Changing conditions key to shortened St. Johns event

Relentless winds have forced cancelation of the first two days of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River, but local pro Cliff Prince said there is another weather condition worth considering when competition kicks off.

While Thursday’s high topped 80 degrees, it might reach 60 today. Maybe. Tomorrow will start with anglers bundled up against 33-degree temps, and the high is predicted to only reach 64. And the clouds should clear, bringing in the dreaded blue-bird skies. 

“I know what a front does to this river,” said Prince, who lives in the host city of Palatka, Fla. “In Palatka before practice was over, water temperature was right at 60 degrees. Yesterday morning, when they canceled the day, it read 60.5 degrees at the ramp. 

“Tomorrow, I predict (water temps) will be 57, 58 degrees. It may even drop a little more.”

That might not sound like a huge change, but Prince said the St. Johns’ Florida-strain bass simply don’t like such temperature drops. So fishing will likely be a grind.

“I really don’t know what to expect. It’s going to be as cold as it’s been since before practice,” he said. “Florida-strain bass typically don’t like that. Yesterday and today were probably going to be our best days to fish. It’s going to be tough fishing. It’s not going to be easy for anyone.”

The days of high westerly winds is likely to ruin prospects on the east side of Lake George, expected to be the epicenter of the action.

“If somebody found fish on the east side of the lake, that’s likely gone,” Prince said.

And any bedding bass are almost certainly going to pull off as the front blasts through the region.

That’s not to say some of the anglers won’t decipher the key to some decent bags.

“There are too many fish in this river for someone not to figure something out,” Prince explained. “A lot of guys are worried about the lack of grass, but you just have to fish differently. The fish are still in there.”

He said there might still be some bedding bass in the clear springs around the southern end of the tournament waters, but fishing pressure could play into the formula in those areas. 

“I have a feeling there will be a lot of guys in there,” Prince said. “You’re not going to have it to yourself.” 

However, the very fact that bass had begun to pull up during practice as water temps warmed could be the very key to winning this event. 

“Say somebody found some bedding bass, if they figure out how to catch those fish that pulled out, that could be the winning deal here,” Prince said.

So realistically, what does all this mean?

Prince still believes it could take an average of nearly 20 pounds a day to win, with 25-pound stringers possible. 

“Somebody’s going to run into an 8- or 10-pounder,” he said.

Getting a start on that 20-pound average tomorrow, however, will mean making hay early. 

“Tomorrow morning, you better catch them and catch them early, because the later the day gets the tougher fishing will get,” Prince said. “Blue-bird days — these fish don’t like it on this river.”

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