Messer adjusts and takes Bassmaster Open lead at Harris Chain of Lakes

Most folks love it when a plan comes together.

But Matt Messer is actually pretty stoked that his did not initially work.

As much as it pained Messer to shift gears from his starting area and technique, doing so delivered a limit of 24 pounds, 6 ounces, which leads Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Harris Chain of Lakes.

Hailing from Warfield, Ky., Messer heads into Championship Saturday — the event was shortened to two days due to inclement weather on Thursday — with a lead of 3-9 over Ben Milliken of New Caney, Texas.

“I had something I was going to run, but I only had two keepers at almost 11 o’clock. I had to completely switch everything,” Messer said. “I have a way that I can catch a limit pretty easily, but I knew I wasn’t going to win doing it, so I completely scrapped that.

“I’ve fished this place a bunch. I love this place and it ended up working out. I got a couple of the right bites.”

Anchoring his bag with a 7-14 largemouth, Messer also had a 7-2.

No stranger to these waters, Messer and his brother, Kentucky Christian University teammate Lafe Messer, won the Bassmaster College Series event at Harris Chain in 2022 with a two-day total of 61 pounds, 13 ounces that included monster bags of 25-6 and 36-7, a College Series single-day record.

After severe weather prompted the postponement of Day 1, the full field is now fishing both Friday and Saturday instead of the traditional format of trimming the field to the Top 10 for the third and final day.

With the heavy rains and strong winds roiling the Harris Chain, Messer found much of his success flipping a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg. While many chose to flip hydrilla and Kissimmee grass, Messer opted to target pads, eelgrass and shellbars.

“This is the dirtiest I’ve seen this water,” Messer said. “I think I could have caught ‘em on some of the stuff I started on this morning. I’m glad I didn’t because I ended up finding good ones elsewhere.”

In addition to his creature bait, Messer caught keepers on a Zoom Speed Worm and a buzzbait.

“I started catching them early, and I junk fished my way to a limit,” he said. “The two big ones came between noon and 1. Both of them were pretty close.

“I fished Lake Harris, Eustis and Griffin. I have a lot of history on this place, so I was just running around checking stuff. I wasn’t really on anything (solid).”

Milliken, who won the Bassmaster Open at Toledo Bend in mid-April, is in second place with 20-13. Stating that he was committed to his areas regardless of weather, Milliken said he was pleasantly surprised with the quality he encountered.

“I was just fortunate to find a spot with a big group of fish on Day 2 of practice,” Milliken said. “I never went back there in practice, so I had no idea what it was going to be like when I got there this morning.

“I fished multiple lakes today, but I’m going to narrow it down tomorrow because I know what I’m doing. One lake had all of them — one spot.”

Fishing in what he described as a mid-depth range, Milliken said he caught his bass on a mixture of dragging baits, cranking and a big glidebait.

Bassmaster Elite Series pro John Soukup of Sapulpa, Okla., is in third place with 19-10. Parking in one lake all day, Soukup put his faith in an offshore grass area he had located during practice.

“It was a whole day of figuring out what the bass were going to do — was (Thursday’s weather) going to pack them into their areas really tight, or was it going to loosen them up because the weather started getting good and they started feeling good,” Soukup pondered. “It was a little bit of both.

“I think the weather drew more fish into the cover, and they started biting early and kept going and going and going.”

Noting he threw mostly reaction baits, Soukup said he had several other boats in close proximity, but none seemed to fare as well as he did. The key, he said, was stepping on the gas.

“It was speed, weight, bait,” Soukup said. “I was being way more aggressive than everyone else.

“When other guys came through my area, I could see they were struggling. When people are struggling, they usually think they have to slow down. But sometimes to trigger fish in Florida, you need a heavier weight and a faster presentation.”

Messer is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 7-14.

Pic Dieffenbauch Jr. of Hundred, W.Va., leads the co-angler division with 13-4. With a 6-15 anchoring his limit, Dieffenbauch established a margin of 3-6 over Yukinori Kusabuka of Ibaraki, Japan.

“I threw some moving baits and I did some flipping,” Dieffenbauch said. “I caught the big one on a flipping bait in the afternoon.

“It kind of surprised me because it was later in the day. It wasn’t even in the cover. It was just out in the open water.”

Dieffenbauch holds the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with his 6-15.

JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., leads the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers standings with 1667 points. The EQ season standings will be decided after Saturday’s rounds, with the top nine finishers earning invitations to fish the 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:15 a.m. ET at Ski Beach and the weigh-in will be held back at the launch site at 3:15 p.m. FS1 will broadcast live with the leaders beginning at 8 a.m. with continuing coverage on

The tournament is being hosted by Visit Lake, the City of Leesburg and the Greater Orlando Sports Commission.