A different St. Johns River competition

When the Bassmaster Elite Series first visited Florida’s St. Johns River in 2011, Edwin Evers won with 71 pounds and 1 ounce, all taken by sight fishing. When Elite pros return there this week for the March 15-18 St. Johns Showdown out of Palatka, two key factors could change the game.

One is the unseasonably warm winter weather that pros suspect might nix the spawning surge they capitalized on last March. The second is that Rodman Reservoir is off limits to tournament anglers.

By midday Monday, J. Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga., was just getting a handle on the fishery. He said he had hooked into three bass that were postspawners.

“I am seeing quite a few fish that are spawned out. But I’m just beginning to evaluate that,” said Tucker, who finished sixth last year on the St. Johns.

He noted that he has spotted what he jokingly called “happy” shad.

“They’re spawning. If there’s a shad spawn going on, that means there could be a good, early bite associated with that,” Tucker said.

Rodman was undergoing a routine drawdown of 7 to 9 feet, according to Allen Martin with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. During that time, bass can be caught, but not placed in a boat’s livewell for later release, as the Elite field would need to do. The lake was being refilled in March, but perhaps the no-take rule would not be lifted in time for the Elite event, Martin said. B.A.S.S. put Rodman off limits to all Elite competitors.

Tucker said he won’t miss Rodman because he didn’t catch any of his fish there in 2011. But the change could affect him.

“It will put more boats on Lake George and Crescent Lake in the areas where the fish are spawning, and where we were all fishing around each other last time,” he said.

Even if the bass are not moving onto beds en masse as they did in 2011, the pros in contention in 2012 will be the successful sight fishers, he said.

“This is Florida, and they bed through April,” Tucker said. “Right now I’m staying on the trolling motor, looking for the females who are still there, looking for the big ones. It’s going to take one to two big females a day.”

Tucker knows this from experience. Last year, he brought in five bass over 8 pounds each. Those five fish accounted for about 65 percent of his 61-8 tournament total over four days.

“Those big ones are key. To win here, you must capitalize on those one or two bites a day,” he said.

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