With rod guides freezing up around the country, college anglers welcomed the chance to head south to Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes to try their hand at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Regional set for Friday and Saturday, Jan. 4-5.
Teams from throughout the Southeast have made their way to the Harris Chain with one common goal — winning the Carhartt College Series opener and moving one step closer to a coveted Bassmaster Classic berth. Two-angler teams representing their respective universities will compete for two days on lakes Griffin, Eustis, Harris, Little Harris, Denham, Dora, Beauclaire, Carlton, Trout and Horseshoe.
The universities represented include: the University of Florida, Florida State, the University of Georgia, Auburn University, the University of Alabama, Jacksonville State, Troy University, the University of Tennessee and more than 20 other schools from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi.
Expecting an 80-boat field, anglers such as University of Alabama law student and Florida native Jake Gipson are preparing accordingly.
“As for which lakes to fish, it will be an interesting decision for the teams to make,” Gipson said. “Teams that stay in Dora will get a substantial amount of extra fishing time, but with a field this big, finding some water to yourself will be really helpful.
“Harris and Griffin are both good options, but with idle zones and locking, it will take 45 minutes to an hour to get to them.”
Anglers could burn as much as 4 hours running, locking and idling to and from the boundaries of this week’s tournament waters. With a cold front rolling through a few days prior to competition and water temps dropping from the 60s to mid-50s, curveballs have already been flung at the contenders.
“Fishing was pretty tough during practice, but it should improve the rest of the week based on the weather forecast,” Gipson said. “In fact, some fish will probably be moving up onto beds by the end of the week.”
Florida bass can be especially finicky in changing weather. Though bass may bust topwater baits one day, a water temperature drop of as little as 5 degrees might force anglers to switch to soft plastics or resort to “punching” thick weed mats for a handful of bites.
A warming trend, however, could have bass suddenly moving shallow to spawn. An area with only small male bass could be loaded with big females in a matter of hours.
“Overall, the lakes have similar vegetation, but there is some variation in the types of canals and spawning areas, as well as water color,” Gipson said.
The trick this week will be choosing the right lake and keeping abreast of the migration of the bigger bass. Anglers need to make sure they’re not one step ahead, fishing the spawning flats too early, nor one step behind, fishing deeper water where fish are no longer staging.
The entire field will compete Friday and Saturday, and the Top 10 finishers after two days will advance to the Carhartt College Bassmaster National Championship. The Top 10 qualifying list is based on a minimum field of 50 teams. With each additional 10 boats, an additional qualifying spot opens up, so the projected 80-boat field may qualify 13 teams for the championship.
The National Championship will be held during the summer of 2013 on a fishery that has not yet been revealed.
Daily coverage of this week’s event will feature a live video stream from the weigh-in, photo galleries, BASSCam videos and stories on Bassmaster.com.
Teams will launch at Wooton Park daily at 7:20 a.m. EST, with weigh-ins also at Wooton Park starting at 3:20 p.m. EST.
Image courtesy Bassmaster