Harris Chain is Next Stop on CITGO Bassmaster Tour

Leesburg, Fla. — The $618,000 CITGO Bassmaster Tour moves a few miles north from Lake Toho to Leesburg and the Harris Chain of Lakes next week (Feb. 3-6) for its second stop on the road to the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic.

It will be the third consecutive year that the BASS Pros will visit the Harris Chain, the once beleaguered eight lakes that seem to have almost completely recovered from the problems and tough fishing of the early 1990s.

“The Harris Chain proved last year that it’s come way back from being down in the early ‘90s,” BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon said. “It’s a lot like Toho in that if the conditions are right, it can provide excellent fishing. Fishing was certainly good last year.”

Last January, the Harris Chain showed its stuff during the season-opening Tour event. The results of that tournament surprised even the most knowledgeable anglers — including Tour pro Jim Bitter, who’s fished the lakes for more than 30 years. The Harris Chain surrendered three 60-pound-plus catches. Just a year earlier, Skeet Reese won a three-day event with a total of just 36 pounds, 12 ounces. Even that was dramatically better than the 14-pound, 10-ounce tally posted by Mike Folkestad over three days in 1992 to win the BASS Florida Invitational.

Last year’s winner, Marty Stone, collected 61-12 mostly by flipping and pitching a 6 1/2-inch straight-tailed worm to the outside edge of Kissimmee grass in five to six feet of water in Lake Harris. In the final round, Stone moved to a shallow grass line where he burned a spinnerbait and paused it along the weed edge.

Two 10-pound-class bass were weighed in at last year’s event (by Alton Jones and Mark Rizk) along with a couple of 9-pounders. As the practice period drew to a close, a warming trend and approaching full moon sent the big females to their shallow-water beds or to predictable offshore staging areas where they waited to spawn.

This year, Florida fishing experts don’t expect to experience the same spawning frenzy since the weather has been cold and the full moon arrived a week before the tournament.

“I think we hit it dead on the head last year for prime fishing,” said Florida’s Bernie Schultz, a 22-year veteran of the BASS wars. “I think the fish moved up and spawned there just like they did on Toho when [Dean] Rojas won [in 2001].

“I don’t think they’ve spawned [this year]. Some have probably, but I don’t think they all have. I think the fish will be caught in the same manner that they were caught last year – along the shoreline in the major lakes or in canals.”

Last year’s runner-up, Arkansas’ Scott Rook, caught 60-9 by targeting shallow arrowhead plants, lily pads and other shoreline vegetation in the Ocklawaha River (above Lake Griffin). Third-place finisher Brent Chapman (60-2) of Kansas had 256-acre Lake Denham all to himself. Former Classic champions Michael Iaconelli and Tommy Martin finished fourth and fifth, respectively, by fishing Lake Harris.

At stake in this event is a $100,000 top prize and valuable points toward this summer’s CITGO Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh.

Daily weigh-ins take place at Venetian Gardens on Lake Harris at 3:15 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday and 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Anglers launch at 7:00 a.m. ET from Hickory Point on Little Lake Harris.

BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.

Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, BankOne and Cialis (tadalafil).

Local Sponsors include the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit www.bassmaster.com.