After finishing 15th at Seminole to start off my Elite Series season I was excited to get to the St. Johns River for what I expected to be another tournament focused on spawning bass. As usually happens, though, Mother Nature threw us a curveball with all sorts of changing weather so I forced myself to practice with an open mind, keying on the weather changes as they occurred.
I knew that there would be some good bags caught out of Lake George, but I also knew that it was going to be crowded and I had no intention of fighting the big crowds there. Instead, I focused on Crescent Lake. The first day of practice was stormy, which made it hard to sight fish. Instead I headed into a likely spawning area and fished around with a Missile Baits Shockwave and absolutely mauled them. I quickly figured out the certain areas where fish were already bedding, as well as some places where they were going to bed, anticipating that I’d need them to replenish every day in order to have a good tournament.
I only covered half of Crescent that first day, so on Day Two I finished my loop and ended up with a pretty good idea of what I would be doing when the tournament started. On the third day I tried to refine my tournament strategy by finding some areas in between Crescent and the ramp where I might be able to supplement my catch or make a good cull. That ultimately proved to be a good use of my time.
After the stormy conditions during practice, Day One of the tournament turned out to be sunny and dead flat calm, so rather than cover water with the Shockwave I was able to bed fish with a straight tailed finesse worm, pitching it into the holes in the grass and around the cypress trees. I had my key areas mostly to myself and worked them over pretty hard. Along the way I caught a lot of fish. I had thought that I could catch at least one or two a day over the six pound mark, and I was very disappointed that didn’t happen. I weighed in 14-03 and sat in 45th place.
The second day I followed pretty much the same strategy and while I caught fewer fish, the average size was better. Quite a few fish had pulled up overnight in Lake George, so while I weighed in almost a pound more than on the prior day, everyone else caught them too, so I dropped a spot to 46th. That was pretty nerve-wracking because I had expected that bag to move me up a few spots.
Heading into Day Three eight pounds out of the twelve cut I knew that I really had to catch a massive bag in order to get to fish Sunday. The decision seemed pretty obvious – throw the swimbait all day. It paid off pretty early, with an 8 pound 9 ounce largemouth in the boat at 9:30am. It was a grind, with bites few and far between, but when one ate it they absolutely choked on it. Late in the day I went back to the spot where I caught the big fish in the morning and culled out the other four fish in my livewell. I was pretty sure that would be enough to move me up the leaderboard.
Heading back to weigh-in, I stopped at a spot on the main river to flip holes in the eelgrass and caught the 5-pounder I needed to move up even more. When it was over I had 21-05 in the livewell. As a result, I moved up 26 spots that day, to 20th, not enough to get me into Sunday’s cut, but enough to push me into 8th place in the Angler of the Year standings with a quarter of the season completed.
While I would’ve liked to have finished better, overall I consider this to be a very satisfying event and one that provides a huge confidence boost. I maximized what I had to work with and made some critical adjustments. On the third day, I moved out about 30 yards from where I’d been fishing and that seemed to prolong the bite and improve the overall quality. I suppose I could’ve done that earlier in the tournament, but there’s no guarantee it would have worked a day or two earlier.
I fished the junebug worm on a 7-foot Carrot Stix heavy-action rod with a Lew’s Super Duty reel spooled with 16 lb. test Toray fluorocarbon. A 5/16 ounce Gambler tungsten weight completed the presentation. The swimbait was on a 7’6” Carrot Stix heavy-action rod, same reel, but this time spooled with 55 lb. test Toray braid. The Shockwave is an incredible bait, one that I wish I’d had years ago – in this case the “Shrapnel” color seemed to produce the best bites.
The other elements of my equipment that made a critical difference were my twin 12-foot Talons. I was able to help myself on Day Three by fishing some deeper areas and the ability to anchor in 9 to 11 feet of water and not worry about the wind pushing me up into my areas likely enabled me to catch some fish that would’ve been pretty spooky if I’d drifted over them.
Now I have a week off before the third stop of the Elite Series season – on Table Rock, my new home lake. This short period of time to recharge will be good for me. After four tournaments in a row, I’m a little tired. Fortunately, it’s not too much time off, because while it’s important to be well-rested, I also want to keep this good momentum going.