Harris Chain Shows Off In Bassmaster Opening Round

LEESBURG, Fla. — Blame it on a three-hour fog delay Thursday morning, or blame it on the whims of Florida's famous largemouth bass. Whatever the cause, the fishing on the Harris Chain of Lakes confounded conventional wisdom as the central Florida waters strutted their stuff during the opening round of the $618,000 CITGO Bassmaster Tour stop.

During the three-day practice period, the pros reported locating dozens of trophy bass on shallow-water spawning beds. Most agreed that the anglers who were fortunate enough to be launching in the earliest flights were most likely to be able to take advantage of that situation.

They were wrong.

The two 26-pound-plus catches atop the Day One standings occurred in the later flights, along with numerous 7-pound-plus bass. The giant stringers belonged to hometown favorite Jim Bitter (26 pounds, 12 ounces) and California's Aaron Martens (26-3). Bitter’s Busch Heavyweight Catch of the Day may earn him a spot in the Busch Shootout later this year.

The next four largest catches had nothing to do with sight-fishing for spawning bass. They were brought in by Texans Tommy Martin (19-2) and Todd Faircloth (18-2), Arkansas's Larry Nixon (16-14) and Stacey King of Missouri (16-11).

Several huge bass were brought to the stage all throughout the weigh-in, including a 10-3, five 9-pound-plus largemouths and another five 8-pound-plus fish.

Bitter, 62, is a five-time BASS winner who has not come close to winning in recent years, but Thursday was his day to shine before the hometown fans with the largest catch of the day, buoyed by a 9-pound-3 ounce largemouth.

“I know these lakes pretty well, but I don't think it had much to do with what I did today.” he said. “I had a real good practice. I had two places where I knew I could catch fish, including some big fish. There are some better places to fish, but I knew 140 guys would be fighting over those fish.”

Bitter said he was not sight-fishing, but rather flipping and casting soft-plastics into shallow grass within sight of some canals where the bass are spawning. The fog delay helped him by limiting the amount of time the sight-fishermen had to practice their specialty Thursday.

In contrast, Martens, 32, admitted that his bass came sight-fishing in a couple of clear-water canals (he had two identical 7-7 bass that were caught about six miles apart) throughout the day while fishing in a crowd. But he indicated that he was using both a technique and lure that was different from those around him.

“There are lots of guys fishing around me, but I think I've figured something out,” Martens said. “Boats will hurt me tomorrow. I'll bet there were 25 boats around me today.”

Interestingly, Martin, Nixon and King are rooming together and fishing the same pattern in different areas.

“I really didn't know what to expect going into today,” Martin said. “I didn't have a great practice. I found a couple of areas where I got a few bites, but I didn't know how many good fish were there. I think I can catch another limit there tomorrow.”

Leading Thursday's Purolator Big Bass parade was co-angler Jason Luszcak of Illinois, who brought a magnificent 10-pound, 3-ounce largemouth to the scales. Luszcak was fishing with Terry Butcher of Oklahoma when he hooked the trophy on a junebug-colored Senko.

“I thought I had lost the fish because it was in the weeds,” he said. “I jerked on him, and he came loose, and I saw how big he was. I couldn't believe it.”

Alabama's Tim Horton took the Purolator Big Bass award on the pro side with a bass weighing 9-7. Others top big fish included Denny Brauer's 9-5, Bitter's 9-3, Jimmy Houston's 9-2 and Bink Desaro's 9-0.

Leading the non-boater division is Timothy Dennis of New York with a shared weight of 27 pounds. Second is Ohio's Mark Herrina with 26-12.

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 and Cialis (tadalafil).

Local Sponsors include Leesburg Chamber of Commerce.

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