Bait Change Keeps Garrett Stop Bassmaster Elite Series Event at Harris Chain of Lakes

LEESBURG, Fla. — Things got a little hairy for John Garrett, but that transitional period helped the Tennessee pro amass a five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 3 ounces and extend his lead at the Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain of Lakes.

In the best performance of his rookie season, Garrett took the Day 1 lead with a limit of 24-2 — the event’s heaviest bag — and held the top position with a second-round bag that went 19-13.

Heading into Championship Monday (the event’s scheduled start was delayed one day by Thursday’s severe weather) with a three-day total of 63-2, Garrett holds a margin of 6-9 over fellow rookie JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Facing the potential for a wire-to-wire Elite win, Garrett said: “I’m just going to try my best to sleep well tonight and fish calm tomorrow. Last night, I didn’t sleep very well and today, before I got my big bites, I started thinking, ‘Alright, something needs to happen.

“Tomorrow, I just really want to be calm, do my thing and fish hard. If it’s meant to happen, I’ll get those bites.”

Returning to Lake Carlton, where he has spent the majority of his time focusing on a 75-yard shellbar, Garrett followed his standing strategy of boxing an early limit and then hunting big bites.

The past two days, his window of opportunity has come later in the morning, but when the big fish he was watching on his forward-facing sonar refused to engage, Garrett made a game-changing adjustment.

“I went through my area while the fish were there at the right time with a crankbait; I only stuck one or two and never caught one,” Garrett said. “I left the fish alone for 45 minutes and I picked up a 5/8-ounce white hair jig, stayed way off of them and bomb cast it up there.

“It’s just something they hadn’t seen yet. They’ve seen it now because I wore out my welcome quickly. I got four good bites on it and caught three of them.”

The hair jig produced Garrett’s three best bass. He caught his other two limit fish on a deep-diving crankbait.

After a windy Day 2, Semifinal Sunday brought mostly flat conditions. Garrett said this created a challenging scenario that made it even tougher to wait out the big fish, which have been most active between approximately 11 and 1.

“It was super sunny and slick and they just were not biting (as well),” Garrett said. “I threw at more fish than I’ve seen all week.

“It’s pretty scary, because I’ll fish and fish and fish and never catch anything. It takes a lot of patience and trust.”

Earlier, Garrett had briefly yielded the top spot to Joseph Webster of Hamilton, Ala., who capitalized on the morning shad spawn for a quick limit of approximately 14 1/2 pounds. Once his big fish started chewing, Garrett put a 5-pounder in the boat at 10:47 a.m. and added a 4-11 about 10 minutes later.

From there, Garrett continued to pick off big bites and held off Thompkins’ persistent charge.

Looking ahead, Garrett said he’s sticking with his spot, if for no other reason than a lack of options.

“I don’t know if I’ll get another bite there tomorrow, but that’s about all I’ve got,” he said. “I’ll just pray that I have another decent day.”

After looking for a big glidebait bite all week, Thompkins got a chunky bass to eat his Clutch Boss Sunday and that 5-pounder helped him gain two notches to second place with 56-9. Thompkins has turned in daily limits of 19-11, 17-1 and 19-13.

“I said going into this event, ‘If I get one bite a day on a glidebait, I’ll win,’” Thompkins said. “This was the first day I’ve produced one on a glidebait. I’m looking at a ton of giants on (Garmin) LiveScope, but it’s too hard to get them to bite. They’re super smart, super educated.

“If I can get one or more of those bites tomorrow, I could step into dangerous territory and maybe take a run at the win.”

Fishing lakes Dora and Beauclair, Thompkins filled the rest of his limit with a jerkbait, a jig and a Neko rig.

KJ Queen of Catawba, N.C., placed third with 53-6. After posting limits of 19-0 and 15-7, Queen added a third-round bag that weighed 18-15.

Devoting his day to a small canal off Lake Harris, Queen fished a mix of cypress trees and lily pads. He saw plenty of bass, but the key to his success was targeting the right ones.

“I was looking for floaters; the fish that had spawned out and were cruising high in the water column,” Queen said. “I saw a lot of big, fat fish, but I could not get them to bite.

“Every time I saw a skinny one, I said, ‘There’s one that will bite.’ If it was fat, pretty and healthy, I couldn’t get them to bite.”

Queen caught his bass on a wacky-rigged Zoom Zlinky.

Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with a monster 10-8 he landed Sunday.

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 293 points. Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, is in second with 285, followed by Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., with 279, Justin Hamner of Northport, Ala., with 269, and JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 267.

McKinney and Williams also lead the race for Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year.

Monday’s final takeoff, featuring the Top 10 remaining anglers, is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be held at the Ski Beach at 3 p.m., with the winner receiving $100,000.

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