Garrett’s gamble delivers Day 1 lead at Bassmaster Elite Series event on Harris Chain of Lakes

The combination of quantity and quality define bass tournament success, and John Garrett gladly sacrificed the former for the latter’s potential.

The Tennessee angler’s decision paid big dividends with a five-bass limit of 24 pounds, 2 ounces, which leads Day 1 of the Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain of Lakes.

“I only got seven bites today, but they were the right ones,” Garrett said. “This was a totally blessed day.”

After extreme weather postponed Thursday’s scheduled start, anglers fished under clear, sunny postfrontal conditions. Thankfully the front did not significantly drop air and water temperatures.

More importantly, the fish Garrett found in practice held their ground.

“I kinda gambled today; I went to an area that I knew had the right size fish in it,” he said. “There aren’t many fish there and they’re extremely hard to catch.”

Garrett said he made a long run from the take-off site on Lake Harris’ northwestern corner. The round-trip journey burned a big chunk of his day, but he said it was a calculated risk.

“It was so tough everywhere else, I knew if I caught one fish there, it would equal two or three of the fish I was catching (elsewhere in practice),” he said. “I knew if I could catch two or three fish on the spot I ran to, I’d have the right ones.

“The size is there. I know the winning caliber of fish are there; it’s just getting some of them in the boat.”

The bass Garrett targeted were patrolling shell bottom, often running with tilapia. A mix of reaction baits earned his bites.

“There was a lot of clear water in this area,” Garrett said. “Those fish were just cruising and when they’d swim through, you might catch one, you might not.”

Garrett said he believes he was catching fish that had spawned several months ago.

“These fish have had a lot of time to recover,” he said. “They’re the healthiest fish I’ve seen on the chain.”

Garrett said he committed to his game plan fully expecting a tedious day. The pace, however, became more stressful than he’d anticipated.

“I didn’t have a fish at 10 o’clock today,” Garrett said. “I caught all of my fish between 10 and 1. I had a bite about every hour.”

As for Round 2, Garrett said he’ll return to his sweet spot in hopes of grinding out another good bag.

John Cox of DeBary, Fla., is in second place with 22-5. Sampling several lakes, he settled into one location and channeled lessons from his early instructor to sack up three big bass in a 20-foot section of Kissimmee grass.

“I grew up here fishing with (the late) Joe Kremer and he pretty much taught me how to fish the Harris Chain,” Cox said. “It was unreal today, I pulled into an area and I was like, ‘Joe always used to catch a couple here.’

“I caught a good one and for some reason, in my head, it was where I remember seeing him make a flip. I ended up catching two more big ones on that spot.”

Cox caught all of his bass on a Texas-rigged Berkley MaxScent The General in the tilapia color.

Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas, is in third place with 22 pounds. His day started with a big bite, but he then endured a painfully slow morning, before returning to the scene of his early success for a second helping.

“I caught a big one that weighed 7-14 at 8:30 and I did not catch another fish until probably 11,” Whatley said. “I swapped lakes and filled out my limit. Then I came back to where I caught that first big one and caught a 7-12.”

Using a mix of reaction baits and slow presentations, Whatley said he was catching postspawn fish that were holding in grass that was 4 to 7 feet deep. During practice, he caught a 5-pounder on his main spot, but he said catching two nearly 8-pounders in competition was a pleasant surprise.

“That’s typical Florida fishing — a big fish goes a long way,” Whatley said. “I was just fortunate enough to get two good ones.

“I know there are some more there. I had one more giant (hooked) and I didn’t get him.”

Whatley and Paul Mueller of Naugatuck, Conn., share the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors, each with a 7-14.

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 287 points. Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., is in second with 283, followed by Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., with 273, Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, with 272, and J.T. Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 261.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET at Venetian Gardens (Ski Beach). The weigh-in will be held at the Ski Beach at 3 p.m.

Follow all the action on FS1 from 7:30-10:30 a.m. and on from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. ET. On Semifinal Sunday, watch live coverage on FS1from 8-11 a.m. and on from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

The event is being hosted by the Greater Orlando Sports Commission.