This week we kick off the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series on the St John’s River out of Palatka, Fla. It’s always nice to be in Florida, but especially in February when the weather is beautiful and the bass are biting. The first tournament of the year is always an important one because we all want to start the year off strong. Momentum is key in our sport, and there is no better way to get the train rolling than to come out of the gate with a strong finish.
This is my third time fishing here with the Elite Series. I fished here in 2014 and in 2016 as well, but both of those tournaments took place over a month later in the year than we are now. Not only is the time of year different this week, but the whole system looks completely different.
In years past a vast majority of the fish were caught out of Lake George. It has always been a key player because of its healthy population of eel grass and other types of grass that provide optimum habitat for spawning bass. Recent high water from hurricanes has drowned-out most all of the eel grass this time around. You may remember seeing Bassmaster photo galleries from the St. John’s before where as many as 60 or 70 boats were camped on one spawning flat surrounded by eel grass. This year that place is as bare as a parking lot. There is nothing there but white sand. Undoubtedly the grass will eventually come back, probably better than ever, but for now it’s made the fishing a little more difficult in my opinion.
Nevertheless, there are still giants swimming around here, and the cool part is you may get to see a different part of the river shine this time around. Besides Lake George we can also fish Lake Dexter and Woodruff, Rodman and Crescent, as well as the main river all the way up toward Jacksonville. With that much water in play, someone will find that needle in a haystack.
I spent my practice fishing a couple of different lakes, including Lake George. I wouldn’t call my practice spectacular by any means, but I got some bites and I know what I’m going to do. We’ve been on a warming trend for the past couple days with high temps up around 80 degrees so I definitely believe some fish are going to pull up to spawn just in time for the tournament. I’m sure I’ll spend some of my time sight fishing this week, just like a lot of the rest of the field. I do have a couple places where I feel like I can catch some just fishing though, and I’ll probably start on those and see where the rest of the tournament takes me.
As far as baits this week I’ll have several rods rigged come tournament time, but one I know I’ll rely on is an X-Zone Lures 5-inch True Center Stick on a texas rig. I’ll rig it with a 3/16th ounce weight and a 3/0 Mustad Grip Pin Big Bite hook. My rod for this setup is an MHX NEPS86HF 7-foot, 2-inch heavy rigged with 17-pound Vicious 100% fluorocarbon. I want something with some power just in case I hook one of those St John’s River giants and this setup will get the job done.