PALATKA, Fla. — For three days, the question lingered: would Rodman Reservoir play a significant role in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River. Today, Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., erased any doubt with a five-bass limit of 26 pounds, 7 ounces that gave him the lead with a three-day total of 58-10.
Walters enters Championship Sunday with a 3-ounce lead over Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La.
“Rodman didn’t play two years ago, and it didn’t play last year because (it was in a drawdown). So, I thought it has to be good this year,” Walters said. “I flipped a coin on it and it worked.
“The biggest thing is the time constraint. We need enough time to fish and to come back.”
Located south of Palatka, Rodman is technically upriver, as the St. Johns flows south to north. Covering about 9,500 acres, the reservoir offers an abundance of standing timber and stumps as well as various bank vegetation and floating mats. Anglers access Rodman through a canal and lock west of the river.
With the St. Johns fishery still suffering from massive eelgrass loss suffered during Hurricane Irma in 2017, anglers have been spending more time exploring tributaries and connected lakes. Today, stumps and pads produced all of Walters’ fish.
While Rodman’s timber was reminiscent of Walters’ dominant Lake Fork victory at the 2020 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefitting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Walters said this week he’s found the bass are in a different stage now.
“I’m using my electronics and I’m catching some fish jerking, but they’re setting up differently,” he said. “These fish are starting to spawn and I’m catching them in transition.
“In practice, they were in the standing timber, but they transitioned up shallow to about 5 feet.”
Walters was not alone in Rodman, but he’s put together the most successful performance. After placing 15th on Day 1 with 13-3, he improved to 10th with a Day 2 limit of 19-0. Today’s bag of 26-7 was the event’s largest catch.
Walters said he executed on his day’s game plan, but he had to chuckle when relating the tale of incidentally finding himself in a productive stretch.
“I was fishing a little stump field and I said ‘I’m going to fish to that little grass mat over there and then I’m going to leave,” Walters explained. “That mat was maybe 100 yards away and as I’m fishing to it, I keep looking up and thinking ‘How have I not made it to that mat?’
“Turns out it was floating and I probably caught eight fish while I was trying to reach it. I just kept working to it and it kept drifting away.”
Walters caught most of his bass on a mix of jerkbaits, which he rotated based on sky conditions and water clarity. He also caught keepers on a Zoom Zlinky and a Fluke Stick. For the plastics, he used Texas-rigging and Neko-rigging techniques.
“I thought I was going to catch them pretty quick this morning with that cloud cover because, in practice, they bit when it was cloudy and rainy; but I started super slow,” Walters said. “Once that sun started peeking out around 10:30, I started catching them.
“The biggest fish I caught was the last spot I hit in Rodman — five minutes before the lock closed. I wanted to hit this stump yesterday, but I would have been late for the lock. So I said, ‘Just save it for (Day 3).’ On my first cast, I caught my 7-pounder on a jerkbait.”
Hackney caught 12-7 on Day 1 to place 19th, then climbed to third on Day 2 with 22-10. On Saturday, he turned in his best effort — a limit of 23-6 — and tallied 58-7.
Hackney committed the majority of his day to a 1/2-mile stretch of cypress shoreline on the east side of Lake George. This habitat, he said, filled the void left by the eelgrass decline.
“Those fish don’t have the stuff they used to have, so that was the next best thing,” he said. “I knew if they lived in the area, that’s where they’d have to spawn.”
Amid the vast cypress habitat, Hackney targeted high spots where bass were most likely to bed. He caught all of his fish on a Strike King Rage Bug (junebug color), Texas rigged on a 5/0 Hack Attack flipping hook and a 1/4-ounce Tour Grade tungsten sinker.
“I was using 25-pound fluorocarbon because I wanted some stretch,” Hackney said. “That water was so shallow, sometimes, you can rip the bait out of their mouth with braid.”
Derek Hudnall of Denham Springs, La., is in third place with 53-9. He placed second on Day 1 with 22-5 and held that spot with a second-round limit of 16-0. Hudnall added 15-4 Saturday.
Returning to a spawning area near Astor (south of Lake George) where he’d fished the previous two days, Hudnall fared well by skipping a wacky-rigged Missile Baits 48 into gaps amid shoreline vegetation. On Friday and Saturday, he lost several key fish that were clearly in bed-guarding mode.
“When they’re spawning, they’re not eating; they’re protecting, so they don’t typically get it really deep,” Hudnall said. “I spent about two hours in my main area and caught a 6-pounder on my first cast and then a couple of little ones.
“It became obvious that this area was gone. I started running new water and filled out my limit in the river while I was running back.”
Hudnall and Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, are tied for the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors at 9-8 each.
The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 7 a.m. ET from Palatka City Docks. The weigh-in will be held at the Palatka Riverfront Park at 3 p.m. The winner will earn $100,000 and one of the coveted blue trophies awarded to every Elite Series winner.
FS1 will broadcast live from the tournament beginning at 8 a.m. Coverage of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms.
The AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River is being hosted by the Putnam County Tourist Development Council and Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.