Cliff Pirch

Catching really big fish

Starting a new Bassmaster Elite Series season is always exciting, but I’m really looking forward to beginning this year on Florida’s St. Johns River. The tough events are special in their own way, but I love going to heavyweight deals. That gets me far more excited about bass fishing.

The St. Johns is a fun place to go simply because of the sheer size of bass that you might catch. Both times I’ve been there, I’ve caught at least one or two 9-pounders.

I did okay in one of those events and not so good in the other. But the fun part about this fishery is that the potential is there to catch some really big fish. 

As far as how guys might catch them during the tournament, that’s tough to say. There’s such a variety of things you can do there because you’re dealing with a fishery that includes a river, canals and multiple lakes. That scenario lends itself to a wide assortment of tactics, so I think we’ll see a real variety of patterns.

Ultimately, it will come down to what the weather throws at us this week. Regardless of what happens a few days before the tournament, Florida is known for its fickle nature. We like to say: It’s only going on when it’s going on. 

What’s working one day may not continue into the next day. Those Florida bass are really weather-sensitive, and their activity levels can change dramatically during the course of a week. 

Personally, I love sight fishing, and if we get the right conditions, I’d love to do that. Coming from an area of the country with a lot of clear water, we see the fish most of the time in the spring; so any time I can employ this experience, I really like to do so. 

We’ll just have to wait and see how the conditions shape up for the tournament days, but I do know that the St. Johns’ diversity gives the fish a lot of options. If things get tough, they have main river shell beds, they have docks, bridges, current breaks and backwater ponds.

If things get tough, you’ll probably have to back off and find some feeding fish, rather than spawning fish. It may be a little current deal or a school of fish feeding on a shoal or something like that.

The thing about the St. Johns River is that it opens up a lot of opportunity, both in terms of habitat and bait selection. You can really pick your poison there, so if a guy is not into spawning fish, there are plenty of opportunities to do other things and get away from crowds.

This is really a fun place to fish and with a smaller field this year, that might make it even more flexible. Coming from a guy that lives more than 2,000 miles away, I don’t want to predict exactly how guys will catch them, but I would say that flexibility will be one of the most important elements of success in our Elite Series season opener.