Fishing close

Out of the field of 75 Elite anglers fishing in this first event of the 2019 season, I count 13 within a quarter-mile along the lake George shoreline.

We are close enough to watch and photograph three or four of them from one position. We have seen two fish catches, both fairly small, by Bill Lowen and Drew Cook.

Brandon Cobb was in the same stretch of shoreline yesterday and he told me at weigh-in that he thought his bigger fish had been exhausted. He hoped new fish would move up.

I don’t know how long he fished his original hole before we arrived today, but he has moved several hundred yards away. And he’s catching fish. He has moved up the rankings according to BASSTrakk into sixth place with 26-10.

Calm and beautiful Day 2

It’s another calm and beautiful day on the western shore of Lake George, but the traffic has certainly picked up today.

Yesterday we watched Brandon Cobb, Shane Lehrer and Greg DiPalma fishing within a couple hundred yards of one another, and all three had great catches.

Today we count eight competitor boats in close proximity, along with two boatloads of recreational anglers.

Lehew and Cobb were 10th and 11th, respectively, with about 20 pounds each after the first day of fishing here, and DiPalma was 17th.

Menendez, Hudnall start hot

Veteran angler Mark Menendez is well aware of the up-and-down nature of fishing in Florida. As he put it, one day you're a hero, the next day you're a dumb ass. And even though he weighed the third-place bag of 24-8 yesterday, he said he might easily zero or finish with six pounds today.

Menendez got his six pounds, plus eight ounces, with one fish at 8:19 this morning. And rookie Derek Hudnall of Baton Rouge, La., recorded the first 8-pounder of the day at 8:22. He was 24th after Day 1 with 17-2.

Here we go again. Another day of Florida fishing, where the giants may bite at any moment and make you look like a hero.

Crews in the skinny water

John Crews started Day 2 in second place, and he’s hoping to keep that momentum rolling in his favor. Another big day in the 25-pound NeverNever-Land range and he’ll be in solid contention.

He’s fishing a narrow creek that only has a foot to 18 inches of water over it, and that’s with a falling tide currently.

With the weather still warm, warming water temps and prespawn bass positioning themselves for the rigorous annual dance of love, this is an ideal area to catch 25 pounds.

But, as Crews worked back deeper into the creek, a local angler had beat him to his juice. It may be irreverent, and they are allowing for Crews to have the spot, but still.

They exchanged pleasantries, and in typical John Crews fashion, he kindly asked their permission to fish here and they left with smiles on their faces.

A true professional.

Now, hopefully he can get down to business and find another 11-pounder. This is a beautiful area.

St. Johns River same as 2016

Despite the much-lamented loss of eelgrasss in the St. Johns River, it fished much like it did the last time the Bassmaster Elite Series was here on March 17, 2016. As you can see from the numbers below, a far greater percentage of the 110-angler field caught limits in 2016, but the size average size of the bass weighed-in was almost exactly the same - 3.02 pounds on March 17, 2016, and 3.03 pounds on Feb. 7, 2019.

The discrepancy between the two events becomes apparent in the weights at the lower levels of the standings. For instance, 50th place was 15-7 in 2016 and 11-5 yesterday. That, and the difference in the percentage of limits, may simply be the result of this tournament being almost a month-and-a-half earlier in the year than it was in 2016.

The following is a comparison of Day 1 of the Elite Series tournaments in 2019 and 2016 on the St. Johns River.

20192016
1st place
25-223-13
10th place
20-820-15
5th place
16-1318-9
35th place
13-717-3
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.

Committed to fish care

Live release rate from Day 1 on the St. John's River was an impressive 99.7%. Here's why...

Through the Opens door

PALATKA, Fla. — The 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series features a roster of 17 rookies, a record for the sport’s most prestigious big bass fishing league. Not so coincidentally most of those anglers qualified through the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens.

Expect impressive things to come from this rookie class for a reason. Recent changes in the format, schedule and even the fisheries were deliberately chosen for a reason.

“Our goal is getting the Opens anglers conditioned and well prepared for transitioning into the Elite Series,” explained Chris Bowes, senior tournament manager.

He continued, “Qualifying for the Elite Series is their goal, and enabling them to transition immediately to the highest level of the sport is our goal.”

That plan was rolled out last season. Three geographical divisions were consolidated into the current Eastern and Central divisions. A fourth event was added to each division, along with a championship, to bring the total tournaments to nine. The championship is similar in significance to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, where the point champion is declared. The Opens championship has an AOY champ too, along with solidifying invitations to the Elite Series.

As a result of all the above the bar is now raised higher than ever before. Getting into the Elite Series is now more rewarding, as it should be.

Discontinuing the “win and in invitation” to the Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods was another move to up the stakes and skills required to get into the Elite Series.

“Making the Opens more competitive, where there are continued goals to make throughout the season, is the idea,” explained Bowes.

So is stretching out the locations this season spanning from New York to Florida for the Eastern division.

“The schedule gets them well groomed to what it takes for the travel at the Elite Series level,” Bowes added. “The schedule runs more north to south and with it, there are more diverse fisheries.”

That held true in 2018. The tidal James River, the largemouth and smallmouth loaded Lake Champlain, and the Florida bass rich Kissimmee Chain of Lakes added variety, challenges and opportunities along the way.

Greg DiPalma knows better than most just how well prepared the Opens can prepare anglers for the next level. He qualified in 2006 but was unable to sign. He kept trying, coming close from 2014-16, then finally got in last season.

“I will tell you something about the Opens that is fact, and that is there is no competition like it at that level,” he said. “If you want to step up your game then you’ve got to go through the Opens.”

Derek Hudnall is another rookie who came close in more than one try. His lesson learned is the stage provided by the Opens to develop the marketing skills necessary for gaining sponsorships.

“You’ve got to be good at the business side of the sport and that begins at the Opens,” said Hudnall. “The Opens gave me the opportunity to define my brand and set the stage for me to demonstrate that to my partners.”

“I’m really proud of our guys that are part of the strongest rookie class we’ve ever had in the Elite Series,” said Bowes. “They now very well versed in what it takes to compete at this level, and I expect great things to come from them all.” 

Full of fun, family, and loyalty: Tyler Rivet

Rookie Tyler Rivet of Southern Louisiana wore Donald Trump socks on his very first day as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. But if you’re expecting to engage the 24-year-old in a political debate, forget about it. The dude doesn’t even watch television, let alone talk politics.

For Rivet, it’s all about having fun.

“My mom got me these socks because she knows I like to wear fun socks. I have socks with the American flag on them, socks with fishing lures on them, all kinds of random stuff just for fun. Plus, they’re good luck. But I need to get some Carhartt socks,” says Rivet.

And no, that wasn’t a shameless sponsor plug. Tyler Rivet made five consecutive Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championships while attending Nicholls State in Southern Louisiana, and the guy simply feels a heartfelt, classy, and admirable allegiance to the Detroit based brand of clothing for people who work hard and play hard.

“I don’t wear the Carhartt logo on my jersey because they pay me. I wear it because Carhartt is the whole reason we have college fishing, and without college fishing, I’d have never been able to live my dream of fishing in the Bassmaster Elites,” he says.

But don’t expect Rivet to start rooting for Darius Slay and the Detroit Lions. Nope, Rivet is 100% all in on the Saints. He loves Deuce McAllister, thinks Drew Brees is terribly underrated, and he’s still pissed about the blown call against the Rams in NFC Championship game. To the point he’s sporting a #Robbed decal on his Phoenix Boat this season.

“Yup, I’m still pretty salty over that missed call and our chance to go to the Super Bowl, and I ain’t taking that hashtag decal off all year. We’re having fun with it,” says Rivet.

And that’s the essence of Tyler Rivet. Work hard, play hard, hit the gym, and have fun with it. A mantra he comes by genetically as proven by the fact his family cheered loudest at the Day 1 weigh-in.

“My dad Ty, my mom Jodie, my stepdad, my grandpa and my great grandpa are all here to cheer me on. And because my mom and dad’s work schedules both allow them the time off, they’ll probably come to several Elite Series tournaments this year,” grins the lover of heavy metal bands Five Finger Death Punch and Ashes to New.

So maybe his very first day as a full time pro didn’t go as well as he had hoped. It’s okay. True to the Cajun way -- it’s nothing a cold beer, great food, a loving family, a few laughs, and a sense of knowing who you are and where your loyalties lie can’t supersede.

From head to toe, right down to the socks, count on two things from Tyler Rivet this season. He’ll fish hard. And he’ll have fun.

 

Ignore all the zeroes on BASSTrakk

There may well be some zeroes after the Day 1 weigh-in today, but there won't be 22, as currently listed on the BASSTrakk leaderboard. A lack of marshals is the main factor there.

For instance, one of the zeroes is Micah Frazier. However, photographer Andy Crawford watched Frazier cull a 2-pounder with a 3-pounder before 10 a.m., and Frazier told him he had about 16 pounds. There's always a shakeup in the leaderboard when official weights vs. the estimated BASSTrakk weights are posted. The standings will really scramble today.

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