Crews catches Shamu’s sister

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Andy Crawford
John Crews with his giant Day 1 catch.

PALATKA, Fla. — A surprising flurry of three bass around 10:30 Thursday morning had John Crews feeling good, especially the 5-pound, 14-ounce bass and the 4-pounder that gave him four keepers weighing about 14 pounds. After practice sessions on the St. Johns River didn’t yield a five-bass limit on any day – sun up to sundown – Crews was one fish shy of a limit after three hours on Day 1 of the Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite.

“I said if I can just catch one more keeper, I’ll be good,” Crews recalled. “I just started fishing around, and I picked up a spinning rod. I said it would be nice if Shamu’s sister was out there and just sucked that thing in.”

Shamu, if you don’t recall, was the name of a killer/orca whale of SeaWorld fame. Indeed, a killer whale of the largemouth bass variety sucked up the Neko-rigged Missile Baits Fuse 4.4 Craw Worm and took off.

“I didn’t get in a big hurry,” said Crews of the big bass he’d hooked on 12-pound test Sunline braid (straight, no fluorocarbon leader). “It went all over the place. It got hung up in a tree and came out. I just didn’t get in a big hurry. The hook wasn’t coming out. It was lodged.”

The first time the bass jumped, Crews thought it was a 6- or 7-pounder. As it got closer, it jumped again and Crews thought it might be an 8- or 9-pounder.

“Once I lipped it, it just kept coming out of the water,” he said. “I realized it might be a 10-pounder.”

Officially, Shamu’s sister weighed 11 pounds, 2 ounces. It was not only the biggest bass of Day 1 at the St. Johns River, it was the biggest bass Crews had caught in his life.

The 40-year-old Salem, Va., resident has been part of the Elite Series since its inception in 2006. Being the veteran tournament angler he is, Crews put the big bass in the livewell and switched his focus to culling the barely legal 12 ¼-inch, 14-ounce bass from his now 5-bass limit. He had five hours to do it, and it never happened. At the end of the day, Crews’ 24-pound, 13-ounce, second-place bag contained a 14-ounce bass.

“It could have been ugly, but I’m unbelievably lucky to have caught what I caught,” Crews said.

That’s Florida bass fishing in a nutshell. And it explains why you’ll probably see some drastic fluctuation in the standings on Day 2 at the St. Johns River. You look at the standings and see 10 anglers with over 20 pounds and you think those guys have figured it out. But all those anglers had some stroke of “unbelievable Florida luck” – a big bass that made their day – and can’t be counted on a day later.

Mark Menendez fits right in that mold. He caught the second-biggest bass of the day, a 9-pound, 13-ounce pre-spawn largemouth around 11 a.m., added 6-pounder at noon, and never added again to his 24-pound, 8-ounce third-place bag.

“It was Florida fishing,” Menendez said. “I got two big bites and three little nice ones, so it was Florida fishing. It’s a grind what I’m doing. I think I got a clue as to what they’re doing, but you never know. You’re a hero one day and a dumb ass the next. That could happen very easily. I’m subject to catch none or maybe six pounds (on Day 2).

As for Crews, he does have one thing to bank on, which his previous big bass of a lifetime didn’t give him. His previous best of 11-pounds-even also came in Florida during a Bassmaster tournament on the Harris Chain of Lakes. It didn’t even take big bass of the day, as Art Ferguson topped it with an 11-pound, 1-ounce bass.

“If someone catches an 11-3 in this tournament, I will laugh,” said Crews.