When we talk Florida lakes, I know of no better place to catch big bass at times. A five pound bass in these lakes is a common occurrence and an eight or nine pound fish is nice, but not all that rare. Many 10 and 11 pound fish are caught each year, and in the spring if you don’t have at least a 5 fish 20 pound sack, don’t even bother to weigh in during tournaments.
The best place to start in the spring is the canals. The Harris Chain canals are full of pads, grass, drop offs and underwater structure. The enclosed area makes fish easier to find and most anglers have less trouble catching these resident fish. Texas rigged plastic worms work year round along with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and top water lures. Generally speaking, the deeper canals have better fishing. Although, during the spawning season, January through April, the shallower canals hold larger fish and the water clarity is right for sight fishing.
The state of Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission rates the Harris Chain of Lakes as one of the top destination for bass fishing in Florida. The Harris Chain of Lakes is a waterway system that leads north to the Atlantic Ocean, through the Ocklawaha River and the St. John’s River. It’s made up of Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, Lake Dora, Lake Eustis, Lake Griffin and Lake Beauclair, and we should not leave out the Dora Canal, Dead River and Haines Creek.
The Harris Chain of lakes are a regular stop for the Bassmaster tour, the chain is not the favorite among touring pros because of it’s ability to produce trophy bass for several and very little for everyone else. At one time the Harris chain was considered to be the number one trophy bass fishing destination in Florida. Aggressive weed control and unstable water levels have hurt the chain, but for about the last 7 years have been excellent as justifiably proven by the past two Bassmaster tournaments. Trophy bass were around as the Professional Anglers caught multiple bass in the 11 lb range.
Local tournaments are proving just how well the chain is doing with top weights for 5 bass limits being in the 17 – 19lb range. Techniques for the Harris Chain of Lakes can range from flipping visible shoreline vegetation to Carolina rigging main lake ledges. Rattle traps, crankbaits, texas rigged worms and topwater buzzbaits are also effective techniques.
Guided fishing trips on the Harris Chain can be done two ways, live-bait can be used and at times produces larger fish. But most customers on this chain of lakes prefer using artificial lures. Techniques for using live-bait are typically trolling shiners, fishing the various canals or focusing on lily pads that are on the chain. But because of the numerous ledges, brush piles and shoreline vegetation the use of artificial lures can be much more rewarding as well as challenging if you are up to it.
Lake County has had a very aggressive weed control law. In the eighties when the lakes hosted the Mega Bucks tournaments, the Chain was rich with offshore hydrilla. Today, lake managers take their job very seriously and no hydrilla. This lack of obvious offshore cover makes Harris Chain bass harder to locate and less likely to concentrate. This also means that you must become a better structure fisherman and learn to fish specific spots instead of patterning large areas.
Depending upon the time of the year and the area, the Harris Chain water color can vary from dark brown to green to clear. Each lake and area has it’s own water characteristics. The brown or green water color is caused by floating algae only a few inches thick. When the sun shines on the water it causes the tiny plants to bloom covering the water like a blanket and injecting oxygen into the water column. The water under the algae blanket is much clearer than the surface. Murky water positions the fish shallower, making them easier to catch. In these conditions, adjust your tactics to match the conditions by using noisy lures like Rattletraps and paddle tail worms. The fish are there, you just need to find them and make them bite.
Located just east of Wildwood, Florida off of the Florida Turnpike in the town of Leesburg, FL. A short drive from Disney World, consider the Harris Chain of Lakes definitely worth making part of your Florida fishing vacation.