Hot Spots: Harris Chain of Lakes

Bass boats fish on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida

When you hear the words “fishing in Florida” there is a handful of lakes most anglers immediately think of and the Harris Chain of Lakes is certainly one of them. The Harris Chain consists of eight connecting lakes that have a vast amount of different grasses and cover to fish, Lake Apopka being the largest of the eight lakes. Anglers can expect to see cover such as hydrilla, eelgrass, Kissimmee grass or shellbeds that provide a variety of different ways to target a trophy Florida largemouth. All eight lakes are connected via canals that anglers can idle through from one lake to the next.

The Harris Chain of Lakes, just northwest of Orlando, is comprised of eight lakes of varying size that total around 75,000 square acres. At 30,000 acres, Lake Apopka is the largest and ranks fourth in Florida by size.

The history of the Harris Chain runs way back, but according to Bassmaster Opens pro Bobby Lane, the fisheries didn’t see the giant fish they have now until the grass really started to grow throughout the lakes.

“Harris Chain used to not have any grass in it at all,” Lane said. “We would go fish tournaments there, and it would only take 16 or 17 pounds to win. Sometimes if you just caught a limit you would be in the top 10. But then the grass took over the lake and the fish that used to be a pound and a half grew up to be 3 pounds. And the 4- and 5-pounders grew up to be 8- and 9-pounders.

“The key to the big bass was the amount of bait in the lake. When there is a lot of grass in the lake, the bait seems to thrive, and in return, the bass get bigger.”

The neat part is that each lake on the chain offers something different for anglers to fish. 

“What is so cool about the Harris Chain is you can kind of pick your poison,” said Buddy Gross who won the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series event at the Harris Chain. “You’ve got Lake Griffin which is a lot like Lake Okeechobee because it offers reeds, pencil reeds, hydrilla, lily pads, eelgrass and then the marsh there. But on the other hand, you have Lake Harris, Eustis, Dora and Beauclair that have hard bottoms, Kissimmee grass, shellbeds and sporadic hydrilla.”

Not only do the lakes offer an incredible opportunity for different styles of fishing, but they also feature giant Florida-strain largemouth. In January of 2022, Matt and Lafe Messer broke the single-day weight record on the Bassmaster College Series when they caught a five-bass limit that weighed 36 pounds, 7 ounces.

Lafe Messer – Matt Messer, Kentucky Christian University

Lay of the Lake: The eight lakes that make up the Harris Chain of Lakes provide 75,000 plus acres of water. The lakes are located just northwest of Orlando and depending on where you are staying you can be in the town of Orlando in less than 45 minutes. Leesburg, Fla. has served as host to multiple Bassmaster tournaments over the years and will serve as host to the 2023 Strike King Bassmaster College Series event on Harris Chain this year.

Trivia: Harris Chain also holds the record for the single heaviest one-day bag weighed in Bassmaster Opens competition caught by Whitney Stephens that weighed 32 pounds, 12 ounces in 2019.

Where to stay: You can find plenty of hotels with boat-friendly parking and electricity hookups in the town of Leesburg which is less than 20 minutes from multiple boat ramps.

Good eats: Gator Bay Bar and Grill located in the Lake Griffin Canal is accessible by boat and offers great bar-type food. My personal favorite is the Swamp Seasoned Gator Bites from the appetizer menu.