A Renaissance on the Harris Chain of Lakes

By: Terry Gibson


You have to love success stories about natural resource restoration. Decades ago, the very mention of the Harris Chain of Lakes caused top-tier bass pros and adventurous traveling anglers to drool.  The vast, stunningly beautiful lakes comprise about 50,000 acres of water, which in those days were filled with bass -- big bass -- as well as tremendous populations of bluegill, shellcracker and crappie. Sadly, pollution nearly killed this legendary chain.

Fortunately, we learned a lesson about proper stewardship and restoration efforts have been successful enough that the lakes are full of healthy populations of big fish. Anglers are raving again about the beautiful Harris Chain. And last year, the Bassmaster Elite Series, the major leagues of professional fishing, returned for the first time since 1990 to hold a tournament that the pros wouldn’t ever forget.

These majestic, cypress-ringed lakes are only about an hour from Orlando International Airport and the major Orlando attractions. Along their shores you’ll find quaint, welcoming, waterfront municipalities that take you back in time to old Florida. These include Leesburg, Mount Dora, Eustis and Tavares, among others.  There’s so much great fishing and more to enjoy.

The Fishing

The Harris Chain is a challenging, trophy bass fishery, and it fishes well year-round. In the Spring, however, roughly February through May, offers the best bass fishing, as the fish are feeding voraciously between spawning events, and moving in and out of the shallows to spawn. Whether they are pre-spawn, on the beds, or post-spawn depends mostly on the moon phase. For my money, I’d plan my vacation for the week before the full moon during that time of the year. The lakes are connected by various canals, and these canals and areas around the canal mouths are often most productive.

You will work submerged grass, lily pads, ledges and deepwater structure. Live shiners almost always produce big fish. For anglers preferring to use lures, you need an assortment of crankbaits, worms and flipping jigs. Fly fishermen also do well with poppers and deerhair bugs, especially in the warmer months when the bass and bream are up shallow early and late in the day.

The Harris Chain also produces lots of fine-eating fish, including crappie, bluegill and shellcracker, as well as epic catfishing. The crappie fishing is arguably the best in the state, especially in the winter, when anglers flock to the chain knowing that they’re almost sure to catch a 25-fish limit each day in the warm sunshine.

Spring and summertime bream fishing is also good, especially on Lake Harris and Lake Eustis. In fact, Florida Fish & Wild Conservation Commission biologists that sample in those water bodies have found the biggest bluegills and shellcracker in the state.

Cat fishing is also really productive in the Harris Chain proper, but the nearby St. Johns River, the longest river in Florida stands at the fourth best site for catfish. In terms of warmwater freshwater fishing, the Lake County area offers some of the best in the country.

Other Sights and Activities

The heart of Lake County is the Golden Triangle Area, and the triangle’s three points are the quaint cities of Mount Dora, Tavares and Eustis.

Topping the list of things to do includes a visit to the Ocala National Forest.  It covers a total of 383,573 acres of well-tended woodlands, trails and natural springs, not to mention some small ponds and lakes that are full of fish.  Sailing, sailing regattas and a sailing school take place on the chain.

The boat tour of the Dora Canal out of Tavares is also very popular, as is water skiing.

You will run out of time long before you run out of things to do, and you might never want to leave.


For more information on restaurants and lodging, please check out the information on the Visit Lake County site


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