Tuesday, April 16, 2024

John Garret Wins 2024 Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain of Lakes!

Elite rookie wins wire to wire!

By David A. Brown


LEESBURG, Fla. — Sometimes, you close the door.

Other times, you slam it shut.

John Garrett did the latter and tallied a four-day total of 84 pounds, 5 ounces to claim his first Bassmaster win with a wire-to-wire victory at the Lowrance Bassmaster Elite at Harris Chain of Lakes.

The rookie from Union City, Tenn., endured a final-round emotional roller coaster that started with unexpected bonuses, followed by a desert of disappointment. Thankfully, the ride ended with a fist-pumping, “Let’s go!” kinda moment that sent a blue trophy to Garrett’s mantle and a $103,000 top prize to his bank account.

“I used to watch the Bassmaster Elites on the weekends with my grandad (former St. Croix Bassmaster Opens co-angler Johnnie Garrett),” said a clearly emotional Garrett. “It was a hard choice whether to watch the Elite weigh-in or go fishing all weekend.

“I never thought that I would be on this stage, let alone win one of these trophies. The Lord had His hand above me all this week.”

After taking the lead with a Day 1 limit of 24-2 — the event’s heaviest bag — Garrett added limits of 19-13, 19-3 and 21-3. Garrett edged rookie JT Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., by 10-9. This is only the 14th time in Elite Series history a competitor has recorded a double-digit winning margin.

The only angler to break 20 pounds twice, Garrett is the second rookie to win an Elite event this season. Fellow rookie, sixth-place finisher Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., won the year’s second event at Lake Fork.

Lamenting a lean practice that left him with minimal options, Garrett devoted the majority of his tournament to a 75-yard stretch of shellbar on Lake Carlton’s northwest side. With quality bass rubbing fins with tilapia and catfish, he methodically worked up and down the hard-bottom zone in hopes of triggering bites.

Garrett caught his bass on a Strike King 5XD, a deep-diving crankbait, a Strike King 1.5 squarebill, a white hair jig and a Carolina-rigged Strike King Ocho.

Earlier in the week, Garrett said he settled into this pattern largely because he had nothing else going. Having grown up on the Tennessee River, Garrett is very familiar with fishing bars, so committing to a familiar pattern helped keep his head in the game.

“During the off day (Thursday’s scheduled start was postponed by extreme weather), something told me to take a chance on this tournament,” Garrett said. “I was about to go to Lake Griffin and play it safe. But I heard this little voice in my head that said, ‘Go for those big ones.’

“Since I made that decision, the Lord was with me all week. Whether it was a bait change or location change, I could not do anything wrong.”

Each day, Garrett started on what he called a “limit spot,” where he would put five keepers in livewell to settle his nerves before proceeding to his big-fish spot. The first three days, he ended up culling all of those small bass, but Day 4 delivered 3 1/4- and 4-pound surprises that put him ahead of schedule when he transitioned to his big-fish spot.

Unbeknownst to Garrett, Thompkins was craftily mounting the heartbreak campaign, by picking off solid fish with a Clutch Boss glidebait. Notably, Garrett finished second to Thompkins in the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifiers standings.

Fortunately for Garrett, his school of big fish saved the best for last. Leading Thompkins by about 1 1/2 pounds (according to BassTrakk’s unofficial standings), Garrett overcame a temporary impediment and connected with his biggest catch of the tournament — a 7-4 that effectively put the event out of reach.

“I’d been waiting all week for that fish,” Garrett said. “My shellbar had gotten overrun by gar, but I scanned around for about 30 minutes and relocated the school. When I caught that big fish, I didn’t necessarily think I had won, but I knew I had a good chance.”

Garrett would make one more cull about 20 minutes later. Confident he had done all he could likely do, he headed in early to ensure no complications could doom his efforts.

Thompkins kept himself in the hunt all week. Starting with a Day 1 limit of 19-11, he tied Mississippi pro Brock Mosley for eighth place. Adding 17-1 in the second round moved him up to fourth.

With a third-round limit of 19-13, Thompkins improved his position to second before a Championship Monday bag of 17-3 settled him in the No. 2 spot with a tournament total of 73-12.

“I gave it everything I had and that’s all I can ask for,” Thompkins said. “I just tried to get my bait in front of as many fish as I could. I’m pleased with what I have.”

Thompkins split his time between lake Dora and Beauclair. He said he found the most promising conditions in those two lakes.

KJ Queen of Catawba, N.C., placed third with 72 pounds. His daily weights were 19-0, 15-7, 18-15 and 18-10.

Queen spent his tournament in a small canal off Lake Harris where he targeted a mix of cypress trees and lily pads. He amassed his weight by catching postspawn “floaters” — recuperating fish holding high in the water column — and late spawners.

Queen caught his fish on a wacky-rigged Zoom Zlinky and a Queen Tackle Tungsten Switchblade (bladed jig).

“I kept the same thing going every day and then I got into a little area that had a lot of big fish,” Queen said. “I was catching some off bed and some cruising down the bank. It’s a fun way to catch them.”

Garrett won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for Day 4 with his 7-4. He also won the $2,000 Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag Award.

Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., won the $2,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 10-8.

Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, won the $1,000 BassTrakk contingency award.

Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., won the $1,000 award for leading the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 293 points. Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, is in second with 285, followed Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., with 283, reigning Bassmaster Classic Champion Justin Hamner of Northport, Ala., with 269, and Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 267.

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