How I will fish the St. Johns River

The St. Johns River starts off 2021, my eighth year on the Elite Series. Best I can tell, this is my fifth tournament here. Even though I live nine hours away, I am starting to feel like a local down here!

It is always fun to come and fish here because there are a lot of big fish swimming in Florida. Over the years, I’ve seen some whackfests and some pretty darn tough tournaments too.

I think this week is shaping up to be a pretty good one, I really do. Our three days of official practice have been challenging; everyone in the field would most likely say that.

I’ve been putting these articles together every year of my Elite career. This year I will try and add in some water temperature notes at each event. Water temp is such a critical factor, especially this time of year. Hopefully, that will provide insightful for Elite Series fans.

When we started practice, the water temp was right around 59-60 degrees. You can get some bites at that temperature, but that’s not a temperature that will make the spawners pull up and bed. That is what anglers want to hit here. 

The good news is, and this is a weird Florida phenomenon, sometimes it doesn’t get cold enough here to trigger the spawn. Ideally, cold temperatures will arrive and be followed by a warming trend that creates a scenario where the fish pull up together and spawn in a big way. Thankfully, it has been cold enough here for several weeks, by Florida standards, with water temps down into the 50s. There’s been enough of a dip that this warming trend might just make them spawn.

Today, the day before the tournament, the air temperature is 75 degrees. It is supposed to get to near 80 on Day 1. On the last day of practice, the water was up to the mid 60s. The fish should be coming; at least, I hope they are. We may hit it just right. 

Everyone knows that the springs will play. Some fish will be caught in pads, punching big weights. What I think is really cool here: There are 70 miles of the river, many lakes, all the canals; there is so much water in play. We have three days of practice, so we try to find some fish and find a good area.

Every time I’ve been here, I’ve caught my fish in a different place. The fishery or the weather, or both, are always different, so that makes sense. 

I’ll be flipping around a Senko-style bait that works here and all over Florida. It’s a staple. I will also have a swim jig tied on if I come across lily pads or a laydown. 

Use a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce Mustad tungsten weight, a 3/0 and a 4/0 Mustad Grip Pin Big Bite hook and just pitch it around on 17- or 20-pound Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon, depending on the cover. I will cast the 1/8 around and flip the 3/16-ounce setup. These will work well on bedding fish. 

Here’s a tip I can give you: I put a small spinner on the back of the bait. It gives the setup some flash and helps get bites. Someone showed me that years ago down here in Florida.

I know where my home area will be. Hopefully, I can stay there all day and catch them. Hopefully, we can get the year kicked off right.