Choppy Lake George

Driving to Astor to wait on anglers heading to the Lake Dexter area, I saw the sunrise through the trees. I left the hotel early, so I ducked down a street and walked out to Lake George - and was treated to another beautiful Florida sunrise.

Surprisingly the lake had a nice chop. The winds are nil inland, but there was a brisk breeze on the lake. It wasn’t enough to slow down the anglers, who are chomping at the bit after two days of weather cancellations.

We expect a number anglers to make the long haul south of Astor. So my boater, Larry Cahan, and I are idling toward Lake Dexter to shoot the action.

Be watching the photo page: I’ll be sending in a photo gallery mid-morning.

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Forecast update for St. Johns

Saturday will start off chilly with sunny skies, but it will warm nicely for the afternoon underneath mainly sunny skies. Temperatures at take-off will be in the upper 30s and will rise into the mid-60s by the early afternoon hours. No rain is expected and winds will be much calmer out of the north to northeast at 2-7 MPH. Even on the water, the atmosphere will be rather dry with dewpoints staying in the mid to upper 30s.

Nearly an exact duplicate forecast for Sunday... Skies will be mainly sunny throughout the fishing day and temperatures will be a tad warmer. Temperatures at take-off will be in the upper 40s and will rise into the lower 70s by the early afternoon hours. Winds will be out of the north to northeast at 3-8 MPH. The atmosphere will be a little more moist with dewpoints starting in the mid-40s and rising into the lower 50s.

Monday will even be warmer with mostly clear skies throughout the day. Moisture levels continue to rise, but no rain is expected throughout the fishing day. We'll start with temperatures in the mid-50s at take-off and rising into the upper 70s by the mid-afternoon hours. Dewpoints will rise from the mid-50s to the lower 60s. Winds will be out of the southeast at 5-10 MPH.

Mother Nature creates exciting new format

PALATKA, Fla. — Maybe Mother Nature had a better plan. The AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River was scheduled to be a four-day, Thursday through Sunday tournament, with the field cut to the top 40 after two days and the top 10 after three days.

However, Mother Nature sent that plan flying with the 25- to 35-mile per hour winds that have swept this river the past two days. When the tournament begins Saturday, the full 88-man field will fish the first two days, and only the top 20 anglers will fish Monday’s final.

With a warming trend beginning again Saturday and a full moon rising Sunday over a legendary big bass fishery, there could be big-time fireworks before this one is over. Throw in the fact that these anglers were last on the water for practice on Tuesday, and who knows what will happen?

“It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens,” said 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Scott Canterbury. “It could be really close going into that last day. Twentieth place could be three or four pounds out of the lead. Or it might be 10pounds out of the lead. But on a river like this, you can make up 10 pounds with one swing. There’s the potential to catch a mid 30s- to 40-pound bag, if it was to get right.”

That’s what Rick Clunn did on the last day of the four-day event at the St. Johns River last February. Clunn was in eighth place, 11 pounds, 13 ounces out of the lead going into the final day and won the tournament with five bass totaling 34-14. His four-day total was 98-14.

And consider this: The only other time an Elite Series event was shortened to three days was at Lake Champlain in 2017, when Aaron Martens caught 23-5 in the final and came from 19th place to win by 14 ounces over Seth Feider.

“This one makes me nervous,” said Keith Combs, who along with Canterbury and a couple dozen other Elite Series anglers gathered at the Palatka Riverfront Park to meet and greet fans Friday afternoon. “If it doesn’t get won by someone who has found a group offshore in the river, it will be won by someone who had a few bites in an area and then the motherlode moved up.

“In practice, I tried to focus on big flat area that had some pads and stuff where I think a guy could win.” 

Cliff Prince is the man to keep an eye on Saturday. Palatka is his hometown, and the 50-year-old angler has been fishing tournaments on the St. Johns River since he was 18. Prince is the guy most familiar with the offshore mussel shell beds and similar structure where bass could be staging to spawn.

“I’m liking it, I’m liking it,” Prince said. “But you know my mind is running a hundred miles an hour. I’ve got some areas where they should be, and if they’re there, it could be good for me.”

Prince had his heart broken here in 2016 due to a livewell aerator malfunction. He had a decent limit early, but all five fish were dead at mid-morning. The rules prevent culling a dead fish and, after penalties, Prince was left with a Day 1 weight of only 10-12, which put him in 95th place. He rallied with over 70 pounds the next three days to finish sixth, 8 pounds, 9 ounces behind Clunn, who won with 81-15.

“I was really on ‘em in that event,” Prince said. “I should have blown it out. I should have had well over 25 pounds the first day. That one stung. The second day I had 23 pounds and I lost a 10-pounder.” 

In the five previous Elite Series events at the St. Johns River, it has always produced some fireworks. As Canterbury noted earlier, a 10-pounder can change things in a hurry here, as can one of those 30-pound bags that aren’t out of the question on this river. And in this particular Mother Nature-altered format, it’s anybody’s guess how this one plays out.

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Hartman’s got no plan

Jamie Hartman said postponement of the first day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite Series at St. Johns River is likely to really throw the field for a loop — and it certainly has him scratching his head about what to do tomorrow. A warming trend was predicted to make today the best opportunity for the pros to catch some big bedding bass, but a strong front is forecasted to drop temperatures 20 degrees over night on top of accompanying thunderstorms.

And Saturday morning’s forecast calls for a low of 33 degrees.

“I have no plan,” Hartman said. “The temperature drop, with the thunderstorms that are supposed to come in, the sustained wind, it’s going to churn everything up that’s been accessible. So that’s gone. And in Florida, you take a 20-degree drop — that’s crucial.”

The two-time Elite Series winner said he had a very tough practice, so everything was predicated on the assumption of having at least one day in the warming trend to catch some bedding bass.

"That plan’s out the window because what I planned to do today (is not going to happen),” Hartman said. "With the warmup, you predict what’s going to happen, and I guarantee it’s happening right now; they’re where they’re supposed to get after three days of warm weather. That’s what they’re waiting for. We have a full moon on Saturday, so they’re getting there.

"That’s how a lot of guys were going to catch them today. Including myself, some of the other guys said today was the day to catch them, if you were going to catch them, and then grind tomorrow to try to catch a limit.”

Any sight-fishing is almost certainly over for the duration of the event, and anglers will now start the tournament in post-front conditions.

"We’re going into the first day of that front, after high winds and storms. It’s going to be a tough one tomorrow,” Hartman said. "I don’t care if you’re fishing deep or you’re fishing shallow, it’s going to be a whole different ball game. And the second day is even worse.”

So how does Hartman plan to attack the fishery? Your guess is as good as his.

"I really have to rethink everything,” he said. “When you’re not getting bit in practice, you have nothing to go off of. That’s when it’s the toughest. I know where they were going to get, and that’s where I kept looking and getting myself set for."

Fantasy Fishing open one more day

With the cancelation of Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River Fantasy Fishing players have one more day to fill out their brackets. The close time for Rapala Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing is now 6:00 a.m. ET Friday February 7th.

Fantasy Fishing 2020 is bigger and better with $90,000 in prizes. The top 20 Fantasy finishers in each tournament receive prizes this year.

B.A.S.S. officials made a decision to cancel the first day of competition on the St. Johns River today after the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a wind advisory making the fishery unsafe for boaters. The wind advisory is calling for winds 15-25 m.p.h. with gusts over 40.

“Safety for our anglers and Marshals is our primary concern,” said Trip Weldon, Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament Director. “We have been monitoring the weather closely, and had discussions with NWS last night and this morning to see if the weather situation would change.

“Beginning this morning and into the afternoon, the wind was just going to be too high to safely be on the water.”

Competition in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River is expected to resume Friday morning when the field of 88 anglers launches at 7:15 a.m. from Palatka Riverfront Park.

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Going to school

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Cliff Prince put together a group of about 10 anglers to use the canceled day to visit Palatka High School.

The anglers are here at CP Deli for breakfast, and are on their way right now to meet with the schools angling team and other student groups.

Prince said they will talk with the anglers and sign autographs.

A full photo gallery will follow.


Putting the gear away

Brian Schmitt is putting gear away after Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River tournament canceled due to high winds.

Photo by Bassmaster Marshal Frank Gilroy

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First day of tournament postponed due to high winds

Anglers received a text at 6:40 a.m. ET advising them that the first day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River has been cancelled. Later it was determined that the day was merely postponed and anglers will fish 4 days starting tomorrow.  The National Weather Service has issued an advisory for our area that winds will be 15-25 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 beginning late morning and continuing throughout the entire day. B.A.S.S. tournament officials decided to postpone Day 1 due to that advisory.

"As much as everyone is ready to get the season started, the safety of our competitors, Marshals and staff have to always come first," said Tournament Director Trip Weldon.

We'll have full coverage of the Elites waiting to get started today on 

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