Crews surprised by Day 1 success

Elite Series veteran John Crews was as apprehensive as any of the rookies prior to the start of this tournament. With a first-place total of 22 pounds before 11 a.m. today, count Crews as surprised.

"We got here and it's like the fish have been surgically removed from this place," Crews said Wednesday. "There's no grass. Then you start looking for things that are the same as the last times we've been here, and there's not a lot.

"The fishing is going to be a complete grind. It could turn out great. It's Florida. You might be able to scramble together a five-fish limit that will make people cheer. But I've yet to catch a limit any one day of practice - and that's sun up to sundown."

Crews' comments yesterday and his results today speak volumes about how fast the bass are moving shallow with this warm front.

A big one

We found Clifford Pirch quietly tucked into tiny spring working several bass, one of which he said was very big. He made repeated casts to the same small spot, but the huge female wasn’t ready to attack.

He hasn’t said a word, just made a few hand motions to indicate what he’s doing and what he’s looking st. From what I can tell, perhaps he’s looking at a 10-pound-plus class bass.

We’re camped out with Pirch for a while hoping he’ll talk “the big one” into eating.

Things are getting right, but not quite yet. Pirch is on point.

Beds everywhere

Except they are tilapia beds, the bass spawning activity is very minimal at best. Interestingly, the spawning habits of tilapia is quite aggressive. The beds are dug out, almost to 6 or 7 inches into the lake bottom.

The tilapia are very quick to chase off bed-raiding shad and mullet, and many are wounded or beat up from numerous battles protecting their nest.

Timing wise and in many instances, the bass will spawn alongside the tilapia. So, I guess you could assume there are bedded bass nearby. Or they’re at least moving in to begin the spawning ritual in the very near future.

Here are a few tilapia beds near Lake George.

Team Zaldain

When your wife runs the same boat as you it makes a breakdown easier to handle.

That’s what happened this morning when Chris Zaldain got delayed by a mechanical issue. As fate would have it he was able to borrow the boat used by his wife Trait, who fishes the Bassmaster Opens. Just two weeks ago she fished the season opener not far away at the Harris Chain of Lakes. Traveling with two boats isn’t unusual for this power couple of the Bassmaster tours, especially when events from both leagues overlap as they have this month.

Trait planned on honing her fishing skills on a private lake during the tournament hours but that plan got cut short with the phone call from Chris.

“We run identical boats, Skeeter FX 20s and he rigged them both, so he’s familiar with how my boat is laid out. It was pretty much a mad rush to just get his stuff transferred into my boat.”

Good thing for Chris that his wife isn’t OCD about messing with her stuff.

“The only thing I told him to do was not mess up my prop.”

But alas, Chris is running through fields of stumps that are easy targets for outboard lower units and props. She had good reason to share the advice.

“He set it all up and I had it running last week at the Open at 77 mph, with a full load and not really tuning it up for more speed.”

Word. If Chris feels the need for speed he’s got it. But only if he stays out of the stumps.

Crews rockets past 20 lbs.

How about the 30-minute slugfest that John Crews just put on the scoreboard! Crews landed a 4-pounder at 10:26, a 5-14 at 10:37 and capped it with a 9-6 at 10:50. It gives him the lead with 22 pounds.

And get this: Crews still has a 1-14 and 14-ouncer in his limit. Those predictions of someone topping 25 pounds today appear increasingly accurate.

Hats off

Somehow Laurie and I have been fortunate to stumble across some of the higher ranked anglers in this event. Right now we are watching Brandon Cobb, who is seventh with 8-7, Shane Lehew, who is 12th with 7-0, and Greg DiPalma. All are fishing fairly close to one another in a shallow pocket in Lake George.

Nobody has caught anything since we pulled up to them,. They have their power poles down and seem to be working for betting fish.

My hat is off to them if they can see fish in this dark, tannin-stained water. Visibility is much poorer in this tournament than it has been in our previous visits to the St. Johns River.

On the river

We appreciate the local Law Enforcement.
Photo  by Ron Moore

Cappo with about 3 pounds

Quentin Cappo just landed his biggest fish of the morning. Unfortunately it was a pickerel and is no help in this bass tournament. Cappo said he has two bass for about 3 pounds so far. We saw him haul a 1 1/2-pounder from a weedy shoreline just after we settled down next to him.

Bassmaster Art Director Laurie Tisdale and I are on the water building photo files of the 2019 elite anglers. It’s a gorgeous day along with St. Johns River with much warmer and more pleasant weather than most of the country is experiencing right now. That’s just one of the reasons we are excited to be here in the opening round of the Power Pole Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River.

24 hour delay

What happened yesterday could play into the strategies of the anglers on Day 1. What happened was nothing.

Yesterday was the official Pre-Season Meeting and the anglers were off the water for meetings, registrations, and inspections. Coinciding with that was a continued rise in the daytime temperatures with sunny skies and light winds. And that, of course, is the magical combination that sparks a wave of spawning fish into shallow water.

“There is a big unknown about where the fish are, what they are doing,” said Bernie Schultz, the Florida pro from nearby Gainesville.

Chris Zaldain added, “We’ve got the perfect conditions for them to move up, with the temperature in the 80s for the past two days.”

He noted that in days leading up to the tournament the weather was chilly by Florida standards.

“I know a lot of guys, myself included, spent time in practice looking for established spawning areas,” continued Zaldain. “The fish weren’t there but by today they might be.”

The unknowns are over by now. What’s cool about the delay is the guys have practically had to start over, if indeed the fish are on the move, adding another dimension to this competition.

Frazier leading?

Micah Frazier is showing up as a zero on the BASSTrakk leaderboard, but that's because he doesn't have a marshal today. Apparently he does have about 16 pounds though, which would put him in the lead, unofficially. Photographer Andy Crawford reports that Frazier just culled a 2-pounder with a 3-pounder.

Frazier is fishing within casting distance of Jason Williamson, who is having a good day as well. BASSTrakk shows him in fourth place with a limit weighing 7-8.