Elite: Forget practice?

Late winter and early spring in the South, especially Florida, can be a roller coaster of emotions. What to expect from one day to the next can be a straight-up guess.

But guessing is not how this event will be won.

The angler who makes good decisions and executes each day will likely hold the coveted blue trophy over his head on Championship Sunday after the 2019 Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River that begins Thursday, Feb. 7.

Knowing how finicky these Florida largemouth can be when cold temps set in will play mind games with rookie and veteran anglers alike.

A major shift in conditions recently occurred. It was cold for a couple of weeks, and now the 75-angler field is looking at near 80-degree temps and mostly sunny for the four official competition days.

“It’s going to be a game of adapting and positioning yourself to intercept transitioning fish,” said Drew Benton, a native Floridian. “We’ve had a pretty long stretch of cold weather here, even through most of our practice time. But the weather pattern is greatly improving, which should make the fishing pretty good for the next few days.”

Benton started his career as a Bassmaster Elite Series rookie at this very location, and enjoyed quite a showing managing his first Top 12 with a solid fourth-place finish.

Benton would go on to win Rookie of the Year in 2016.

“It’s pretty easy to get hung up on what you learned in practice, especially in Florida when the conditions are constantly changing,” he said. “The bass are wanting to move from their winter ranges into a full-on prespawn mode, which will push them into shallow water, especially the smaller male bass. The angler who wins this event will need to stay ahead of that transition.”

The 30-year-old pro is a strong favorite at this event, but even he knows not to get ahead of himself.

“Practice was good because it told me that things are changing, but whether or not it’ll change into my plan of attack is the real question,” he said. “One thing is for sure, someone is going to crack a giant bag this week, I bet several exceeding 30 pounds will be weighed in. Hopefully I will be one of them,” he laughed.