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.

Canterbury on the board

Scott Canterbury started today in fifth place, about 4 pounds behind leader Kelley Jaye.

But Canterbury just cut that gap with a solid 3-pounder he caught flipping lilies just off Lake George.

But he could have more bass in the boat. He made a quick stop north of the lake and said he missed a bass, and he just hooked and lost another solid fish in the thick salad.

But it’s obvious he’s onto something, so he’s an angler worth watching on BASSTrakk.

Jaye fishing on his terms

Kelley Jaye knew it would happen, and it did.

Last year, he finished 11th on a jerkbait pattern, which is basically Jaye's middle name, should he be named after a lure.

"Last year, there were just two of us in here, now there are a dozen."

No surprise there. Jaye told me yesterday he was going to stay with the jerkbait pattern until it died. And when it did, he would move shallow and go flipping and pitching. So far Jaye hasn't done that, but he anticipates he will as the water warms up and the fish go shallower.

"Those fish have two choices, and those are to go to the bank or come out deep where I am," he said. "Last year, I caught 20 pounds flipping, so I can go either way basically in the same spot."

Jaye went on to say that he will be flexible, knowing the water will get warmer and there are benefits of staying in the area based on the full moon. It's the kind of area when he can wait on the come. which is a good place to be in this tournament.

Mueller with a start up river

Paul Mueller started Day 2 in second place after producing one of only a few 20-plus-pound bags. He made a 40-minute run, away from the crowds of other Elite anglers, and has a pad-choked creek all to himself.

That’s the way he prefers it.

“I found these fish during practice, and I’m glad the storm and cold front didn’t pull them out of this creek,” he said. “To be honest I’m surprised at how much weight I caught yesterday. And I lost one that was every bit of 8 pounds. I know they’re in here.”

He said to make the Top 20 cut, he needs 14 to 15 pounds if the weights stay consistent. This year's St. John’s River is a different beast—a stingy beast.

“If I can manage another 20 pounds again today, we’ll have a legitimate shot at this thing,” he said. “I feel pretty good about it.”

He just caught his first bass of the day, a small keeper. He called it a “bonus fish,” because he’s checking water he didn’t fish yesterday.

“The bite got good yesterday around midday,” he explained. “I believe today will be similar, maybe even better. I’m holding off on my best stuff until then.”

The day is early, and the sun is already warming the 35-degree air that kicked things off—cold by Florida standards. The warmer it gets, the better the fishing will be later in the day.

Wendlant fishing skinny

We’re on Clark Wendlant this morning and have followed him into a skinny canal. There was competition on this section of the St. John’s River for the prime canals, with anglers racing to reach their chosen spots first.

Wendlant’s first choice was already taken by two Elite anglers who got there first. Wendlant calmly turned around and went to his second choice.

Wendlant finished Day 1 in 3rd place with 20 pounds of bass. The Cedar Park, Texas angler is hoping to start 2020 strong after finishing 44th in the Angler of the Year race last year. That put him just two spots away from qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic.

The second-year Elite has fished in 104 Bassmaster tournaments. He’s been in the money 58 times, with 19 top tens. Wendlant has made the Classic four times.

Mueller's case study

Paul Mueller told me yesterday that he went looking for "new water" early on. My question to him was why so soon? It was the first day of competition, of course. Here is what he said.

"This is one of those types of tournaments where you have to go looking for clues to keep ahead of the game. There might not be three days worth of fish in one area, because they are constantly on the move."

Mueller said the key to his area is the presence of higher water.

"There is more water coming in and it's warmer too, and those are two things I have that are working in my favor."

What else is key is timing. Yesterday, Mueller waited until 11:30 a.m. to hit his key area.

"It took a lot of patience because the area has to get just right for the fish to come in," he added.

This morning, Mueller said he will go to that area much sooner. He chose to spend more of his time up north, instead of joining the crowds in Lake George and points farther south.

"The weather is going to stabilize and that will make it even better," he said.

Mueller also told me his plan is to keep moving, cover water. And if it means searching for new water, then he will do so, if it looks like Championship Monday is in his future.

Prince: "Kelley Jaye is going to win it"

Local favorite Cliff Prince didn't get enough time with the "running water" he needed from an incoming tide yesterday.

"I culled two in the last five minutes," Prince said. "I didn't even have time to strap my rods down. I just threw them down in the boat and took off. But that was when the water got right. And I'm not even going to have that (today) because the tide is going to be an hour later. That low water messed a bunch of people up, not just me."

Prince kept himself in the conversation Saturday by weighing a 10-pound, 10-ounce limit, which put him in 28th place. He thinks he knows who is going to win the tournament.

"Kelley Jaye is going to win it because of where he is and what he's doing," said Prince of the Day 1 leader, who also finished 11th here last year. "The fish are coming to him."

Arey: "Weather trumps the moon"

It's prime spawning time in Florida and the moon is full today. But Saturday's results didn't produce the numbers you might expect under such conditions.

"Guys say full moon this and full moon that," noted Matt Arey. "But the biggest thing I look at is the weather. Weather trumps the moon any day of the week, especially in this state. These fish don't like cold water."

That was apparent in the totals from Saturday. Only 44 of the 88 anglers weighed five-bass limits. Five anglers zeroed, including Brandon Lester, and six anglers weighed only one fish, including Chris Zaldain and Brandon Cobb. Even the guys who looked good in the Day 1 standings didn't leave the St. Johns River with much confidence.

"I'm prepared to put my head down and fish for five bites," said Arey, who is in 10th place with 16-2. "Right now, as stingy as this river has been, I'd be happy with a limit (today)."

Expect to see some big swings in the standings today, when the field will be cut to the top 20 for Monday's final.

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