A look at St. Johns River

In the quickest turnaround in Elite Series history, the 103 anglers traveled the hour and half from Leesburg, Fla., to Palatka for this week’s MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.
After high winds postponed the Lowrance Elite at Harris Chain to a Friday-Monday event, practice for St. Johns was cut to two days. Barring another setback, the 25th pro level event at St. Johns will be Thursday through Sunday.
Much of the field is well-familiar with the tidal fishery, site of eight previous Elites, including consecutive years from 2019-22. St. Johns is the longest river in Florida, its 310 miles starting in marshland west of Vero Beach and flowing north to Jacksonville, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Elites have approximately 100 miles as their playing field.
The big story going in is Rick Clunn, the four-time Classic champion who will be fishing his 500th event at St. Johns. Coincidentally, it is the venue where he revitalized his career, winning the 2016 Elite after a big Day 3. Trip Weldon and son, Sage, a late arrival, helped Clunn show off his 31-7 bag that helped him win.
Just three years later, Clunn did it again, proving that you should never accept your best moments are in the past. With two bass nearing 10 pounds, Clunn weighed 34-14 to complete a rally from eighth place, 11-13 behind the leader. His 98-14 is the largest winning weight at the St. Johns. Is a third title there in store? Clunn is fishing well coming off a 20th at the Harris Chain.
Tournament central is the Palatka City Dock & Boat Ramp on 319 River Street. The blastoffs are scheduled at 7 a.m. ET daily with weigh-ins there set for 3 p.m. ET. The Expo on the grounds opens Saturday and Sunday at noon. All B.A.S.S. venues are free to attend. Visit the Attend page to see all the activities, which include a BassmasterHER workshop in Palatka.
In the most recent St. Johns Elite, John Crews won wire-to-wire as his Day 1 bag of 28-0 helped him total 75-4. Crews held off Bob Downey, who missed last week’s Harris Chain for his baby’s birth. Downey, who had 27-4 on Day 1, only caught one bass on Day 2 but finished 1-4 back of Crews after 29-4 on Championship Sunday.
While the event should be mostly postspawn, big bass are always a reality in Florida. In the mid-February 2022 event, John Cox landed this 8-5 and 7-13 for the week’s best bag of 31-15 that helped him finish fourth.
St. Johns has produced lunkers starting with the first Bassmaster event there in 1973. Bob Tyndall landed a 12-13, which stood as the largest in B.A.S.S. for 24 years, and Bill Bailey had a 12-3. Both still rank in the top 10 all-time. Brandon Cobb (above) had 2022’s biggest, a 9-13 that earned Phoenix Boats Big Bass bonuses.
Weather for this week is stable, with highs temperatures reaching 90 each day. In 2020, the St. Johns Elite was weather delayed two days, and in 2021 fog shortened Day 1.
That leaves the tide as perhaps the biggest puzzle on the lazy St. Johns River. Along its stretches, there are plenty of targets in the lakes and canals, like laydowns and lilypads. Elite anglers also have numerous docks in canals and the 3,500 lakes on the St. Johns.
The 2024 Elite Series rookie run continued at the Harris Chain, with four first-year Elites making the final day. Rookie John Garrett posted a wire-to-wire win, holding off JT Thompkins who edged him out for the 2023 Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifier Angler of the Year. Rookies have won two of the three Elites in 2024 and all 10 are inside the projected cut to qualify for the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors.
Trey McKinney, who became the youngest Elite winner at 19 years, 1 week, at Lake Fork, maintained the lead in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which has four rookies in the top six spots. McKinney, who was sixth at the Harris Chain after 12th at Toledo Bend, has an eight-point lead on Tyler Williams and is 10 ahead of two-time Classic champ Jordan Lee, who returned to the Elites this year.
Catch all the action as the fourth Elite event of the year gets under way Thursday, with Bassmaster LIVE hitting the airwaves at 8 a.m. ET. There is weekend coverage on FS1.