Buddy Gross bucks the trends to collect his second Bassmaster Elite trophy with a win on the Harris Chain.
While many of his close competitors focused on traditional Central Florida patterns, Buddy Gross of Chattanooga, Tennessee, located something different and leveraged his findings for four days to win the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at the Harris Chain of Lakes with a total weight of 77 pounds, 11 ounces.
With a full moon on Wednesday and the week's warming trend priming the Harris Chain lakes for a major spawning event, Gross said he decided against staking his tournament on this dicey pattern.
"When you come to Florida, if you get a good boat number, you need a big (bed fish) to go to, but I never found a big one to go to," Gross said. "I looked a little bit every day, but when I came here, I knew I was going to fish offshore, but I never knew I was going to fish the way I did. It kind of fell into my lap the first day."
Gross also bypassed the offshore hydrilla pattern that sustained several of the top finishers. As he noted, he actually planned to fish the hydrilla until he identified a more productive option.
On Day 1, Gross caught a limit of 22-12 and placed third before taking over the Day-2 lead with a limit of 17-11. Gross struggled on Semi-final Saturday and slipped to sixth after catching his smallest limit--14-14. Championship Sunday saw him roar back into prominence and seal his victory with a limit of 22-6.
Claiming his second Elite title--his first in 2020 at Lake Eufaula--Gross won a first-place prize of $100,000.
Where He Fished
On the tournament's second day, Gross explored a few spots on lakes Beauclair and Eustis, but all four days, he ended up catching the fish he weighed on the east side of Lake Harris. Here, he fished a popular area known as Banana Cove.
A well-known community hole, this area holds the largest area of hydrilla (submersed vegetation) and typically produces quantity and quality. On the first morning, Gross was moving from the grass line on which he started when he made a couple of casts across a transition area. Catching two fish on consecutive casts prompted him to stop and explore the spot with his Humminbird 360 sonar.
There, he found a shore break near deep water with clusters of shellcracker (redear sunfish) beds. The panfish were not using these beds, but bass were relating to the shell bars on which there were located.
"I could watch these fish and it was almost like they were running the break parallel, they would go down and a little while later, they'd come back," he said. "The fish I saw were actively looking for bait and they were riding that ledge."
Broadening his search, Gross found multiple spots with this scenario throughout the tournament.
Gross started in Banana Cove on Day 4, but ended up fishing the same scenario on a point across from the cove. He surmised that three days of intense fishing pressure was pushing fish out of the cove's hydrilla and toward the point he was fishing.
How He Caught 'Em
Gross caught his fish on a 5-inch Scottsboro Tackle swimbait, which he rigged on a 3/4-ounce swimbait head and a Junebug Zoom Z-Craw Worm. He fished the worm on a Carolina rig and a Texas Rig.
"I caught fish on the Carolina rig and the Texas rig, but I threw the Texas rig more because I felt like I have better control," Gross said.
With each of his baits, Gross found a slow presentation most productive.
Rest of the Best
Drew Benton of Blakely, Georgia, finished second with 75-1. Committing to the bed fish pattern, he caught his fish on a Bagley Pro Sunny B prop bait and a Texas-rigged Big Bite Fighting frog.
Benton placed 47th on Day 1 with 13-11 but he fared better on Day 2 by catching 19-1 and improving to 23rd. He added 21-5 on Day 3 and moved up to eighth place before weighing a 21-pound bag on the final day.
Finishing third, Day-3 leader Ray Hanselman Jr. of Del Rio, Texas turned in a 4-day total of 71-8. Hanselman spent his entire tournament on the Banana Cove hydrilla flats and caught his fish on a homemade 1/2-ounce bladed swim jig with no skirt and a minnow style trailer and a Strike King Hybrid Hunter crankbait.
David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tennessee, finished fourth with 70-1. Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn. was fifth with 69-9.
John Cox of Debary, Florida, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the 11-pounder he caught on Day 3.
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