By B.A.S.S. Communications Staff

LEESBURG, Fla. — A familiar face with a different mood; that’s a fair summary of the forthcoming Bassmaster Elite Series event at the Harris Chain of Lakes. And by “mood,” we make no suggestion for good or for ill; just different.

Competition days will be Thursday through Sunday with daily takeoffs from Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach) at 7 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day back at Ski Beach at 3 p.m.

The Elite Series last visited the Harris Chain Feb. 17-20, 2022. That event saw a mix of seasonal techniques, with Tennessee pro Buddy Gross capitalizing on a prespawn pattern to catch a four-day winning total of 77 pounds, 11 ounces.

This time around, Elite veteran Bernie Schultz believes heavy sacks are still possible, but competitors likely will have to work harder to find them. That’s simply a function of seasonality. While 2022 was a prespawn/spawn event, this year’s derby will mostly likely revolve around different scenarios.

“I think fish will be largely postspawn and scattered,” said Schultz, who hails from Gainesville, Fla. “I think there will be a lot of bass guarding fry (recently hatched baby bass).

“Bigger postspawn females should have moved into thicker cover offshore. Where is anyone’s guess. It could be on brushpiles, mussel beds or deeper grass.”

Schultz expects many of the competitors to gravitate toward the deeper grass and the better shellbars. As he points out, several of the lakes hold brushpiles with “history” — an established local pattern. These sweet spots won’t be lonely, so boat draw often determines who gets first crack.

“I think (most) guys will be relegated to the bank, because I don’t think those offshore spots will be productive this close after the spawn,” Schultz said.

That being said, those fishing the bank for fry-guarders will throw a mix of topwaters, wacky worms, swim jigs, lipless crankbaits and swimming worms. For the offshore options, Carolina rigs, drop shots, crankbaits, bladed jigs and jerkbaits will do most of the work.

Always the wild card for spring events, Florida-strain largemouth bass are known for their broader spawning season. Unlike northern largemouth in upper latitudes, where sharply defined seasonal weather places now-or-never constraints on the fish, Florida bass have been known to spawn throughout the year — more so in the state’s southern end, but also to some degree through the central region.

Weather and water temperature set the stage, with full and, to a lesser degree, new moons triggering any shoreward movements. The most recent full moon was March 25, with a new moon falling two days before the tournament commences.

All things considered, if the weather and water temperatures hold stable, isolated bed-fishing opportunities could be present. In all likelihood, though, that will not play a significant role in the winning game plan.

Covering approximately 75,000 total acres, the Harris Chain comprises Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, Lake Griffin, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora, Lake Beauclair, Lake Carlton, Lake Yale and Lake Apopka. With Yale the only unconnected lake, each has its own characteristics and appeals and, while Schultz believes the entire chain may be in play, he suspects the event will ultimately see a couple of particular water bodies dominate.

Inter-lake travel always presents time management challenges, especially when running to Griffin or Apopka, both of which require locking. From the takeoff site on Harris’ northwest corner, running to Griffin requires northeast passage into Lake Eustis via the Dead River, then a northwestern run up Haynes Creek and passage through the Burrell Lock.

Reaching Lake Apopka starts with the same run to Eustis and then a southeastern ride through the Dora Canal into its namesake lake. From there, anglers run across Dora to a small canal on the east side, which links to Beauclair, from which the Apopka-Beauclair Canal connects to the chain’s southernmost lake — the 30,900-acre Apopka.

As Schultz notes, an abundance of shallow vegetation and a large number of quality- to trophy-size bass has traditionally made Apopka the distant gem that tempts hopeful anglers into making the approximately two-hour run. If the gamble pays off, fortunes are made quickly. But if the plan does not come together, it’s a long ride back to weigh-in.

With Apopka and Griffin, time management must also consider lock schedules. Both the Burrell Lock (Haynes Creek) and the Apopka-Beauclair lock are relatively small passages — 28 x 66 feet and 15 x 60 feet, respectively — so waiting on lock cycles often slows the journey, coming and going.

“I think Apopka will be the best option for those wanting to fish the bank (due to) high concentration of fish per acre and it gets less pressure,” Schultz said. “The problem is dealing with the lock. It only holds a few boats, it’s tedious, and it can be aggravating getting through that lock.

“The same thing could be the case for Griffin. That lake has a lot of offshore grass, but if a lot of people go, that could create a backup in the lock.”

Based on seasonality and recent tournament results, Schultz expects 14 to 15 pounds a day will earn a spot in the final round’s Top 10 field. Weights are likely to fluctuate considerably this time of year, but Schultz estimates an average of 18 a day will win.

Ultimately, he believes proximity may turn out to be a competitor’s greatest asset.

“I think the guy that can find them close, or relatively close, without having to lock and maximizing his fishing time might have the best strategy,” Schultz said. “I think the (winning) potential is there for all of the lakes, but it’s going to take something that’s overlooked.

“I doubt a guy is going to be able to win in a highly pressured area. He’ll have to have something, or a couple of patterns to himself where he can exercise those patterns without a lot of competition.”

Bassmaster LIVE will be streaming on all four days, and coverage will also be available on FS1 on Saturday and Sunday.