Lessons learned: St. Johns River

Over the next couple of months we’re going to review my 2012 Elite Series season one tournament at a time. We’re going to talk about the lessons I learned in each event and how that’ll help all of us catch more fish. We’ll start with the St. Johns River tournament.

I knew that we’d be fishing some phase of the spawn. They’d either be prespawn, postspawn or actually on their bed. I’m not real good at running the bank and finding bedding bass, and I’m not much better at making them bite when I do find them. I needed something that would let me catch them no matter what phase of the spawn they were in.

After hours of practice, I figured out that the best thing I could do was throw a swimbait of some sort. The water had a lot of color in it so I really didn’t need a classic type of swimbait with all the detail. I just needed something moving through the water that would get their attention.

I settled on a Berkley Havoc Grass Pig because it has a good side-to-side wobble when it falls, has a boot-tail which gives it plenty of thump, and looks like a bluegill in the water. I rigged it with a 5/0 VMC swimbait hook with a moveable weight. I put the weight down on the bend under the belly of the bait to help it fall straight down when I killed its forward movement.

Now I had a bait that I believed would catch whatever was along the spawning areas. The prespawn and postspawn bass are eating. The ones on their nests are protecting their eggs and their babies. They hate bluegills. I was able to swim this bait around blind and have a chance to catch them all. And, because it was moving fairly fast, I could cover a lot of water.

I used a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy action Abu Garcia Veritas rod, a high-speed Abu Garcia Revo reel and 17-pound-test fluorocarbon line. The long rod helped me make long, accurate casts. The high-speed reel was necessary because when bass are against the bank like that they have a tendency to run right at you after they grab the bait. I needed to be able to keep up. The fluorocarbon line helped my bait sink. The lighter test weight let it fall naturally.

As I retrieved my swimbait, I’d watch for the telltale V on top of the water. When I saw it, I’d either speed up my retrieve or kill it dead. Sometimes one worked, sometimes the other. There wasn’t a pattern to it that I ever figured out.

This technique may not be perfect but it sure helped me on the St. Johns. Keep it in mind if you’re challenged as a bed angler — like me — or if the water’s dingy and you can’t find the beds. Not all the bass spawn at the same time. Some are in front of the pack, others behind. This setup targets everything.

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