Winning Baits

How John Garrett won the Harris Chain Elite

When I talked to John I was like, “That didn’t take long!” Meaning it was just his 3rd Elite tourney. He was like, “It’s taken my whole life!” Good point. I took that to mean it’s all perspective, and on the other hand it doesn’t matter what the timing is – he won! Here’s how he did it.

Going in and practice

> “Before the Harris Chain I was thinking, How can I come and survive this tournament? How can I get out of FL with 2 decent finishes?

> “I’ve had a good bit of success at the Harris Chain. I’ve had a top 5 in a couple of college championships and made some cuts in the Opens. But every time I did that it felt so lucky. One time I found them because a bird dove, one time was a major flood and I was working currents…. It felt like luck after luck so I just wanted to survive.

> “The 1st day of practice, right before I had to leave, I go across that school of fish [he won on in Carlton]. …well okay that’s something, but it was right at dark and lot of time on those shell bars they kinda bite in the afternoons. …I didn’t really have much faith in it. I found it so late in the day, and in my head it was kind of lucky.

> “The next day of practice started in Dora. I thought…if I can find something else besides that spot. I found 1 small shell bar I caught one on…could see some but never got any more bites. That’s the place I started each morning and caught a couple key fish.

> “I spent the majority of the 2nd and 3rd days in Griffin. For me it has been a place to survive but never thrive. I feel like Top 10s are hard to come by there for me anyway.

> “The decision was do I want to go to Griffin or risk it at that [Carlton] place. Do I want to try to survive this FL tournament or have a chance to do well? It was a really huge risk for me to go to Carlton. I found that place at dark [and never checked it again], it wasn’t that great when I found it….

> “Wednesday afternoon I’d about talked myself into going to Griffin. …rigged up all my Griffin rods, only couple shell bar rods, then we had that [day 1 postponement]. When that happened…my mind just changed…let’s just take the risk. If I suck in this tournament…I’ll make it up in the rest of the year.

> “…I could not go to Carlton and then go to Griffin. They’re just too far apart.”


> “I started [day 1] morning at the [Dora] place…caught a quick limit, then went to [the Carlton] spot and caught 24 lbs there. I took a long time. I caught 2 back to back – 1 was 8 lbs and a 5-lber. Then 12:00 I caught one, then 1:00 I caught back to back fish. I was fishing the whole time.”

He did that same thing the next 3 days:

> “Each morning I started in Dora and weighed fish off that spot every day, whether it was a decent fish or the smallest fish in my bag. The Carlton spot was so grimy and risky – I was getting so few bites – so catching a quick limit was super-important for my confidence.

> “Dora had a lot dirtier water and that kinda pushed the fish shallower. The shell bed I fished in Dora was 2-3′ deep with really short eelgrass on it. By the time I got there each morning it was the very tail end of a shad spawn.

> “My primary area [in Carlton] was a shell bed that had a lot cleaner water, which allowed the fish to be deeper. Those fish were in 12-14′.”


Day 1 he weighed all his fish cranking a Strike King 5XD:

> “For some reason they really wanted a wide-wobble crankbait that day.”

Day 2 he weighed 2 on the 5XD, then switched to a tighter-wobbling crankbait for the rest.

Day 3 he weighed 1 fish on the 5XD and 4 on a hair jig.

Day 4 he “mixed it up a good bit.” His 5 were: Carolina rig fish from the Dora spot, Strike King 1.5 at the Dora spot, then 3 from Carlton: hair jig (biggest fish), Carolina rig and 5XD.


> Strike King 5XD (olive shad and citrus shad) with Owner STX trebles (“kind of a mix between a round-bend and triple-grip style”), 12-lb Seaguar Tatsu fluoro, Lew’s BB1 Reel (7.5), 7′ 6″ MF Team Lew’s Mark Rose Signature Series Crankbait Rod.

> Initially he was losing fish “because they were just nipping it” so he put the trebles on either double split rings or braided line – “I had one of each tied on. They were better than the traditional 1 split ring. I could not make my mind up which one I liked more.”

> “Those fish were extremely smart. Old fish, lots of pressure, they were smart. I was using the 5XD just to get a reaction so I was burning it. It was a fine line because I wanted to burn it really fast, but I was trying to feel the fish – because a lot of times I would hit one before I would catch one.

> “I’d [crank] it through a school of fish, hit 1-2, then stop it and jerk it – 4-5 more cranks and I’d snap it and give it a fast jerk [then they’d bite]. So without reeling fast I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

Hair jig

> 5/8-oz hand tied hair jig (white, all deer tail), 17-lb Seaguar Tatsu fluoro, Lew’s HyperMag Reel (8.3), 7′ 3″ MHF Lew’s Custom Lite Rod.

> “…long throw and then let it fall to the bottom with a tight line. Once it hit the bottom I’d make 3 fast reel turns, then on a tight line let it hit the bottom…reel it and stop it, and as soon as I’d stop it they would bite.

> “A hair jig has worked for me all over the TN River, and my very first cast with it in FL I caught a 5-lber on it.”

Carolina rig

> 5″ Strike King Ocho (junebug), 4/0 Owner J Hook, clacker, plastic bead, swivel, 5/8-oz Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Weight, 17-lb Seaguar Tatsu for both mainline and leader, Lew’s HyperMag Reel (8.3), 7′ 4″ HF Lew’s Custom Lite Rod.

> He fished it “the normal way. There definitely were little sweet spots. When I’d get in a sweet spot a bluegill or tilapia would start pecking my weight…I’d drag it real slow with some rod snaps [to make the bait] float up and slow float back down.”


> “…I never watched a bass eat my bait on FFS this week. …I’m so used to using it I looked down and I’d sweep around, but I never…threw at a bass [and] never saw a bass eat my bait on it.

> “There were so many fish in the areas I was fishing – tilapia, bluegill, gizzard shad, catfish…. It was similar to a giant school of white bass on TN River. …side imaging and Mega 360 allowed me to see the [fish] shadows and…that was the only way I could distinguish between bass and other species because they were so tight to the bottom.

> “The LakeMaster map showed a little bit of the area I was fishing [in Carlton]. The crazy thing is I was there because the map showed a pretty nice drop…as I was approaching the drop I [saw] the fish on my side imaging away from it.”

He also told Humminbird:

> “I utilized the Humminbird MEGA Side Imaging to locate hard spots and Minn Kota Ultrex QUEST to stay put and sneak up close to the fish. Once I was in place, I could make precise casts with MEGA 360 Imaging. I had to endure long periods between bites, and just have the confidence that I was going to get a few key bites.”


> “A reliable motor and boat [Skeeter/Yamaha]. I never think about how important that is. You’re never worried about getting back to the ramp as much as you are as when you’re in the position I was in this week. When I cranked my motor, that’s when [he was like], It sure is nice that cranks up every time.”

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