PALATKA, Fla. — In his 29 years of professional bass fishing, Mark Menendez had never drawn boat No. 1 in the takeoff order until Wednesday’s pre-tournament draw. But shortly after launching his boat Thursday morning for the first day of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River, Menendez realized he wasn’t going to be the first boat out.
“I had a mechanical issue, so I’m the luckiest guy here,” said the 55-year-old Menendez after hearing that takeoff had been canceled for the entire 88-man field due to wind expected to gust up to 40-miles-per-hour Thursday.
“After drawing boat No. 1, I was looking forward to a nice little ride down the river,” he said. “But I’m very fortunate because I was having that mechanical issue first thing this morning. It’s not a big deal to fix, but it can’t be fixed in 15 minutes. It takes awhile. I would have been taking off after everyone else was gone.”
His issue aside, Menendez applauded the decision to err on the side of safety.
“Yes, I would have liked to have gone today, just because of the way the weather is setting up,” he said, referring to a predicted cold front on Friday. “I think fishing might have been a little better today than it had been in practice.”
Menendez mentioned a conversation he’d just had this morning at the launch dock with a Florida water patrol officer, who emphasized how high wind and an opposite moving tide creates unusually dangerous boating conditions on the St. Johns River.
“He told me that down at Lake George they own a 23-foot ocean-going type boat just for that very thing,” Menendez said. “I fished my very first pro tournament in 1987 here and made a long run south in about a 30-mile-an-hour wind. It was okay going down, but coming back the tide had switched. I stuffed the nose of the boat (in a wave) and just about drowned us.”
The vast majority of the Elite Series anglers were planning a long run south to Lake George or beyond Thursday.
“Erring on the side of safety is the right thing to do,” said the Paducah, Ky., resident. “We can wait a day to go catch a fish. If somebody gets hurt, it’s not worth going out on a day like today.”