Welcher’s second bass

Rookie Kyle Welcher had fish No. 1 in the boat before the sun broke the horizon good, but has struggled to make anything happen since.

But he just put another keeper in the livewell. Again, it’s not the size he’d like, but he was thrilled.

“Finally!” he said. “Now let’s keep the momentum going.”

Even with the shortened day, however, Welcher doesn’t seem too rattled.

“I haven’t caught them early all week,” he told some passing anglers who asked about his day. “I still have time.

“I’m going to catch them.”

Walters can't duplicate big bag

If Patrick Walters could have repeated Sunday's 22-pound, 15-ounce big bag of the tournament so far, he would be atop the BASSTrakk leaderboard today. But at 11:45, it shows him with four bass totaling 3-10. And, more importantly, Walters is out of time.

The second-year Elite Series pro from Summerville, S.C., made the long run south to Mud Lake again today, but it's a two-hour ride. With a 1:45 p.m. check-in time today, Walters has to be on the move.

It's worth recounting how he caught them yesterday, in 8 to 12 inches of water. "I didn't go there Saturday because I didn't think I could get back in there, the water had dropped so much," he said.f

After he got there Sunday, he turned his graphs off and "dragged the dirt. It felt good to get back to my roots," Walters said. "It's the shallowest I've caught them in a while."

Walters wasn't looking at bass on spawning beds. His first fish, weighing 7-15, came on a long blind cast with weightless Zoom Fluke in watermelon magic color. His other four keepers came on a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw flipped in a mat on 65-pound test braided line with a 3/4-ounce weight.

"There were a couple of mats in there and they were tucked into those mats," Walters said. "I didn't see a single one of them."

Painfully slow morning for Mueller

Paul Mueller left the dock today in first place, but the fishing has been very slow so far.

According to BASSTrakk it’s slow just about everywhere. But based on the last couple days, Mueller hasn’t been catching much until after noon.

Today is a shortened day due to the two canceled days at the start of the event. Today’s check-in is 1:45, and the tide is later today, which means Mueller may miss the best bite of the day.

He has one small fish. Just like yesterday, he only had one rod on the deck, but about half an hour ago, he pulled another one out to mix it up a bit. He’s been almost exclusively using a swim jig, but the second option he pulled out was a jerkbait.

“The fish seem to be staging on the outside edge of the pads before they move in shallow during the afternoon,” he said. “We May miss that bite today, so I need to adapt and hopefully catch them from where they are right now, and not try to force-feed them. Time will tell.”

The subtle stuff

During a recent bonus coverage segment of Bassmaster LIVE, Brandon Palaniuk explained why he was fishing a seemingly barren area of open water within sight of the Palatka’s Memorial Bridge, just south of takeoff. The key, he said, was structure — a feature in short supply on this shallow mud flat.

Palaniuk took a moment to show his Humminbird 360 screen, which clearly revealed a smattering of submerged remnants from former piers. As the only significant habitat for miles, the wood and concrete pieces gave prespawn fish the staging areas they sought.

“This area has just enough water on it for these fish to feel comfortable,” Palaniuk said, with a note to the low water levels that have plagued anglers for two days.

Fishing finesse baits, Palaniuk was the first angler to register a limit on BASSTrakk. He had yet to find a quality fish, but his philosophy was to grind it out and believe the opportunities will come.

“You just get bites and then they start getting bigger,” Palaniuk said. “You can’t control that.”

Arey has joined Jaye

Matt Arey has joined Kelly Jaye in Salt Springs.

The two are a long way from each other in fishing terms. They did close enough to exchange pleasantries a few minutes ago.

Arey asked Jaye if he had caught any.

Jaye has not. But Arey told him he had caught three. All on a worm he said.

“Can’t get a bite on a jerkbait,” Arey said.

Of course, Jaye is a master of a jerkbait.

He’s not putting it down yet. But if Arey continues to catch them on soft plastics he might make the switch.

No sooner than that was typed and Jaye boats his first keeper. It’s on the small side, 1 pound and change, but it’s a start.

Jaye back at his spot

Kelly Jaye has made it to his fishing spot where he’s caught his two-days worth of largemouth.

It’s in the back of Salt Springs. He’s got it pretty much to himself but there has been a few boats run by that are likely practicing for a derby scheduled this weekend.

Jaye appears to be focusing on the drop near the bank hoping to catch pre-spawners as they move in. Like the rest of the St. Johns area, the water is low.

We are far enough South that the tide won’t be a big factor here. But it’s likely he wishes the level was a little higher.

It’s bluebird skies with little wind. So things are warming up quickly.

Palaniuk experiencing deja vu

Brandon Palaniuk has been here before - when a scheduled four-day Elite Series tournament has been weather-shortened to three days and there's an expanded field for the final. And he remembers it well. It happened at New York's Lake Champlain in July 2017, when 51 anglers competed on the final day.

"I remember it because I finished third!" Palaniuk said. "I had 20 1/2. It was my biggest bag of the week. I thought it was going to be between me and (Seth) Feider."

So did everyone else, until Aaron Martens showed up with 23-pound, 5-ounce limit that rocketed him from 19th place at the start of the day to first place at the final weigh-in. His three-day total of 58-12 topped Feider's 57-14 and Palaniuk's 57-5.

It should be noted that despite the fact Martens was in 19th place after two days at Champlain, he was only 3-1 out of first place. Palaniuk's in 19th place to start this day, but he's 10-15 behind leader Paul Mueller. However, as Rick Clunn showed last year, that's not insurmountable.

"That's the thing here," Palaniuk said. "You go catch 30 pounds and it's a different ballgame. It's not as good as it was last year, but it's still possible. We're right at that time frame where those fish are starting to show up. We're right at the tipping point."

Welcher on the board

Elite Series rookie Kyle Welcher ran about 10 miles north of take-off, ducked into the back of a canal and quickly broke the ice.

The bass wasn’t a giant - Welcher had to measure it - but the first-fish monkey is off his back.

Welcher said he was going to run-and-fun from here to Little Lake George.

You can keep up with the leaderboard today on BASSTrakk.

Does everyone have a chance Monday?

 Palatka native son Cliff Prince appears to be a longshot, at best, going into Monday's final of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River. Prince was the last man in the final, taking 20th place with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 6 ounces. He trails leader Paul Mueller by 11 pounds, 4 ounces.

But this is the St. Johns River, where Rick Clunn was 11 pounds, 13 ounces behind the leader going into the last day a year ago and came back to win. In other words, everybody's got a shot Monday. Granted, it will take something like the 34-pound, 14-ounce bag the Clunn caught on the final day last year for someone like Prince to win. But it's not unprecedented.

The were four limits weighing 30 pounds or more caught in the four-day event last year. The big bag after two days this year is Patrick Walters' 22-15 today. But the St. Johns River is oh so close to breaking out in full spawning mode. Water surface temperatures climbed into the mid and upper 60s on Sunday. And more big bass hit the scales, topped by Kyle Welcher's 10-1, followed closely by John Cox's 9-13.

Monday should make for a fun day.

 

 

St. Johns River Uber?

We spent some time today around Drayton Island situated at the north end of Lake George. It’s unique in that people live on the island, but the only way to get there is by boat. 

So it made sense when a small watercraft puttered by Elite angler Clark Wendlant, dropped an older woman and a dog on a dock, then turned around and motored back across the St. John’s River. 

Maybe this is what we call a St. Johns River Uber. 

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