Fantasy Fishing: Giant St. Johns bass again in 2020

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Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams. That will continue to be the mantra as B.A.S.S. kicks off the 2020 season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, and with a new look on Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing. A massive year could be in store and it's starting off on the legendary St. Johns River. With recent history there, it should be exciting.

Last year, the little ole’ river lit the world on fire with Rick Clunn claiming back-to-back victories after his win in 2016. In legendary fashion, Clunn caught a pair of “Big Earls” weighing nearly 20 pounds, which with his other three totaled 34-14 for a winning weight of 98-14. 

And the St. Johns could be prime for another round of fireworks.

Last year, with the massive amounts of water coming and going through the St. Johns, most of the grass that the anglers have grown accustomed to in years past was wiped out. If you watched Bassmaster LIVE, it might not have been noticeable because most anglers seemed to be around a ton of grass, and to a large extent, they were.

There were a lot of anglers cycling through the same areas, which made it seem to fish small. Despite being cramped, it clearly indicated the St. Johns River is a world-class fishery. It has had a year to recuperate, and a lot of the grass has come back strong, which should allow the anglers to spread out. That also means the bass will be more spread out.

The event is two weeks before the 2019 event. However, there is always a chance that a wave will be moving up, and it's a good bet there will be an ample amount of quality sight fish to be caught. I’d be looking to hedge my bets on guys who have eagle eyes and love to flip. And you better throw in a few guys who like throwing moving baits in the grass too.

Here is who I’m counting on to kick it off right.

BUCKET A: COX

Why in the world would I pick a first-year Elite in Bucket A, you ask? Even among all the hammers? Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that John Cox is an FLW Cup winner and a very accomplished shallow-water angler. He also spent several years without electronics on his boat because, who needs it when your boat never leaves 18 inches of water? The pressure of the Elites will not faze him, and even though there are a multitude of guys in this bucket that will finish well here, it would not surprise me one bit to see Cox start off his Elite career with a victory.

Good Bet: Either Johnston brother

Both Chris and Cory Johnston are exceptional picks. In 2019, Cory finished eighth here while Chris went on to finish runner-up to Clunn (also a solid pick … I mean, back-to-back wins and all). They are a force anywhere, but they are exceptionally good at picking apart shallow grass. Either one will bring in solid points.

BUCKET B: CREWS

I’m sticking with the “John” theme with my Bucket B selection. Last year, John Crews stuck an 11-pound behemoth and finished a respectable fifth place. Normally a big fish can be chalked up to a fluke, but even if that fish weighed a single pound, he still would have finished in the Top 10. That said, history isn’t everything. I’m giving him the nod more due to his shallow-water and sight-fishing skills. He started off last year incredibly strong, and I’m banking on him to do that again.

Good Bet: Morgenthaler

Chad Morgenthaler is a shallow-water expert and he excels at tracking moving fish. Prespawn fish move daily. He will not be the guy whose fish “disappeared on him.” He should be able to stay on top of them and catch ‘em well each day. 

BUCKET C: SHRYOCK

If you want a young kid with tons of energy who isn’t afraid to swing for it, Hunter Shryock could be your guy. This is his third season on the Elites. With each season, expect him to be more and more comfortable among the leaders. If you follow his social media, you know he excels at shallow, clear-water events. He lives quite a few miles north of Florida, in Ohio, but he understands these grass fish. If he can fish with a clear head and listen to his gut, he could start off the way he finished the last four events of 2019 … with a top 15 or better.

Good Bet: Wendlandt

I’m going to be watching the weather closely as we lead up to takeoff. If it’s looking like bright blue skies and slick water, I’ll be making a switch to Clark Wendlandt. His resume in sight-fishing events is several miles long conservatively. He finished 14th here last year even with a Day 1 bag being short by a fish. He’ll put those eagle eyes to use and that could translate to big points and even bigger bass.

BUCKET D: HUDNALL

We got to know Derek Hudnall in a big way last year. There are certainly some things he’d like to forget, but there were plenty of highlights for him including an 8-pound hammer on Cayuga. His Louisiana upbringing means he is used to shallow grass fishing. He finished 32nd last year at St. Johns solely because of his Day 3 struggles, only bringing two baby bass to the scales. He qualified for the Elites through the 2018 Central Opens and all those high finishes were on shallow water fisheries. This one should fish to his strengths.

Good Bet: Kennedy

This wouldn’t be a true-blue fantasy fishing article without the likes of Steve Kennedy. He had a rough 2019 season with a few shining moments thrown in. I’d expect him to get back in his groove and fishing for prespawners with swimbaits and swim jigs sounds like just the thing to get that train moving. He is definitely not afraid to fish for five bites. That could make him a hero or a zero. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t bet against him just in case he locks on to a limit each day.

BUCKET E: GROSS

There are quite a few new faces in this bucket, but one that stands out among the rest is Buddy Gross. He boasts an FLW win in 2019 on Florida’s Lake Toho. His history in Florida is either way up or way down. He also has a fifth-place finish on the Harris Chain, but he couples that with a few three figure finishes. Normally that means he locks into what he’s doing, and it’ll be make or break. If he finds an area that is reloading, he will certainly capitalize on it. Hopefully he’ll start his first Elite season off right for my sake.

Good Bet: Talley

Mr. “The Tank” had a pretty rocky start to his Elite career, but is back for 2020 and ready to make a charge. Frank Talley finished middle of the pack here last time, but he is no stranger to this kind of fishing. He has several top-end finishes in the Opens on shallow water fisheries. Don’t be surprised to see him bring a few solid bags across the weigh-in stage.