Elite Analysis – Day 3 St. Johns River

Pete Robbins provides an in-depth analysis after Day 3 of the MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

“When it’s your time, it’s your time.”

Only five anglers — Brad Whatley, Chris Johnston, Jacob Foutz, Logan Latuso and Greg Hackney — managed to exceed the leader’s two-day weight of 50-11 over three days, but there’s no time to rest. As Brad Whatley showed, few leads are safe here.

Perhaps more importantly, time is more of a factor here than it is on many tournament venues: There’s the shad spawn, which seems to peter out quickly; there’s partying in the springs, which seems to increase as the day progresses; and there’s the inevitable pull of the tide, which constantly changes water levels.

There’s also the fact that the playing field is so spread out, with tons of slow speed and no wake zones. AOY leader Trey McKinney added 15-12 to his catch today and landed in 17th, just about 2 ½ pounds outside of the cut. Yesterday he sat in the “penalty box” for 90 minutes during his best bite window, and only brought 9-1 to the scales. Time may give opportunities, but it also takes them away.

Read what I saw and thought today, if you have the time:

Whatley in the Sunshine – Heading into Florida, Brad Whatley (2nd, 59-13) had missed seven straight Elite checks, including five straight finishes of 84th or worse. Those included 84th and 89th place finishes in his home state of Texas this season. Somehow, though, he’s gotten back on track. First there was a 10th place finish at the Harris Chain. Now he’s in 2nd place here. It’s the first time he’s made consecutive cuts since the start of last season when he came in 21st at Okeechobee and 44th at Seminole. The latter event took off from Georgia, but of course the lake extends into the Sunshine State. He’s only missed one cut in eight Florida Elite Series events. Maybe he should consider moving here.

Don’t Call it a Comeback – For those of us steeped in Elite Series history, the most obvious parallel to what Whatley has done so far would seem to be Grant Goldbeck’s effort in the 2011 event at the Haris Chain. Whatley was one of the handful of pros who failed to catch a limit on Day One and was in 95th, then added 20 pounds yesterday to move into 36th, and dropped another 31-4 on the scales today to ascend to 2nd. Similarly, in 2011 Goldbeck caught a single small keeper the first day to land in 97th out of 99 competitors. With 25-1 on Day 2, he moved up to 16th, then added 22-15 on Day Three to rise into the 2nd place position behind Shaw Grigsby, who led him by 11-10. Goldbeck shrunk that gap with a 16-13 catch on Day Four, but still missed the win by 7-6. At the time, Ken Duke pointed out that it wasn’t the biggest comeback in Bassmaster history, citing the 1979 Classic at Texoma, in which Basil Bacon blanked on Day One, before adding five for 13-14 on Day Two to rise to 6th, and then six for 14-2 on Day Three (there was a seven-fish limit) to ultimately fall short of Hank Parker by 3 pounds. Parker had led by 14-11 after the second day, and no one weighed in a limit during the event, so Bacon missed out on a huge opportunity. A keeper or two would’ve done it. Of course, he still finished second – if Whatley can somehow pass Johnston and hold off the rest of the field, this one has to not just enter the pantheon, but reside at the top of it.

Back to Ray Rob – Steve Kennedy’s 28th place finish this week helped his cause of getting back to the Bassmaster Classic by keeping him inside the cut as the season approaches the halfway mark. He’s missed the last two. Of course next year’s big dance will be at Lake Lay Roberts in Texas, where Kennedy led on Day One in June of 2021, before ultimately falling to 13th. His best Classic finish came at Lake Conroe, also in Texas, in 2017, when he was the runner-up to Jordan Lee.

Uncharted Waters – Veteran stars in the bottom quartile of the AOY standings who need to turn things around quickly to get to Ray Roberts: Brandon Cobb, Keith Combs, Mike Iaconelli, Seth Feider, Gerald Swindle, John Crews.

Ups and Downs – Only four anglers in the top 50 saw their weights go up every day: Whatley (2nd), Alex Redwine (11th), Jordan Lee (12th) and Jonthan Kelley (14th). Meanwhile, 22 of the top 50 did worse today than they did yesterday, and worse yesterday than they did the day before.  The only anglers in the top ten whose weights went down every day were Greg Hackney (6th) and Matt Arey (10th)

20/20/20 – Leader Cory Johnston is the only angler who has weighed in at least 20 pounds each day. With 73-13, he’s fallen off the Century Belt pace, but certainly still has a shot. He’s currently averaging just under 24-10 a day. If he adds that tomorrow, he’ll have 98-07, just 7 ounces less than Rick Clunn’s winning weight in 2019. That’s the standard bearer for Elite Series events from Palatka. Whatley  and Logan Latuso (5th, 52-6) are the only two other anglers to top 20 pounds twice at this event.

Teens and Under – Jacob Foutz (4th, 54-11) is the highest-ranked angler who has not weighed in a 20-plus limit yet in this event. Greg Hackney (6th) and Ray Hanselman (7th) are the other members of the current top ten who’ve yet to hit that milestone.

Home State Blues – John Cox (22nd, 44-1) was the top finishing Floridian.

Past Classic Winners and AOYs – 2022 Bassmaster Classic winner Jason Christie is the only Classic winner in the top ten. Greg Hackney is the only past AOY in the top 10.

Shad Spawn Nugget of Info – Greg Hackney’s four-bladed spinnerbait.

Must-Have Tackle – Gamakatsu Aaron Martens G-Finesse Drop Shot Hook

Caleb Sumrall – “Day One was magical.” He weighed in a 28-8 limit Thursday to take the lead, then added 13-11 over the next two days to ultimately land in 26th.

Dave Mercer — “If the wheels are going to come off it might as well be on payday.”

Dave Mercer on Bob Downey (15th, 46-9) — “He didn’t have the baby, but he was part of it at some point. Spawning season.”

Brandon Palaniuk (16th, 46-6) – “I needed a turning point….I’ve had this weight on my shoulders.”

Jamie Hartman (50th, 30-0) — “They gave me that big old bag to bring up here and I said ‘I only need a Ziploc.’” He had two fish for 2-8 today.

Two-Time Classic Winner Jordan Lee on One-Time Classic Champ and Perpetual Nemesis Jason Christie — “I think we need to have an old-fashioned brawl.”

First World Problem – Jacob Foutz reported that his hands were in terrible shape from catching too many fish.

Steve Kennedy — “I’ve never seen so many boats run by in all my life.” Anglers fishing in the springs were plagued by boat traffic, something that had been less problematic in past February/March visits. Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler – perhaps that will keep some of the partiers away.

Tyler Rivet (42nd, 38-15) — “I actually hate sand.” Nevertheless he agreed to spend the next few days at the beach with his girlfriend and family after missing the cut to Sunday. Ten thousand dollars buys a lot of umbrella drinks.

Chris Johnston — “I’m getting sick of the whole ‘close’ thing.” He’s in third place, but I’m not sure if a 17-pound deficit counts as “close.”