If you read my previous columns you'll know that I take a break each year – a full break. No fishing from September until January. I sell my boat as soon as I'm done and take two or three months off just to get refreshed. I get burned out on the travel and everything, and the time off helps me get motivated and want to compete again.
The last time I picked up a rod was the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship at Lake Chatuge in late September. But pretty soon I'm going to Knoxville to look around Fort Loudon for the Classic, and Lanier's pretty close by, so I'm going to spend a little time on Lanier.
I'm not going to pre-visit the St. Johns River because I've fished there before. However, I do think the St. Johns is going to be a little different than the last time we visited. It normally fishes really small, but we're only going to have 75 boats fishing this year. I think that'll open it up and let us move around a little bit more and not be so crammed with everybody else. But it's still going to fish small. There's a lot of water there, but there are a few areas that are really popular and they always get found.
I've only fished the St. Johns twice – once on a scouting trip, and once for the Elites three years ago, when I finished 57th. I like to sight fish when I'm there – normally that's the deal, and I think the timing should be about right for sight fishing this year too. And fewer boats will definitely help the sight fishing.
In Florida, if the fish aren't up and spawning, then we're usually fishing the deeper grass just outside the spawning areas – either the hydrilla or milfoil, or the matted hyacinth. That grass provides some cover and shade and place for the fish to hang out. But the St. Johns is a river, so it has a lot more offshore stuff to fish like shellbeds. Those offshore areas, and the shellbeds in particular, might be a factor when we visit. They almost always are.
And the St. Johns has a lot of different lakes that are all connected by rivers. So you can fish the river, or the different lakes, and the two fish very differently. If I'm fishing one of the lakes, I'd expect to be able to catch some fish on the deeper grass with a Rat-L-Trap or jerkbait or something similar.
But I've found that Florida lakes change every year, so I'll really truly have to assess what's going on when I get down there. I'll look at the water temperature, figure out where the fish will spawn, and if I look around and see some beds, or some bucks, I'll know to keep focusing on that deal. If I don't see any beds or bucks, then I'll get out and look for some prespawn stuff. I wouldn't expect to see any postspawn stuff happening. Maybe at Okeechobee that time of year, but not at the St. Johns.
I'll approach competition at the St. Johns like I do every event. After practice, if I feel like I have a shot to win, then that's what I'll fish for – the win. If I had a horrible practice, I'll just want to do the best I can. I won't necessarily have a goal after a bad practice, but sometimes you surprise yourself. I'm pretty even-keeled about that. I'm not one to say I'm going to swing for fences at every event. I'll just do the best I can and let the chips fall where they fall.