How I’ll fish the St. John’s River

This week we kick off the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series on the St Johns River in Palatka, Fla. I couldn’t think of a better place to kick off the season, and I’m excited to get going. It’s hard to believe this will be my seventh season on the Elite Series. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun, just like the old saying goes.

This will be my fourth time fishing an Elite Series event here, so by now, I feel like I’ve seen the vast majority of what this place has to offer. It’s amazing how different everything looks every year we come here, though, and I think this year is definitely the most challenging I’ve ever seen it. Don’t get me wrong, this is still the land of the giants, and I expect to see some giants weighed in this week. But it’s not easy out there.

It’s no secret that Lake George is typically where it goes down when we come here, but I’m not so sure that will be the case this time around. The eelgrass still hasn’t rebounded from the hurricane and high water a couple of years ago. Places that had grass even last year are bare. I’m confident it will all come back — it’ll just take time — but for now, it makes it a challenge to find productive water.

Another huge factor in Florida this time of year is the weather. Last year all the stars aligned, and we hit it perfectly, right when a big wave of spawners moved up and started doing their thing. The weather, and more importantly, the water temperature this year, is colder. It’s been dipping down into the high 30s at night, and Florida fish just don’t do well with those cold nights. Thankfully, we are supposed to get a couple of warmer nights for the tournament, so that should help the bite some.

Undoubtedly there will still be some caught off bed this week. I’ve been around these guys long enough to know that if they’re spawning anywhere they will find them.

All in all, I would rate my practice as decent. I always go into a tournament with an optimistic outlook, and this one is no different. I’ve learned in Florida that just because you don’t get bit in an area in practice doesn’t mean they won’t be there tomorrow or the next day for the tournament. Just last year, on the third day of the tournament, I caught 22 pounds out of a place where I caught one male bass in practice. I’ve found some of the right looking stuff, so I’m hopeful the fish will show up.

One bait that never fails me anytime we come here is an X-Zone lures 5-inch True Center Stick. I caught almost everything I weighed in here on it last year, and I’ll have a couple rigged and ready the first morning of the tournament this week. I’ll have one rigged on a Texas rig with a 3/16 ounce Mustad tungsten weight and a 3/0 Mustad Grip Pin Big Bite hook and 17-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon, and another rigged on a wacky rig on spinning tackle just in case things get tough.

I’m super excited to get the season kicked off this week. If you’re in the area, come by the weigh-in and hang out with us. I’m sure you’ll see some giant bass weighed in, hopefully, I can find a few of them myself.