St. Johns River heating up

Day 1 of the Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River was surprisingly good, and Day 2 topped it. Even veteran Florida anglers like Bernie Schultz were surprised by both the number and size of the bass caught Friday from the St. Johns.

“I didn’t see this happening,” said the 64-year-old Gainesville, Fla., pro, who is in 23rd place with 33 pounds, 13 ounces. “They’re catching the fire out of them, and a lot of 20-pound-plus stringers. That’s a shock. I thought two, maybe three guys would catch them pretty good, but, no, this is a slugfest.”

There were 10 bags of 20 pounds or more weighed-in on Day 1. That number increased to 15 on Day 2, and three of them topped Robbie Latuso’s big bag of 25-2 on Thursday: 26-6 by Lee Livesay, 25-12 by Scott Canterbury and 25-11 by tournament leader Chris Johnston.

The following is a comparison of Days 1 and 2 of the last two Elite Series tournaments held on the St. Johns River:

Day 2               2/8/193/18/16
1st place           47-039-6
10th place           38-236-5
25th plac332-1032-5
35th place        29-728-12
50th place          24-328-12
Big bass            10-410-8
# of limits64/7596/110
% of limits        85%87%
Ave. bass wt.         3.09 lbs.2.58 lbs.

Day 1               2/7/193/17/16
1st place      25-223-13
10th place20-820-15
25th place 16-1318-9
35th place13-717-3
50th place 11-515-7
Big bass 11-29-13
# of limits 57/75109/110
% of limits 76%99%
Ave. bass wt.   3.03 lbs.3.02 lbs.

Weekend weather forecast

SATURDAY
Skies will start off mostly cloudy and will only continue to increase throughout the morning, becoming completely overcast by the afternoon. We'll stay dry during the morning and into the early afternoon hours, but rain chances start to climb during the weigh-ins showers becoming likely at sunset. Temperatures start off in the mid-50s (55º) at launch and will climb into the mid-60s (65º) by the afternoon. Winds will be quite breezy out of the northwest at 10-20 MPH throughout the day. Rain chances will be near zero throughout much of the day, but increases to around 20% at 4:00 pm, then increases to around 60% by 6:00 pm. Dewpoints, even with the potential for showers, will remain in the mid-50s.

SUNDAY
Unfortunately, Sunday looks to feature a good chance of showers throughout the event day on the St Johns River, but amounts don't look to be all that heavy at this point. Skies will be mainly cloudy with temperatures starting off in the upper 50s (58º) at launch and climbing into the lower 70s (72º) by the afternoon. Winds will be out of the east-northeast around 7-14 MPH all day while the chance of showers will be around 60%. Good news is that lightning is not expected and rainfall amounts throughout the event day will be around 0.15 inches or less. Dewpoints will be in the lower 60s throughout the day.

Prince is on fire

Cliff Prince caught an even dozen bass from 2:30 to 3:15. Most of those didn't help him, but four of them did, allowing him to cull everything but the 4-pounder he caught early this morning. Prince now has 17-8 on the day and is in 13th place, according to BASSTrakk.

Prince entered this event as one of the favorites. The Palatka, Fla., resident has more knowledge of the St. Johns River than any other angler in the field. He was the one man who was disappointed to see the bright sunshine and windless days this week, as it took away much of his advantage over the rest of the field.

But the weather is going to change overnight. It's forecast to be cloudy with winds out of the north at 10 to 20 miles an hour tomorrow. That's what Prince wants, and what nobody else does. This late flurry today has been crucial in keeping him within striking distance going into the weekend.

Clunn over 20 pounds today

Bass fishing legend Rick Clunn has talked often in the last half-dozen years or so about re-inventing himself. Not looking for bites so much as concentrating on the right bites. He's gotten a couple of those this afternoon - a 6-8 at 1:21 and a 4-12 at 2:41. The last one moved him up to 21-4 for the day and into, unofficially, 7th place.

As seemingly everyone remembers, the last time the Elite Series was here the four-time Bassmaster Classic champion won his first and only Elite Series title. It would be inspirational to see the now 72-year-old Clunn stay in the hunt in this one.

Here come the Canadians

If you've been around Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer as long as I have, you've heard about his fellow Canadian anglers - the brothers Johnston, Cory and Chris. In only the fifth B.A.S.S. tournament for each, the Johnston brothers are making themselves known to the rest of the bass fishing world this week.

After finishing 7th and 8th on Day 1, the Johnston brothers moved up to 1st and 2nd, unofficially, at the noon hour on Day 2. Even though their totals were only 4 ounces apart on Day 1, they had wildly different days. Cory caught fish throughout the day; Chris had one 2-pounder in the boat at 1:30.

"I was scrambling," Chris said. "I had one spot where I'd hoped they'd pull up. I'd caught one there in practice. In two hours I caught six or seven. I was excited about how the day went."

Chris has picked up today where he left off yesterday. His fifth bass at 11:40 a.m. gave him 21-4 and put him in the lead. Cory isn't far behind with 18-3 so far.

"We 100 percent work together," said Cory, who is four years older than Chris. "We've got one bank account. We split the money 50-50. We fish a lot of team tournaments back home. We kind of fish this just like that. There are no secrets.

"We'll split the water up during practice. He trusts me just as much as I trust him to go through an area and cover it."

However, they don't fish the same water come tournament time.

"We're a team, but we still want to beat each other," Chris said. "I didn't fish any of the same water he did (Thursday). We try to stay away from each other's area."

Johnston lands a nice one

We found Chris Johnston fishing a grassy shoreline just in time to see him land a very nice bass. The fish weighed 5 pounds and moved him into first place according to BASSTrack.

That fish bumped Chris ahead of his brother Cory by a 9-ounce margin. It’s really cool that the two brothers from Canada are one and two in this contest.

We have been very fortunate to stumble onto the leaders this morning.

Cherry celebrating in style

As has been noted previously, today is Hank Cherry's 45th birthday. He threw himself a little party on the St. Johns River this morning. From 9:27 to 10:03 he put five bass in the boat weighing a total of 12 pounds, 8 ounces.

That 36-minute flurry easily topped his 7-13 total from Day 1 when he finished in 64th place.

Tide watch

Two opposing forces to watch today are the movements of the bass and the tide and how both will influence the bite.

On one side are the bass, and specifically the heavyweight females, that are feeling the urge to move shallow to spawn. Rising temperatures—the warmest of the season—and slick, calm conditions are ideal for pushing that scenario along. On the other side is the tide, which of course influences bass movement in tidal estuaries.

At Palatka the next tide is at 11:11 a.m. local time. It’s the low tide. The high tide is at 5:02 p.m.

As the water rises, which is favorable for a bass bite, and the surface temps continue to warm and become more inviting to the females, will we see a hot afternoon bite? Watching Bassmaster LIVE will provide the clues and the proof will come at the weigh in. All worth watching on this day of big bass. What else is worth watching are the predicted high tides going forward. It gets later each day on Saturday and Sunday.

Manatee sighting

I am riding this morning with Laurie Tisdale, Bassmaster art director, and Emily Hand, our social media editor.

We just had a nice treat when a large manatee swam by the boat. Neither Laurie nor Emily had seen one in the wild before. The animal was massive, and too quick for a good video.

The shoreline of Lake George are marked with signs requiring boaters to idle when close to shore in order to avoid striking and injuring any manatees. It’s a good thing.

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