St. Johns River insights

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series profiling 2014 Elite Series locations.

Terry “Big Show” Scroggins will surely be among the favorites when the Bassmaster Elite Series pros compete on the storied St. Johns River in late March 2014. Scroggins has lived in Palatka, Fla., the host city, for the last 36 of his 45 years on planet Earth.

Three decades of fishing the St. Johns gives Scroggins a distinct edge. He was a dominant angler in local tournaments here before embarking on his professional bass career.

The previous two Elite Series tournaments on the St. Johns were won by Alton Jones and Edwin Evers. Both anglers sight fished for spawning bass to sack their winning catches.

“Bed fishing will be the main thing again this time,” Scroggins said. “A cold front could set that back, but we hardly ever get one at that time of year.”

The first wave of spawning bass on the St. Johns moves shallow at the end of December, and spawning commences every month after that through the first of May, points out Scroggins. The first spawners tend to include the largest females in some Florida lakes, but huge largemouth bass spawn throughout the spring on the St. Johns, Scroggins claims.

“I've seen spawning bass in April on the St. Johns that could have produced a limit over 50 pounds,” Scroggins said.

Although Scroggins is a capable sight fisherman, spawning bass undermine his home field advantage. Bass in the St. Johns system can be hard to find when they're not spawning. That's when Scroggins dominates by cranking the many subtle drops, shell beds, sunken barges and current breaks he has found on this tidal river over the past 30 years.

According to Bassmaster Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins, the first wave of spawning bass on the St. Johns moves shallow at the end of December, and spawning commences every month after that through the first of May.“You can't find many spots like that in three days of practice,” Scroggins said. “That's why most of the Elite pros look for spawners. They're easier to find.”

The pros will catch spawning bass in secluded backwater ponds, as Evers did, in canals and in the lakes along the river chain. Lake George, the largest lake on the St. Johns system, will attract the greatest number of Elite pros.

Alton Jones won the last Elite Series event here in March 2012 by fishing for bass that were spawning in Lake George's vast grass fields. Eel grass is the predominant vegetation here, Scroggins adds.

The pros will use every trick they can think of to coax bites from bedding bass. Sinking worms, craws, lizards and a host of other soft plastic baits will account for most of these fish.

Should a severe cold hit during the tournament, it could drive the bass off their beds and push them to the outside edges of grasslines Scroggins asserts.

“You can catch them multiple ways when that happens,” Scroggins said. “That includes topwater baits, swimming worms and spinnerbaits.”

Pros that run south of Lake George to lakes Dexter and Woodruff will find other types of vegetation, such as dollar pads. Scroggins claims that some of the Elite pros have finished in the Top 10 in past tournaments by making the long run to these lakes. Rodman Reservoir is officially off-limits for this tournament.

The weather will dramatically influence the fishing throughout the four-day tournament, Scroggins believes. With good weather, he predicts that it will take 15 to 17 pounds a day to make the top 50 cut.

“The St. Johns hasn't lived up to its potential the last few times the Elite pros have been here,” Scroggins said. “If we hit it right, it will take over 18 pounds a day to make the Top 12 and well over 100 pounds to win it.”

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