If I had to describe the St. Johns River in a word, I’d say: different. As in, the fishery is different than the last time we were here. What I mean is there’s no grass in a fishery that has typically been full of grass.
The hurricane of 2017 wiped out those big eel grass beds that always filtered the water — especially in Lake George, where the majority of boats fish. This year, there’s no grass in that system. It’s a completely different ballgame; it’s like starting from scratch.
The obvious difference is the water clarity — it’s night and day compared to the last time we were here. During that event, you could see beds on the main lake in 3-4 feet of water, but now you can’t see bottom in a foot of water.
The only place it’s better is around the natural springs. The water in these spots is as clear as a bathtub, but these are small areas that receive a lot of pressure, so the fish are spooky.
Without the grass, the fish are likely utilizing wood, docks, lily pads, even dollar pads. No matter where you look, the water clarity is about the same.
Between Monday and Tuesday, I burned 70 gallons of gas, looking all over — even north of Palatka, toward Jacksonville. That’s kind of an overlooked area so if I found something up there I’d have it to myself.
That didn’t work out, and I really didn’t have a great practice overall. But I’m optimistic because the weather has been warming daily, so things are changing. These calm, sunny conditions should help warm the water and you would think that the first warming trend of the season should push a lot of fish up to bed.
We have a new moon this week, but with Florida fish, sometimes water temperature alone gets them ready to spawn. On Tuesday, I found 55-degree water on Rodman Reservoir, but in some places, it’s been all the way up to 64.
This makes me believe that we could have some great potential unfolding this week. Even though I didn’t have a great practice, I’m just going to have to fish with a clear mind because a lot could change in a couple of days here.
The big consideration will be the habitat. With no grass, I think the wild card will be local knowledge — someone who knows the location of some offshore shell bars. I think there will be more fish caught offshore on the main river this year.
I’m not going to fish that pattern, but I think it could be the X factor this week. I fished shallow for three full days, and the fish just aren’t there yet. I had one area with some fish up shallow. I think they’re still out there on their offshore places.
I have one thing that I normally do in Florida that produced a lot of my bites in practice, so that’s what I’ll start out doing. But we may find a wave of females coming up to the bank on Day 1. It can happen so quickly in Florida that you have to stay on your toes.
I think that’s the reason I didn’t fish offshore in practice; because if I had found something, it would have scared me to death if those fish were gone during the tournament.
In the past, sight fishing has been the dominant pattern for this event, but his year I think you’ll see more guys fishing for them, than bed fishing. You have to fish what your confident with, but I think it will be wise to keep checking the bank.