|Another Harris Trophy. Corey Fey, 15, shows the 10-pound, 8 ounce Largemouth bass he caught last week on Harris Chain.|
Recent catches prove things are thriving
Ever since Lake County’s Harris Chain bass fishery all but crashed and burned more than a decade ago, its 40,000 acres have been bypassed by big-bass hunters.
In January, local tournament angler Richard Patterson caught a 12- pound, 15.5-ounce bass near the mouth of a Dead River Canal.
Then the CITGO BASSmasters Tour event came to town Jan. 29, and on the first day, pro Alton Jones caught a fish that weighed 10 pounds, 13 ounces.
During the first two days of the tournament, the anglers caught 1,168 bass with a total weight of 2,946 pounds, according to a report filed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Last week, Corey Fey, 15, a ninth-grade student at Dr. Phillips High School, caught a 10-pound, 8-ounce largemouth on Lake Harris using The Original Fishing Snake.
The lifelike lure was co-developed by Mark Abernathy of St. Cloud and noted big-bass expert Doug Hannon of Odessa.
Fey said he saw the wake of a large bass head into the maidencane that rings the lake. He cast the lure into the grass, retrieved it in short twitches, and once it exited the weed, stopped it and let it float.
“There was a swirl, and the snake disappeared,” Fey said. “The fish headed back into the grass, and I had to wrestle it back out of the grass.”
After a picture, the fish was released.
Fey’s father, Tim, is a bass guide and chief field pro for the Natural Motion Lures Co., which markets the lures.
Oddly enough, it’s not Corey Fey’s favorite bait all the time.
“Sometimes I don’t have the patience for it, because you have to work it very slowly,” he said. FWC biologist John Benton said he has been encouraged by the reports of the large bass being caught in the chain’s lakes.
In the early 1990s, the chain’s bass fishery seemed on the brink.
The fish were hard to find, and many appeared undernourished and with pink rather than bright red gills.
Angry tournament anglers and Hannon blamed overly eager weed- control authorities who eliminated the exotic plant hydrilla from the chain.
The offshore stands of underwater plants were the favorite gathering places for larger bass, when they weren’t moving to the shallow waters to feed.
Without the grass, the anglers said, the bass had scattered.
In addition, they claimed, the sudden death of the plants released excess nutrients they had been storing. The sudden flood of free nutrients caused a plankton bloom and then sudden die-off that torpedoed the levels of dissolved oxygen in the lakes.
Biologists studied the fish, sending samples to experts at several universities, but never could find out what was causing their illness and die-offs.
Benton said they now believe it was caused by what is called the Largemouth Bass Virus, which was unknown to scientists then.Eventually the viral attack ran its course and left the chain with a fair bass population.
But it still had a poor reputation and caused many people to avoid fishing the chain, which helped more fish survive.
Then came an unexpected event, the drought of 1998-99, which acted as a mini-drawdown and helped improve the fishery’s habitat.
It also concentrated bait fish and made them easy prey.
“These big fish that are being caught now are old fish, and during the drought, they sure fed well and have bulked up some,” Benton said.
The rainfalls that ended the drought helped improve the water’s clarity and the spread of eelgrass, an important nursery plant for young bass.
“The eelgrass is all over the place now,” Benton said. “The water transparency looks better than it was in the 1990s. Overall, I’m very happy with what we’re seeing out in the chain.”
Copyright 2004 by The Orlando Sentinel)
Don Wilson can be reached at dwilson@OrlandoSentinel.com or 407-420- 5397.