After practicing and then having three days off the water many of the pros are in practice and/or reboot mode. Carl Jocumsen is among them but with an added twist.
Jocumsen and his wife Kayla spent the week prior to the tournament in Australia for the wedding of Carl's cousin. They took a 20-hour flight back to Orlando and drove to Palatka for the tournament. Carl only had one day of practice.
"How this tournament sets up is the off days brought everything back to a level playing field," he said. "So what I lost in practice I gained with the off days, with most all of us beginning over, like a practice day."
A power fisherman by trade, Jocumsen knows he must slow down to keep up with the metabolism of the fish.
"I have so many rods on the front deck, but I must be careful not to fish too fast, because these fish are not as active as they were earlier in the week.
So far so good. BASSTrakk shows Jocumsen in eighth place.
Wes Logan, an Elite Series rookie from Springville, Ala., has fished only seven B.A.S.S. tournaments - three Southern Opens in 2017 and four Central Opens last year. But he has quickly made a name for himself, pursuing his dream of being a pro bass angler.
Logan qualified for the Elite Series with the top point total in the Central Opens last year after finishing, in order, 31st at Toledo Bend, 10th at Alabama's Smith Lake, 3rd at the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wis., and 5th at Oklahoma's Grand Lake.
He's getting comfortable on the Elite Series quickly. Logan had four keepers weighing 8-14 by 9 a.m. today, including the 4-2 pictured here.
We’re following the Prince of Palatka, Cliff Prince, this morning. Of course he lives right here in Palatka and knows this fishery better than anyone on the Elites Series. In the first hour Prince had nary a bite and he told us, “It’s not going to be easy today.”
The air temperature at launch this morning was a chilly 34 degrees, which typically makes these Florida bass lethargic.
Shortly after that he made a move and caught three keeper bass for about 6 pounds. Prince is starting to feel a little better about this day.
In a previous blog post written by Craig Lamb, he explained how important the tides are in the St. Johns River, and why the incoming tide hasn't reached a peak water level over the past two days. The prevailing south and west winds have pushed water out of this northerly flowing river. Even at high tide, the water level came up, but it didn't produce the current it normally would without the wind.
As Cliff Prince puts it, "We haven't had running water in two days." Prince, 50, is a Palatka native. He's been fishing bass tournaments here since here since he was 18 years old. He knows where the bass set up when the St. Johns River incoming tides produce "running water."
"I like it, I like it," said Prince of this scenario. "I know where they should be. They may not show up. But if they do, it could play to my advantage for sure."
Prior to the start of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Florida’s St. Johns River, Elite rookie Buddy Gross lamented what he described as the worst practice of his professional career; but the pro from Chickamauga, Ga. began the first day of his first Elite event with a strong start.
According to BASSTrakk Gross got the ball rolling with a 4-pounder at 8:14 a.m. and added four more keepers of 2-6, 2-10, 2-0 and 2-8 to take an early lead with 13-8. (Weights unofficial.)
The day’s just under way, but the strong start — on a cold front day, no less — should give Gross the confidence to breathe a little easier. We’ll keep our eye on this one.
A sleeper in play at this tournament that not many anglers are talking about is the tide. And not just the daily ebb and flow cycle of the tide. This week, it is all about how the tide will actually raise the water level and keep it there.
Here, the St. Johns River flows from south to north. On Thursday and Friday the wind blew from the south with sustained winds up to 40 mph. That wind pushed water out of Lake George, largest in the river system, into the river itself. Overall, the water level dropped several feet and remained low.
Regardless of whether or not the prevailing pattern leans toward spawning beds, the lower water level will affect strategies across the board.
"I had my first five fish of the day marked," said Drew Benton. "Now, those beds are out of the water."
Derek Hudnall, from south Louisiana and accustomed to fishing tidal waters, added this thought.
"The low water and low tide has pulled the fish out, and when it comes back in the fish will completely reposition themselves," he said. "So if you marked fish on beds with the GPS they probably won't be there, so it's going to be like restarting practice."
Mark Menendez added this theory about what could happen.
"When the tide comes back in later today it could flood the shoreline, because eventually it will bring the water that we lost with the wind back," he said. "That could bring with it the fish back into shallow water to set back up to spawn."
Today's high tide in Palatka is at 2:34 p.m.; on Sunday the best high tide happens at 3:21 p.m. So it will be worth watching to see how the tide plays into the tournament.
Luke Palmer is working lilies in the Astor area, and it only took about 15 minutes to get his first bite.
The fish wasn’t what he was looking for, though.
“It was just short,” Palmer said.
But at least he’s broken the ice on the 2020 season, logging his first catch.
With three days off the water, nobody knows quite what to expect today. But John Crews is well aware of how fast you can catch 20-plus pounds on the St. Johns River. It was on Day 1 here last year when Crews caught the 11-pound, 2-ounce big bass of the tournament en route to a 24-pound, 13-ounce second-place bag.
"I didn't have it pinpointed," Crews recalled. "But there were definitely fish pulling up. Right before I caught that 11-pounder, I caught a 6 1/2 and a 4 1/2 off beds. They were one-flippers, so those fish had definitely moved up there and were just getting territorial. I plan on going back to that area."
While Crews did catch those first two off spawning beds, he made a cast to a likely looking target - not a spawning bed - when the 11-pounder bit. Again, it's a reminder of how fast it can happen here - three bass totaling over 22 pounds in a matter of minutes.