LEESBURG, Fla. — For the first time since Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro’s record-breaking performance in the 2020 College National Championship, the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops will return to the Harris Chain of Lakes to kick off the 2022 regular season.
The two-man college teams will arrive toward the end of January, one of John Cox’s favorite times of the year to fish the chain.
“That January time is my favorite time to be there,” the third-year Elite Series pro said. “What really happens is dependent on the weather and whether we’ve had a really cold December (and) New Year’s. If it has been cold and we haven’t had many warming trends, it can really dictate a big push of fish on a warming trend that time of year. But in a really mild winter, it doesn’t group them up like it would if it got cold for a couple days and dropped the water temperature. In that case, they will be in all stages. They will be scattered a lot more.”
The Harris Chain will be the first of four regular-season events and a Wild Card event, which will serve as qualifying tournaments for the 2022 Bassmaster College National Championship.
Competition days will be Jan. 21-22 with daily takeoffs from Venetian Gardens in Leesburg at 7:10 a.m. ET and weigh-ins each day at Venetian Gardens at 3:10 p.m. Weigh-in coverage will be streamed on Bassmaster.com.
Containing eight major lakes, the Harris Chain has been a big-bass destination for many years and will also host the 2022 SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain Feb. 17-20. During the 2020 National Championship, which was held in October, Sands and Dimauro sacked up 84 pounds, 12 ounces to secure the largest three-day winning weight in Bassmaster history.
Hailing from DeBary, Fla., Cox guided on the chain for several years and has watched the system evolve. When he started fishing, there was no offshore grass and the Kissimmee grass near the bank was the primary cover. Now, offshore hydrilla dominates in tournaments, even during the spawn.
“It is crazy to watch that lake evolve and (see) how good and healthy it is now that the offshore grass is out there,” Cox said. “You would think, ‘Okay, we’ve got a warming trend coming. These fish are going to hit the bank and spawn.’ But it has constantly been won offshore. It just doesn’t matter what time of year.”
Based on the recent trend, Cox said he expects the winning bag from this event will come from an offshore grass area, although an early spawning event could lead to a big day for a couple of teams. Of the eight lakes that make up the Harris Chain, Cox added it can be won from any of them, but Harris and Little Harris allow anglers to maximize their time.
“It might not be in the middle of the lake like we’ve seen in the past, it could be in 3 to 4 feet,” Cox said. “It depends on how the grass comes in that year and how much they decide to spray it. They are going to be around where they are going to bed. Wherever has the cleanest looking water, that’s more than likely going to be the better fishing.”
The prespawn bass, Cox said, will be targeting shad and shiner, making it a perfect time of year to throw a rattletrap, crankbait and other types of hard baits as well as ChatterBaits. The Carolina rig can also come into play that time of the year.
The Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors and Bassmaster Junior Series will take place on Jan. 23.
The tournaments are being hosted by Lake County, the City of Leesburg and Greater Orlando Sports Commission.
2022 Bassmaster College Series Title Sponsor: Strike King
2022 Bassmaster College Series Presenting Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops
2022 Bassmaster College Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2022 Bassmaster College Series Premier Sponsors: Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2022 Bassmaster College Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
2022 Bassmaster College Series Youth Sponsors: Shimano, SPRO