishing and found a new spot holding 10 beds with 10 big females. It was the perfect place to find the weight that could lock up a win for me and seemed very promising.
Unfortunately, none of those females was ready or willing to bite, so I had to settle for popping whatever fish I could see. In the end, I needed just 5 pounds more to seal the deal, but the final fish that could do it just would not bite.
As I rode into the weigh-in, I knew my lead was in trouble. Not only did I have a tough final day, but I had just one camera man tailing me at this point. For me, this lack of coverage meant one thing – I had been beat.
Despite faltering on the final day, my saving grace was getting to walk on stage to the cheers of my hometown crowd. Once I heard their applause, I no longer felt the pressure of losing the lead. Instead, I felt the inspiration and motivation to carry my momentum from this third-place finish to the next FLW stop at Lake Cumberland.
The day after the tournament it was time for a little redemption and a confidence boost. I went back out on Harris to a few of the areas where I saw big fish but hadn’t been able to get them to eat. I’m not going to lie; I got mad at them and caught ’em pretty good. I even got to catch the one 5-pounder that eluded me on the final day of the derby. Though I was a day late to catch it, that fish did make me excited to carry on and try to win the next one.
The fourth FLW Tour stop is on the horizon, and it’s hard not to laugh because last time I fished Lake Cumberland I was just 16, and I used an atlas to find the boat ramp. Although it’s been a while since my last visit to central Kentucky, I feel prepared to make a triumphant return to Lake Cumberland and continue climbing the Angler of the Year standings.