Visiting and Fishing Central Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes

Vacationing and resident anglers have a wide variety of fishing opportunities in Florida to choose from.  One of the most accessible, scenic and productive is the Harris Chain of Lakes.   Located in the geographical center of the State about an hour north of the Orlando Theme Parks, the Harris Chain is a large interconnected body of fresh water covering over 50,000 acres.

The Harris Chain lakes are extremely fertile supporting a sizeable population of all popular Florida freshwater species.   The average depth of the larger lakes is 10-12 feet in the center with little offshore structure and no open water obstacles to impede navigation.  A ring of Kissimmee grass covers most of the shoreline with eel grass, pepper grass, lily pads, reeds and cattails disbursed throughout.

The water depth at the weed edge varies from a few feet to about six feet.   Water color can vary from clear to turbid depending upon location, wind and season.  Boating and fishing pressure is light compared to Florida lakes further South.  Over fifty percent of the shoreline is natural with an occasional residential boat dock along the shore.  Numerous springs feed these lakes as well as inflow from the Clermont Chain farther south.

Year Round Fishing

Numerous manmade canals hold resident fish year round with larger fish from November until May.  Summer off shore fishing is limited to shell beds and rock piles. Points and islands of grass are major bass holding areas. Numerous pad fields are interspersed throughout the chain. Harris Chain bass are strong, healthy and full of fight. Numerous eight pound plus bass are caught in these waters each year. Ten pound plus fish are always possible. For this reason, it is best to fish with heavier line.

Summer bass fishing can be tough with water temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties.  Florida’s summer heat and high humidity can be oppressive to newcomers and visitors to the region. Summer bass fishing in Florida is generally over by 10 AM with late afternoons being somewhat better. Fall starts in October bringing cooler temperatures. In the winter bass move into the canals, creeks and bays. Winter fishing in Florida can be excellent between cold fronts. Cold snaps typically last a day or two with warm weather and better fishing during periods of stable weather. Bass bed in these lakes beginning as soon as the first full moon in January and can peak in April. Six mile long Haines Creek connecting Lake Eustis and Lake Griffin is a major bass spawning area. A lock is positioned half way with a manned operator from dawn until sunset.

Fishing Local Water

The best artificial lures for Harris Chain bass are reaction baits. Spinnerbaits, blade baits, swim baits and lipless crankbaits head the list. Texas rigged plastic worms are productive with dark colors being the most popular. Flipping the Kissimmee Grass and pad fields yields large fish for those with skill and patience.

Check out the Baitstick Box for Florida and fish local water out of the box with bait and tackle handpicked by the Baitstick team. Seasoned anglers can resupply with essentials and new anglers can fish a lake right out of the box.

There are numerous free public boat ramps on the Chain. The most popular being Hickory Point Park at the Howey Bridge in Tavares, Buzzard Beach on Highway 441 and Venetian Gardens in Leesburg. The Herlong Park ramp on Highway 441 in Leesburg provides access to Lake Griffin. Boats on the Chain are generally small with bass and pontoon boats being the most popular.

The largemouth bass is king in these lakes, although many anglers also fish for crappie in season.  Crappie or Speckled Perch are popular with those who enjoy eating their catch.  The lakes are full of assorted pan fish, which are generally under fished.   Few anglers fish for cat fish in these lakes, even though they grow large at times.   In recent years, Florida Game officials have stocked the lakes with Hybrid Stripped bass making the fishery more diverse.

There are a number of tackle shops and marinas in the area as well as skilled and experienced local fishing guides who can provide access to fishing on the water. Local bass tournaments are held each weekend around the lakes. Large televised national bass tournaments are held each year along with a National Crappie fishing tournaments.

Lodging is plentiful in this area.  Some hotels and motels cater to bass fishermen with space for trailer parking and battery charging hookups.   If you require these facilities, it is best to ask before you book a room.  Few hotels are on the water. Most are within a short drive to a local boat ramp with ample parking.  Check out Baitstick’s Location Guide for Harris Chain of Lakes for suggestions on how to plan a trip to Harris Chain of Lakes.

In recent years, hydrilla has been allowed to grow in these lakes. This has done much to improve the bass fishery. The hydrilla is being managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Copies of their management plan is available upon request.  Hydrilla management is an ever changing endeavor, so you should know local conditions will vary considerably.

North Central Florida is a beautiful place to visit, boat and fish. Huge oaks reflecting on the water sit high on green hills draped in hanging moss. Birds, alligators and wildlife of all description go about their lives undisturbed by human inhabitants. The Ocala National Forest borders the most northern lake in the Chain with nearly 400,000 acres of pristine pine forest.   In this area, you are always just a short drive back to the Florida of the past before theme parks, traffic and space rockets.

Get out and fish.  And remember that all fishing is local.

Baitstick supports efforts to build the next generation of anglers nationwide, including the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) and The Outdoor Foundation