Did New just seal the deal?

Thirty-year-old Elite Series rookie Bryan New was already having a magical day. It got better just after 1 o’clock. New had 21 pounds in the boat, and had moved, looking for an upgrade. He was thinking about moving again. 

“I just said I don’t like this, I’m fixing to leave,” shouted New as he boated his biggest bass of the day, a 5-4, giving him 23-3 on the day and 76-6 for the tournament. He started the day in 6th place, 5-15 out of first. 

But 15 minutes later, New’s day got even better when he flipped a 5-pound, 13-ounce bass in the boat.

“I think I really like this place now,” he said with a smile. “I don’t think I’m going to leave it.”

New culled a 3-11 with a the 5-13 and now has 25-5 on the day and a 10-pound lead over his closest competitor.

Walters in final hour at Rodman

Patrick Walters has struggled today, like everyone else in today’s final not named Bryan New. He’s into the final hour of fishing available at Rodman Reservoir. Check-in time at Palatka for the anglers is 3 p.m., but Walters has to be in the lock to go back into the St. Johns River before 2 p.m. Just before he locked through yesterday, he caught his big bass of the day. It weighed 7 pounds, 15 ounces. 

“There was a stump there that I’d seen the day before and saved for (Saturday),” Walters said yesterday. “I made one cast on the stump with a jerkbait and caught it, five minutes before I locked.” 

Walters desperately needs a last-hour flurry. It has seemed all day it was just a matter of time before all these guys starting catching ‘em. But it’s getting late now.

Crunch time for Walters

Time is running out for Patrick Walters on Rodman Reservoir. Over the course of the last hour, you can tell that Walters knows he’s got to make it happen quickly.

Since the sun has come out, Walters is bouncing from spot to spot at a rapid pace trying to find the bites that he needs. The Day 3 leader is still getting a good number of bites but the quality hasn’t shown up. 

It’s more than possible that Walters could pull up to the right area and make it happen quickly considering he will have to be back to the lock by 2.

New's late morning flurry

Coming into Day 4, Elite rookie Bryan New said he needed to maintain the quantity of fish he had been catching the past two days, but he also needed to increase the quality. Prior to Championship Sunday, he had not had what he’d call a “big bite,” but that changed, thanks to a late-morning flurry. 

According to BassTrakk, New caught a 5-pound, 1-ounce bass at 11:24. He followed 7 minutes later with a 4-5 and, after 15 minutes, he added a 3-9. That rapid-fire session of quality bites helped push New’s limit to an estimated 21-8. 

As of 12:20, New holds a 6-12 lead over the cagey veteran Greg Hackney. (All numbers are unofficial until weigh ins.)

Walters keeps multiple tools handy

If you’ve watched Patrick Walters the past two days, you may have noticed all the rod-and-reel combos he has on his boat deck. I counted 15 at one point this morning. They all have a purpose. For instance, Walters mentioned he had seven with jerkbaits tied on yesterday. Yes, he used a variety of colors and styles of that lure, but line type and strength is crucial too.

For instance, yesterday he noted one reel was loaded with 17-pound test monofilament line, another with 17-pound fluorocarbon line, three with 14-pound test monofilament line, one with 12-pound test monofilament and another with 12-pound test fluorocarbon. Different lines allow him to refine the depth that particular jerkbaits will run.

“If that jerkbait starts digging in the dirt, they won’t touch it,” Walters said. “As I get shallower, I go to bigger line sizes. It’s all to present the bait accordingly."

Local knowledge

Cliff Prince didn’t stay in Dunn’s Creek long. He quickly headed down the river, apparently falling back on his local experience on the St. Johns River.

He made one stop, watching his graph, and then on a second stop off a main River point apparently liked what he saw on his electronics.

He added two more fish to his livewell. He should have 5 or 6 pounds.

My boater, Dylan Ettinger, said he’s working shell bars. “A lot of the locals, that’s all they fish,” Ettinger said. “The fish will gang up in them.”

Ettinger said he didn’t expect Prince to spend a ton of time in any one bar, however. “Either they’re there or they‘re not,” the young angler said. “That’s why fishermen don’t stay long. If they don’t bite in the first 10 minutes they aren’t going to bite.”

Waiting on Walters

Day 3 leader, Patrick Walters is in the lock and headed to Rodman Reservoir.

Of the Top 10 fishing on the final day, Walters will be the only competitor locking to Rodman. We will be on Walters all day on Champions Sunday.

Boom! Menendez lands a 6-pounder

Mark Menendez has been here before, in a final day shootout on the St. Johns River. “Two casts here and you can have 16 or 17 pounds,” said Menendez prior to the 7 a.m. takeoff today. “That’s the wildcard. That craziness hasn’t really shown up yet (this year) because the fish are scattered.”

Menendez was part of the 2019 Day 4 craziness here when he finished third after sacking 25-12. He’s off to a hot start this morning after catching a 6-pounder at 7:33 a.m.

So it begs the question: Is the craziness showing up today on Championship Sunday? Is that early 6-pounder from Menendez an omen of things to come? There were five bags over 30 pounds caught here in 2019. Every angler polled before the tournament thought at least one 30-pound bag would be caught this week. The closest to that was Patrick Walters’ 26-7 yesterday.

Prince on the board early

Cliff Prince made the short run to Dunn’s Creek, and made a stop off a point just inside the mouth.

It paid off with a quick ice breaker.

The bass looked to be about 2 pounds - not a huge fish, but it gives him a start while most of the field were still running south.

Strong sense of déjà vu today

Yes, it feels like we’ve been here before. It was only two years ago, Feb. 10, 2019, when everything was setting up for the final day of an Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River just like it is today. Even some of the anglers are the same. Patrick Walters, the Day 3 leader, was in second place behind Chris Johnston two years ago, and Mark Menendez, 10th after Day 3 this year, was in third place. From the wide gap of three-day weights in the top 10 to the cloudy, rainy weather, there’s an air of déjà vu in Palatka this morning.

The difference is that the gap between first place and 10th place this year is only 7 pounds, 11 ounces. Two years ago, it was 17 pounds, 3 ounces. And we all remember what happened. Rick Clunn rallied from 8th place, 11-13 out of the lead, to win going away with a 34-pound, 14-ounce five-bass limit. His winning weight was 98-14. Johnston finished second with 95-2, and Menendez was third with 95-1.

With history as our teacher, obviously anything is possible today.