Cook's giant

Drew Cook’s BASSTrakk phone isn’t working, so he’s showing a zero. But he said his livewell is actually holding two fish worth about 11 or 12 pounds.

“I’ve got only got two fish, but one is a giant,” Cook said. “I just caught it.”

He estimates the bass weighs 7 or 8 pounds.

“I actually missed her once,” he said. “I had to leave and come back about 10 minutes later. I’m happy to have her.” 

Cook doesn’t have a marshal today, and I jokingly asked if he’d pull the bass out for a pic — and he quickly told me to jump aboard.

He said someone was watching from the bank when he was working the bass, which was locked on a bed. 

“I told her this bass would make my tournament,” Cook said.

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Hollen, Lester making big moves

It wasn't shocking to see Cody Hollen struggle yesterday on the St. Johns River. He's the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier from Beaverton, Oregon. Hollen weighed one bass that left him in 71st place. It was a bit of a shock to see Elite Series veteran Brandon Lester with a zero yesterday. But a cold front in Florida can do that to anyone.

But both Hollen and Lester are making up for it today. Both have put 6-pounder in the boat near the noon hour. BASSTrakk now shows Hollen in 17th place with 15-14 on the day and Lester in 21st place with 17-14 today.

With those two anglers as the primary examples, you're probably going to see plenty of other wild swings in the standings from Day 1 at the end of the day today.

Remember, only the top 20 anglers will fish in the final on Monday. Both Hollen and Lester have given themselves a chance to be there.

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Staying sharp with Mueller

“Any cast could be a giant here,” Paul Mueller said Day 2 of the 2020 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. John’s River.

As he continues to ply a creek that’s north on the river towards Jacksonville, Fla., the bite is far from fast, but he’s ready to set the hook at any moment.

“I know there are plenty of fish in here — big ones, too. With the spawn so near and the moon full last night, I guarantee you fish are staging along the edge preparing to move in and spawn,” he said. “It’s about keeping a bait in the water and keeping your mental game on track. It could happen any second.

“The funny thing is, and something you have to mentally prepare for, you could likely get key bites in specific areas that you’ve already fished once. Going back over that sort of stuff can mess with your mind.

“Again, stay sharp,” he added.

As he was working down the edge of the pads, he mentioned that two of his larger fish today came from the outer edge of the vegetation.

“As the day goes on and more water is pushed in here with the rising tide, the fish will move shallower and the bite will improve,” he surmised. “Most of my fish yesterday came in the afternoon, and things are just about right today. The water temps are just about where I need them, 59-60 degrees. I’m feeling good and ready to put a kicker or two in the livewell.”

Mueller pulled up his trolling motor and quickly moved deeper into the creek.

“When I get into a few spots up the creek here, I’m going to slow down and punch,” he said. “That’s how you get a big one to bite, and that’s what I need.”

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Wendlandt likely in 3rd place

Clark Wendlandt continues to focus on canals. He has three keepers in his livewell for about 6 pounds and some change. If his BASSTrakk were up to date (it shows only two fish currently) Wendlandt would be in 3rd place.

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Meet the Tokyo Rig

There are several soft plastic patterns currently in play, such as Jake Whitaker using the simplistic wacky rig; others are using a Texas rig and more.

John Crews Jr. is choosing to go with a Tokyo Rig. It is a relative newcomer to the tournament scene, and we can expect to see more of it as the season unfolds.

In fact, you will find the Tokyo Rig already in play before today. It accounted as a top rig for three of the Top 12 anglers fishing Championship Friday at the Bassmaster Eastern Opens event held in January on the Kissimmee Chain in Florida.

The Tokyo rig takes a conventional rolling swivel, adds a wide gap hook to it, and then also extends a wire out from it. Some come with a weight already on that wire and the end bent to keep it from coming off. The VMC premade version comes without a weight — you add it according to the wind and depth conditions. A soft plastic trailer is added to complete the rig.

Guess again if you think a drop shot is more effective. Sometimes the changeup is just what the fish want, especially in pressured waters, like we have on the St. Johns River this week. The rig is at its best in submerged vegetation, like milfoil. All it takes is flipping the Tokyo Rig into the vegetation, let it rest and give it a shake.

It has ideal applications in this scenario, and what makes it even more of a player is it gives the fish a different look.

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The flipside of calm conditions

Weather patterns always impact tournament fishing and, while the slick, calm complexion that the post-frontal conditions laid across Days 1 and 2 certainly present a significant challenge, Paul Mueller acknowledged a benefit that helped him place second yesterday with 20 pounds, 8 ounces.

Mueller and sixth-place Todd Auten bucked the trend of fishing south (upriver) from take-off and made long runs downriver. Given what the previous two days delivered, he was a little unsure of what his options might be.

With the National Weather Service issuing high-wind advisories for Thursday and Friday, B.A.S.S. officials postponed the tournament’s start twice. Fortunately, once the cold front swept through, the classic “bluebird” conditions opened the door for anglers who would not have been able to run nearly as liberally in the recent windy conditions.

“I’m grateful that the weather calmed down,” Mueller said. “I was nervous (Thursday and Friday) with the wind that we had. I was debating whether I was going to go to the area I fished.”

Another slick morning on Day 2 was good news for anyone making long runs in any direction. That truth not only applies to primary game plans; there’s also a clear benefit in the ability to pick up and make a big change — something that windy conditions would obviously limit.

Mueller near the juice

Paul Mueller has been slowly putting together a limit on new water so far this morning. He just dropped his fourth bass into the livewell, which was the biggest one so far today. Maybe a 2 1/2-pounder.

That fish put him unofficially in the lead for the day, according to BASSTrakk. He’s staying cool and calm considering the tough fishing conditions, but that’s also likely due to the fact his best water is coming up.

“I wanted to wait until 10 to fish my good stuff, and it’s 10,” he said. “I’m headed to it, but I wanted to expand a bit on what I had going on yesterday, so I started closer to the river and it paid off.”

There are a couple other recreational anglers in here today, but Mueller believes they won’t affect his game plan.

“With these conditions, it’s critical to fish slow,” he said. “I’m covering water, but picking it apart as thoroughly as I can. It’s about getting my lure in front of an active fish, and that might mean swimming the bait passed several inactive fish to find the one that will eat.

“As the day goes on, more fish will fire up.”

Mueller is on four looking for five, and his good stuff is coming right up.

Kennedy in second

Currently second place on BASSTrakk, Steve Kennedy puts his second fish of the morning in the livewell.

Running the banks and power fishing along lay downs, brush, and primarily lily pad fields, Kennedy has managed to cover an abundant amount of water. Making it clear after catching the second fish that he is feeling the pressure and a little nervous, it hasn’t slowed him down a bit.

Fishing for Monday

After taking the BASSTrakk lead, Steve Kennedy said it best when he put a 2-pounder in the livewell.

"I'm fishing for a limit of those because it'll get me to Monday."

Remember last year? A measly 2-pounder was scorned by the anglers. This year? It gets the same value as a 6-pounder did here last year.

Other pros recognized the value of those 2 pounders this morning as I discussed the day's priorities with them.

Over and over I listened to them tell me it was all about catching a limit, nothing more. That makes a lot of sense considering what might happen tomorrow. It'll be the best day of fishing of the week.

The reason why is the warm up trend. On Saturday the high temperature reached a balmy (for this week) 63 degrees. Today, it'll hit 70 degrees and tomorrow the temperature will soar to 80 degrees.

And above all else, the anglers are now fishing on the backside of the full moon. The fish are on the move, and at least today, it could be all about catching the male bass as the females follow them.

So for sure, priorities have changed. Kennedy is proving it and so are others on the leaderboard. No, there are not any big movers up the scoreboard, but what matters the most is just getting a decent limit. Doing so will get you inside the Top 20 for Championship Monday. And of course, all it will take is anyone catching a 6-pounder to fish tomorrow. What a difference a year makes, but that's fishing.

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Kennedy's magical place

Steve Kennedy started the day in sixth place and BASSTrakk shows him in now in the lead. Here is a backstory about why he likes his fishing area so much.

During one of the canceled days I visited the Kennedy's at their campsite at Salt Springs Recreational Area, located in the Ocala National Forest. The destination gets its name from a spectacular mineral spring rising from cracks deep in the earth that is accessible to visitors.

As a youngster and teenager, Kennedy took family trips there, and now he's passed his fondness on to the spring to his wife Julia and their two children, Sophia and SJ.

After we finished my work, I was treated to a guided tour of the spring, where the Kennedy's had already spent time snorkeling and viewing manatee, blue crab and other animals.

"It's just a really neat place and these springs stay around 70 degrees, which is why the manatee winter here."

He continued, "We come here for vacations too, just like I did when I was a kid, and it's fun to teach our kids about the area."

Kennedy went on to talk about the obvious virtues of the springs as those relate to bass fishing. And especially so this year. Water temperatures are in the low 60s (although on the rise) and that explains why the springs eventually feeding into Lake George are so productive.

Kennedy isn't fishing in the spring but he is in the area.

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