Cox Says Watch the Weather to Dial in Harris Chain Bites

Published on 01-24-2024

By Pete Robbins 
The season-opening Big Bass Tour event on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes has become a must-watch and must-fish tournament for big bass chasers from near and far. That’s because February never fails to disappoint. The only time we’ve failed to register a double digit in the past seven tournaments there was 2021, and then the top finisher only missed by a few spit-up shiner scales, as his big fish weighed 9.99. 
Indeed, the biggest question for competitors will be when to weigh in their fish and whether any particular specimen is big enough to claim not just overall honors, but also an hourly top prize. At the other end of the spectrum, savvy anglers can occasionally claim some hourly money with largemouths that otherwise wouldn’t raise eyebrows. 
Veteran tour pro John Cox has spent thousands of hours on the Harris Chain, and is an expert on the whims of Florida-strain fish, and he expects that the recent unusual cold spells that have hit the Sunshine State will help this tournament show out. 
“We have a couple of really good cold fronts coming through, but then it looks like it is going to warm up,” he said. “Unlike some Florida lakes, Harris fishes well when it’s cold, but those fish are wanting to bed, so the question will be how quickly those bigger bass move up.” 
He said there’s no doubt that a tournament-winning fish could be caught from a traditional spawning zone, but he’d likely focus on pre-spawn areas, such as the entrances to known bedding canals. 
“Really, they could be anywhere going into those places,” he said. “It could be in the Kissimmee Grass or in pads one hundred yards of each side of the entrance. If you find a good dock in those places, expect them to reload. There will be a lot of movement going on.” 
His main baits in those prespawn staging areas would be a lipless crankbait like the Berkley Warpig. It comes in three sizes, from ¼ to ¾ ounces, to allow anglers to “match the hatch” and also the depth and required speed. Traditional baitfish colors excel, and Florida-specific standouts include Black Gold and Bleeding Shiner. He also likes the Berkley Powerbait Slobberknocker Bladed Jig for covering water and eliciting reaction strikes, particularly when it pulls free of submerged aquatic vegetation. His other top choice, and perhaps his favorite lure ever made, is the Berkley General. Whether you prefer the original Powerbait version or the newer Maxscent option, stock up on shades of watermelon, green pumpkin and junebug. While targeted casts can be ultra-productive, Cox doesn’t doubt that the overall big fish award winner could come via blind casting this humble but ultra-productive soft plastic. 
He would likely focus on Big Harris and Eustis, simply because they’ve produced the most checks for him over his storied career, but Cox noted that there are big fish, including double digits, in each of the lakes. A solid strategy may involve getting away from the crowds by tucking into lesser-known corners of the less popular lakes. He added that if the water temperatures stay down and then get hit with a heavy warming blast, it makes sense to “take the temperature” of the different opportunities. 
“Some of the smaller lakes may warm up quicker,” he said. “That could influence where and how many fish come up shallow.”