Click here to continue 1 / 21 This week, for Catch a Cure, I was excited to preview upcoming Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River in northern Florida. The St. Johns is a beautiful river on Florida's east coast, and it has some of the state's best bass fishing. Photo: Rick Bach 2 / 21 To fish the St. Johns, I’d need expert help, and I solicited it from BassOnline guide Steve Niemoeller, who has been fishing these waters for years. Niemoeller was a great help on my first attempt to Catch a Cure last summer, and he didn’t hesitate to offer his services on Round 2. Photo: Rick Bach 3 / 21 Before hitting the St. Johns, I checked out some of northern Florida’s waterside eateries, where you can always be reminded of the local fanaticism surrounding bass fishing, including a plaque commemorating the (then) world-record bass caught by George Perry in Alabama in 1932. Here’s a replica of the fish itself. No image of this fish can do the size of it justice. When you’re standing beneath it, staring at it, you can’t help but wonder what a fish like that would feel like on the end of your line, especially if you were fishing with average bass gear. It’d seemingly feel like you snagged an alligator, I’d have to imagine. Photo: Rick Bach 4 / 21 Now, before any bass fishing expedition, let alone one in which you’re fighting to raise dollars to cure melanoma, you can’t help but get a little nervous. But when Steve Niemoeller started sending me pictures like this one, from the St. Johns, well, the anticipation level was high. Photo: Rick Bach 5 / 21 In the days leading up to our trip, Niemoeller kept texting me photos of clients on the St. Johns who were cashing in on what looked like an epic bite. It’s pictures like this, before a trip, that make you nervous. You can’t help but think: “This can’t last forever…” I tried to quell any anxiety about our upcoming trip and tell myself that pictures of fish were, after all, better than reports of fishless days. Photo: Rick Bach 6 / 21 When you’re fishing the St. Johns, you’re in some classic Florida bass water. Because the river’s a long and diverse ecosystem, there are a host of different climates within it, depending on where you fish. We were fishing out of Astor, Fla., west of Daytona Beach, near the southern portion of the river. Photo: Rick Bach 7 / 21 We probed a series of fishy places throughout the morning, but found that we had a slow start. Niemoeller explained that beds of pads, like this one, heat up throughout the morning. In the early afternoon, the warmth that’s generated attracts all manner of life to them, including the species near the top of the food chain, largemouth bass, which we were after. Photo: Rick Bach 8 / 21 The first fish of the morning wasn’t an enormous one, but it was a start. As you can tell from the hat and long sleeves, this one came fairly early in the morning. The chunky bass got us going for the day and put a smile on my face. Any angler who tells me he can shake that ominous feeling about the prospect of getting skunked before that first fish is either supremely confident or lying through his teeth. Photo: Rick Bach 9 / 21 As the afternoon warmed up, we changed our tactic and began to target weedbeds like this one. Niemoeller explained they would attract more life to them as sun got higher in the sky and the air temperature increased. Photo: Rick Bach 10 / 21 That’s when the fish of the day came through. This bass, which we estimated at 3-plus pounds, was hands down the fish of the day. After a slow start and a smaller fish at first, I could not have been happier to heft this fat largemouth. Photo: Rick Bach 11 / 21 Niemoeller shows off a fish that ate a live shiner underneath the pads at about 10 a.m., after three-plus hours of scouring the river for actively feeding fish. Photo: Rick Bach 12 / 21 That bass was a welcome relief after the smaller fish that we’d caught earlier that morning. Sometimes one fish can, and does, make all the difference during a day on the water. Photo: Rick Bach 13 / 21 Here’s another look at a bass Niemoeller fed a live shiner. When you’re from upstate New York and have done much of your fishing in the Northeast growing up, the size of these Florida fish, even if they’re not “enormous” by Florida standards, never ceases to amaze you. Looking at the bed of pads we were fishing prior to catching this fish, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other bass, and larger ones, were underneath. Photo: Rick Bach 14 / 21 Many of the pros coming to the St. Johns will likely focus on beds like this one as the day warms up, and throw baits resembling the shiners we used. Anything like a Rat-L-Trap or large spinnerbait might very well fool fish like this one, which could make a world of difference in the upcoming tournament. Photo: Rick Bach 15 / 21 For comparison’s sake, here’s one of the largest fish of the day compared to one of our first fish. Nothing will make a bass look larger than a comparison with a fish you were trying to convince yourself “wasn’t that small” at the day’s outset. Photo: Rick Bach 16 / 21 Niemoeller and I took great care in releasing these fish, to preserve the healthy fishery that the St. Johns has. As the water warms in the coming spring and summer months, it will be even more important to make sure these fish are returned healthfully back to the water they came from. Photo: Rick Bach 17 / 21 And as an angler, there isn’t a much better feeling than knowing the fish you just enjoyed catching so much will be released to be caught again another day. With a flick of its tail, this bass disappeared back beneath the pads to, perhaps, grow even larger. Photo: Rick Bach 18 / 21 Even smaller bass, like this one caught along the shoreline earlier in the morning, are a sign of a healthy and growing fishery on the St. Johns. As bass fishermen, it’s tempting, as we get more skilled and experienced in our sport, to dismiss fish like this one. If we remember how much a fish like this meant to us at 5 or 6 years old, we can hold onto that childlike elation that endears us to the sport in the first place. Photo: Rick Bach 19 / 21 And when these fish equate to funds to fight a disease that’s particularly deadly to our sport, they mean all the more … to me, anyway. Thanks to Catch a Cure's sponsors — Get Vicious Fishing, Native Eyewear, Sunology Sunscreen, Hanes and Rick Roth at Mirror Image Printing — we’re fishing for more than just largemouth bass during these days on the water. These fish represent dollars that are going toward the Melanoma Research Foundation to fund the search for a cure for this disease. Photo: Rick Bach 20 / 21 None of this would have been possible without the support of the guides from Bassonline.com, and Steve Niemoeller especially. Photo: Rick Bach 21 / 21 All told, despite a slow start, it turned out to be a fantastic day on the St. Johns. The pros this week will likely concentrate on the larger fish as the morning sun warms the water. Lures that might imitate a shiner, such as a lipless crankbait or large spinnerbait, will likely prove successful. And perhaps most importantly, for our purposes, we are raising dollars to beat a disease that it behooves all of us, as outdoorsmen, to eradicate as soon as is humanly possible. To contribute to our cause, visit events.melanoma.org/catchacure. Photo: Rick Bach To learn more about Rick Bach's Catch a Cure project, read One More: On a mission to fish (and cure cancer).