LEESBURG, Fla. — Fishing in Florida is often determined by the weather conditions, and anglers competing in the 2023 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship will have to decipher how the bass are reacting to the weather, according to St. Croix Bassmaster Opens pro Blake Smith.
“Anything can happen in December,” the Florida native said. “Our fish can already be pretty finicky. December and January are the two most unpredictable months down here. It could be absolutely gorgeous and have fish coming up to spawn. I saw some prespawn fish at the Open in October.
“You could be able to lock into one of those big schools of females. The only thing that would be holding them off would be cold weather and full moons.”
The field of teams from across the country will compete Dec. 6-7, with the winning duo earning a cash prize of $25,000. The Top 3 teams after Day 2 — six anglers in all — will have their weights zeroed and compete individually in the Classic Fish-Off Dec. 8-9. The individual champion will punch his or her ticket to the Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla., scheduled for March 22-24 on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
Over the past several years, the Harris Chain has been one of the top destinations for anglers in the Sunshine State, with several Bassmaster records being recorded there since 2020. Eight lakes make up the massive fishery, including Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Griffin, Lake Dora, Lake Beauclair, Lake Carlton and Lake Apopka. Anglers can only access Lake Griffin and Lake Beauclair through a lock system.
Smith, who lives in nearby Lakeland, Fla., said the largemouth in the system could potentially have spawning on their minds given the right conditions. While some will head for the bank in search of a bed, others will begin staging and feeding ahead of the mating process.
“The first wave of spawners, no matter what lake it is, are usually huge,” Smith said. “That is when a lot of the giant bags get caught. Like when Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro caught their gigantic bags during the College Championship (in 2020), those were prespawn bass.”
Like many tournaments, submergent hydrilla and eelgrass will play a major role in this event. In his most recent event at Harris Chain, the 2023 season finale of the Opens, Smith found Lake Griffin and Apopka to have the most vegetation while Harris had very little.
“You are looking for your offshore vegetation,” he said. “Offshore hydrilla is going to keep the warmth, plus it is a great place to stage for prespawn, but I also believe they get in some of that stuff and spawn.”
Shellbeds could be more of a factor with chilly weather, and if the temperature drops significantly, Smith expects the fishing to be pretty tough.
“We might have a week’s worth of temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and you never want to fish during those weeks,” he said. “Let’s say that pops during the Team Championship, they will have to pick up a flipping stick and start punching.”
For now, the long-range forecast calls for highs in the 70s with nighttime lows in the 50s.
Three baits shine for Smith this time of year on the Harris Chain. With forward-facing sonar becoming an increasingly helpful tool, a jerkbait is one of his favorite presentations. A Rat-L-Trap-type bait is also a popular choice for locals, along with a Carolina rig.
Takeoff will be held each day at 7 a.m. ET from Venetian Gardens in Leesburg with weigh-in held back at the park starting at 3 p.m. Full coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com.
2023 Bassmaster Team Championship Title Sponsor: Bass Pro Shops
2023 Bassmaster Team Championship Premier Sponsors: Dakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2023 Bassmaster Team Championship Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC
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The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Series, Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Strike King Bassmaster High School Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Team Championship, Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series scored by TourneyX, Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Bassmaster Classic.