Garrett added a Day 2 limit of 19 pounds, 13 ounces and maintained his lead at Harris Chain

LEESBURG, Fla. — More than 800 miles separate John Garrett’s home in Union City, Tenn., from Leesburg, Fla., but the Elite rookie said he feels like he’s fishing at home.

Leveraging the confidence and comfort born of such familiarity, Garrett sacked a Day 2 limit of 19 pounds, 13 ounces to retain the lead in the Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at the Harris Chain of Lakes with a two-day total of 43-15.

Building on his Day 1 limit of 24-2 — the event’s heaviest bag — Garrett heads into Semifinal Sunday with a lead of 5-2 over Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas.

“The good Lord has absolutely blessed me the past two days,” Garrett said. “I got some good bites and I really didn’t expect this whatsoever. I’m fishing the way that I grew up fishing and the way I love to fish.

“I hope I can get five, maybe 10 more of the right ones.”

Drawing on his lifetime of fishing Tennessee River shellbars, Garrett focused most of his effort on a 75-yard stretch of Harris Chain mussels in about 12 feet of water. On the same spot that yielded his first-round weight, postspawn bass were mixing with tilapia and running up and down the bar.

“Like yesterday, from 10 to 1 is the sweet time,” Garrett said. “Today, at 1 o’clock, the wind slicked off and I did not get another bite. Today, the fish were there better — I could see them on my Humminbird 360 — I just could not catch them.

“I’m just covering as much water as I can in that zone and making as many casts as I can.”

Garrett started his day on a limit spot to settle his nerves by putting five small keepers in the boat. After that, he hunkered down on his main area and diligently picked it apart with crankbaits, including a Strike King 5XD.

“Once I knew I’d made the Day 3 cut (on the limit spot), I spent all day on my big-fish area,” Garrett said. “I got six big bites and I caught two of them. I had the bites to maybe have a little more weight today, I just couldn’t get them in the boat.

“There’s not a lot of fish there and when I get them to bite, it’s a reaction. I’m getting most of them on the bait’s back hook.”

Garrett said he’s committed to his game plan for at least one more day. He might show his big fish a broader selection of baits, including single-hook plastics, but he believes his best shot at winning awaits on that shellbar.

“I don’t know how Sunday’s going to play out,” Garrett said. “I’ll probably start on my limit hole, fish for an hour and then head over to my big-fish place and stay all day.”

Whatley placed second with 38-13. After placing third on Day 1 with 22 pounds, he added 16-13.

On Day 1, Whatley found a 7-14 and a 7-12 on the same spot. He tried that area again, but found no second-round additions. Changing areas, he fished multiple spots and found his bites in a consistent shallow water scenario.

“I know what I’m looking for now, so when I’m running down the lake and I see what I like, I’ll shut it down and go over there,” Whatley said. “It’s just where the fish are setting up — and it changes.

“In the morning time, they’re in certain areas and, as the day goes on, they change up a little bit. I think the bait has a lot to do with it. The bait’s moving around and they’re just following that bait.”

Reflecting on his second-round experience, Whatley said he’s optimistic that he’s even more dialed in than he was on Day 1. He’ll pursue the same general game plan, in hopes of earning a spot in Championship Monday’s Top 10 field.

“I figured some stuff out late in the day and I’m pretty excited about it,” Whatley said. “I feel like everything I’m doing is the right move and that doesn’t come around very often.”

Ed Loughran III of Richmond, Va., placed third with 37-12. After placing 15th on Day 1 with 17-3, Loughran added 20-9 — the second day’s only bag over 20 pounds.

Loughran anchored his Day 2 limit with a late-day kicker — a 7-15 that bit just minutes before 3 o’clock.

“I had a good bag before, but that fish bumped me up to a different level,” Loughran said. “I caught that fish on a brushpile in 12 feet of water that I had found (during a previous visit to the Harris Chain).”

Describing the course that led him to his biggest bass in two days, Loughran attributed his success to a change of game plan.

“It was a strange day; I had plans to do one thing and I ended up doing the exact opposite,” he said. “I had a late boat number today and after going to Lake Apopka yesterday and flipping with 65-pound braid, I stayed in Harris, Eustis and Dora and fished brushpiles with a drop shot with a Missile Baits Magic Worm.”

As Loughran explained, when he reached the 14-pound mark, he had intended to return to Apopka. However, catching a 5-pounder around 10 o’clock convinced him to stay.

“I knew I was going to make the Top 50 cut at that point,” Loughran said. “Without that 5-pounder, I would not have caught that (7-15).”

Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with an 8-7.

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year points standings with 294 points. Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, is in second with 282, followed by Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., with 271, Justin Hamner of Northport, Ala., with 268, and JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 265.

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

Sunday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET from Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be held at the Ski Beach at 3 p.m.

 

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