The 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series is set to begin on the St. Johns River. Although the central Florida fishery has been the first stop for the Elite Series over the past two years, the river has presented two completely different types of events.
In 2019, the St. Johns was an absolute slugfest. Fish were headed to spawning areas as fast as they could swim, and the Elites were there to intercept them. Plenty of anglers sight fished to fill their limits. In 2020, it was a completely different story. The tournament set up as more of a prespawn event, and catching a limit was far from guaranteed.
In 2021, it’s more than appropriate to choose anglers based on past success at the St. Johns, but versatility is critical as well.
Here are my picks:
BUCKET A: CANTERBURY
Over the past two seasons, Scott Canterbury has been one of the most consistent anglers on the Elite Series. Although he may not be the first name in Bucket A that you would associate with success in Florida, he has notched back-to-back great finishes at the St. Johns. In 2019, Canterbury finished ninth and backed that up with a sixth-place finish in 2020. Despite the drastic changes between the two events, Canterbury was not fazed at all. Look for Canterbury to have a strong event once again on the St. Johns.
Solid secondary choice: Kyle Welcher made a big splash on the St. Johns River last season in his Elite Series debut by catching a giant 10-pounder on camera. Welcher finished in eighth and found ways to catch fish a little differently than the rest of the field. It’s no secret after Welcher’s rookie campaign that he can shallow water power fish with the best of them.
BUCKET B: NEW
Bryan New is making a quick turnaround from his 2020 Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year season, and I think that could play into his favor. With such a quick turnaround, momentum could still be a factor. New is a very versatile angler and that could pay dividends if the event ends up being a grind like it was last year. New may not have the experience on the St. Johns that most of the field has, but this event could set up right in his wheelhouse. New captured a win in the 2020 Opens on the Kissimmee Chain in Florida as well. Different fisheries, but it does show he knows how to win in Florida.
Solid secondary choice: Drew Cook proved to be a force on the Bassmaster Elite Series over the past two seasons. Cook finished 18th in both of his trips to the St. Johns. Even though he’s been the model of consistency at the St. Johns, this event sets up really well for him to possibly win. I think this year he does even better than the past two years here.
BUCKET C: BENTON
Drew Benton has the highest player percentage of anyone in Bucket C, but for good reason. Benton will always be a factor when fishing in Florida. In three trips to St. Johns River in his Elite Series career, Benton registered a fourth-, 21st- and 25th-place finish. If the conditions set up well, there could be some fish trying to spawn, and I think Benton would be a factor without a doubt.
Solid secondary choice: Gerald Swindle did not have the return to the Elite Series that he would have liked. With that being said, I think that we are going to see an extremely motivated Swindle in 2021. This is purely a “gut pick,” but look for Swindle to get his 2021 season started off strong.
BUCKET D: PRINCE
It almost feels like you’d be crazy not to pick Cliff Prince in Bucket D. Believe it or not, as it stands right now, Prince doesn’t even have the highest player percentage in the bucket, which is another reason to pick him (as if you needed another reason). Prince lives in Palatka, Fla., and calls the St. Johns River home. In the last three Elite Series events on his home water, Prince finished sixth, 17th and fourth. If the Bassmaster Elite Series continues to compete to the St. Johns River, it’s only a matter of time before Prince wins the event.
Solid secondary choice: The only reason Cliff Prince isn’t the highest owned in Bucket D is because of John Crews. Crews is also a great pick in this bucket. Crews finished fifth and second in the last two Elite Series events on the St. Johns River. Hard to argue with that success. Crews is another guy that will be extremely motivated in 2021 after an uncharacteristically poor 2020 season.
BUCKET E: JAYE
When you think about fishing in Florida, the thought of jerkbait fishing may not be your first thought, but Kelly Jaye has made that work over the last two seasons. Jaye cashed in a second- and 11th-place finish. Jaye only fished the first three events of the 2020 season and sat out the remainder of the season, so you know he’s ready to get back after it.
Solid secondary choice: Having won the St. Johns River event two of the last three trips to Florida, Rick Clunn would be a pretty obvious choice in Bucket E. Clunn’s player percentage is extremely high so I will play the odds and choose Kelley Jaye, but there’s no doubt Clunn is a great choice in Bucket E as well.