River, conditions conducive to big bags on lunker-rich fishery

PALATKA, Fla. -- B.A.S.S. has a long and storied history on the St. Johns River, the second stop on the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series.

The Power-Pole Citrus Slam will be the 17th professional level event here, dating back to 1973 when Bob Tyndal set a big bass mark that lasted until 1997. Tyndal's 12-pound, 13-ounce lunker fell to a giant plastic worm, and soft plastics have been consistent winners on the river over the years.

This year should be no different. With warming waters and a full moon on Saturday (Day Three of competition), at least some of the top finishers will certainly be sight fishing with plastics. But the river's more diverse than that, and there are enough bass here that every one of the 99 anglers in the field should be able to find a way to his liking to catch them.

In January of 2008, the last time B.A.S.S. was here, Elite pro Peter Thliveros, who has a reputation for fishing soft plastics, cranked a ledge in a tributary creek for the bulk of his catch to win the Open. Anglers looking for post-spawn fish this year should be able to find some and catch them with a crankbait or Carolina rig.

But sight-fishing will be something in just about everyone's arsenal this week. Conditions are ripe for lots of spawning bass in the shallows that will be too big to ignore. Some anglers are even talking about the possibility of 30-pound limits.

And when it comes to sight fishing, no one's better than Elite pro Shaw Grigsby, winner of the season opener on the Harris Chain.

Grigsby won last week by sight fishing (or "looking at them" as some pros like to say), and he'll certainly be a factor at the St. Johns, which is his home water. He won here in January 1999 by (you guessed it) sight fishing, despite conditions that were less than ideal for the technique.

"This was about the strangest sight fishing I've ever done," Grigsby said at the time. "I couldn't see the fish very much. There was just too much wind and clouds. The conditions were just horrendous for sight fishing."

They should be better this week. Stable weather patterns and sunshine should enhance everyone's ability to get a good look at the bass, pick out the ones worth carrying to the scales and make the right presentation.

With the Elites' level of skill, that should mean burgeoning livewells, heavy sacks of fish and perhaps 90 pounds or more for the winner.

In addition to the $100,000 first place prize money, the winner will earn a berth in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport, La.

Also at stake are valuable Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. In five previous Elite seasons, no angler ranking higher than fifth after two events has gone on to lead in AOY points after the regular season, which is when this year's AOY will be crowned.

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