Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River St. Johns River - Palatka, FL, Mar 20 - 23, 2014

Lester gears up for the St. Johns

Courtesy of Brandon Lester
Building your own rod to catch a winning tournament string is one of the most rewarding DIY projects you can try.

This week, the Elite Series is at the St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla. I spent about a day and a half on the St. Johns after the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open at Toho this January. I was much farther south of the tournament waters near Palatka, but it was still helpful. From that quick survey and some historical research, there’s a good chance there will still be some big prespawn fish to be caught. One of my favorite prespawn baits is a lipless crankbait.

The various retrieves of a lipless crankbait make it versatile, and I try to match my bait and presentation with the activity level of the fish. During cold water periods (40 degrees to 45 degrees) like at the recent Bassmaster Classic, a slow crawl or yo-yo retrieve works well. Now that the water has begun to warm, a faster retrieve and "ripping" the bait through the grass will be a better option.

Because I haven't fished the St. Johns before, I have a lot of ground to cover. A lipless crankbait gives me the ability to cover vast amounts of water quickly, which is important when looking for a big school of prespawn females.

I plan to try and focus on spawning flats and bays that have deeper water nearby. Since the spawn is on every fish’s mind, most will be either coming or going to those areas. Hopefully, I can locate some grass with some other type of cover mixed in.

I use a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait when fishing shallow (1-5 feet) and go to a 3/4-ounce model when fishing deeper. I keep color selection simple, which means either a red craw pattern, chrome with a blue back or gold with a black back. If the pressure gets heavy, I often try baits with a “one knocker” type of rattle or go the opposite direction and use silent baits. Sometimes a slight change makes all the difference.

For a lipless crankbait, the setup is a big key. I like a fairly long rod to make long casts. I use the MHX-HM-MB862 blank which has a medium power with a fast tip so it has enough give to avoid ripping the bait out of the fish’s mouth.

MHX blanks are available from Mud Hole Custom Tackle. I make all my own rods for the Elite Series events and have a blast doing it.

I like a 7:1:1 baitcasting reel and 15-pound-test  Vicious 100% Fluorocarbon when fishing sparse grass and 30-pound Vicious braid in thicker grass. The braid allows me to rip the bait through the grass much easier.

Lipless crankbaits may play a roll at this event or they may not, so I won’t be dead-set on any techniques going into the event.  They will help me in the search process, and hopefully we will be able to figure something out.  And that’s the part we all enjoy, right — figuring them out?

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