BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Not much gets past a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. That’s one reason Edwin Evers doesn’t expect to cash in again on an obscure St. Johns River hotspot that helped him to his second Elite victory in March 2011.
“All my competitors definitely know where I was; I’ll never have that stuff to myself again,” said Evers, who won that Florida tournament with a four-day haul of 77 pounds, 1 ounce, all taken by sight fishing. “You can’t go back to the same area and win again. It just doesn’t happen that way.”
Still, he plans to check out his 2011 winning spot when the 99-angler Elite field returns to Palatka, Fla., for the March 15-18 St. Johns River Showdown, the 2012 season opener.
Immediately after the St. Johns event, the Elite field will head south to Lake Okeechobee for the March 22-25 Power-Pole Slam out of Okeechobee, Fla. The famed southern Florida fishery will be hosting the Elite Series for the first time.
Okeechobee is a welcoming body of water for Chris Lane, newly crowned 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ, Florida native and dominant angler at Bassmaster Okeechobee events. Lane won on Okeechobee at the Open level in 2006 and 2010. His winning weights in those three-day events of January were 54 pounds, 12 ounces (2006) and 41 pounds, 2 ounces (2010).
Lane has already won one Florida tournament this year. About a month before the Classic, he cleaned up on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes in a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open event. That win and the Classic victory have him double-qualified for the 2013 Classic — even before the 2012 Elite Series begins.
Like Lane, many Elite pros have competed multiple times on the river and the Big O. Certainly that’s the case for Terry Scroggins, a Palatka native who cut his fishing teeth on the St. Johns, as well as on several other major Florida fisheries. He was runner-up to Evers in the 2011 St. Johns Elite event.
River conditions are a guess, even for Scroggins, because the St. Johns has been off limits to Elite pros for almost a month. Speaking from experience, he said he suspects that this winter’s higher temperatures in Florida have messed with the usual massive spawn of Florida bass. When the Elite field arrives, St. Johns bass likely will be in all stages of the spawning process, Scroggins said.
“I think the fish will come up to the beds in smaller waves instead of by hundreds at a time, but sight fishing is still going to play a big role in the event,” he said. “Even if you’re not looking at them, you’re still going to catch them shallow, out of the grass.”
Scroggins will share local-favorite status this year with Elite rookie Cliff Prince, also from Palatka and with a strong St. Johns history.
“This is where I learned how to tournament fish,” said Prince, who competed in the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, as well as in Open tournaments, before qualifying for the Elite Series.
Prince said he expects to find bass on beds. “Somebody could get on some by ‘just fishing,’ but I’m pretty sure it will be like last year and be won on sight fishing,” he added.
Far south of the St. Johns, Lake Okeechobee isn’t home water for Prince, but he has competed there. He expects the lake to set up much like the river.
“I’ve never set the world on fire down there, but I’ve done OK,” Prince said. “I have not spent as much time there as Terry Scroggins has. He knows Okeechobee as well as he knows the [St. Johns] river.”
What’s at stake in each Elite event is a first prize of $100,000 and an instant-in for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. Anglers also compete for points that count toward post season and Classic qualifications, as well as the coveted Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown.
Both events will be covered extensively by Bassmaster.com. Daily offerings over the four-day events will include live streaming weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, photo galleries, blogs from the water and BASSCam videos.