PALATKA, Fla. — Looking past current conditions and considering the forthcoming weather patterns, John Crews of Salem, Va., employed a two-stage str
PALATKA, Fla. — Looking past current conditions and considering the forthcoming weather patterns, John Crews of Salem, Va., employed a two-stage strategy and sacked up a Day 1 limit of 28 pounds to lead the season-opening AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.
Leading Bob Downey of Hudson, Wis., by 12 ounces, Crews also sits atop the VMC Monster Bag standings for the event’s heaviest limit.
Following the miserably rainy, cold conditions that plagued practice, Day 1 dawned clear and bright. It was definitely a postfrontal, high-pressure scenario, but air temperatures quickly rose and spurred the fish.
“At the beginning of practice, I was practicing for these conditions, so it made me look really smart, like I made a good decision,” Crews said. “Hopefully, it will hold up. I think we’ll have the same weather tomorrow.”
Running upriver from Palatka, Crews started his day in Rodman Reservoir. While 22 other boats passed through the Buckman Lock with him, Crews said he never felt cramped or crowded. Covering a 2-mile area, he had to hit several spots to secure a limit.
“There was no aggregation of boats; there were three or four boats in sight of where I was at, but nobody was on top of anybody,” Crews said. “I don’t think anything is that good — at least I didn’t find it.
“It was one here, one there, one here. Then, at the end of the day, it was like, ‘You smoked them.’ But it wasn’t like that.”
Anchoring his bag with an 8-1, Crews said he used multiple techniques in Rodman and combined moving baits with slower presentations.
“I used these baits in relationship to similar places,” he said. “All the places I fished in Rodman were similar. I think I can go back tomorrow and catch some more fish, but catching big fish like that — I don’t know.”
Around 1 p.m., Crews locked out of Rodman. While he waited, he spoke with the Bassmaster LIVE crew and told them his plan was to return to the St. Johns and look for another big bite. He checked that box around 2:45 by relocating to a familiar spot and adding a 4 1/2-pounder.
“I had some things in mind; I tried some offshore stuff and I tried some other shallow stuff,” Crews said. “It’s an area where I’ve caught some in the past. I caught a 2 1/4-pounder and then I caught that 4 1/2 and then I left. It’s one of those places where you can usually catch one or two, but I’ve never caught a limit there.”
As Crews explained, his decision to leave Rodman was based on factors beyond his control.
“With (Rodman), you have to lock when you can lock (based on the predetermined schedule),” he said. “I thought, ‘When I come back to the river, maybe I can get another bite or two, and maybe it will help me at some point.’ It helped me today.”
Overcoming an early mechanical issue, Downey placed second with 27-4. He would eventually leave the water around 11:30 a.m. to have the service crew address the issues, but not before reaching his planned destination south of Palatka.
“I limped down to my area and had all my weight by 10 o’clock,” Downey said. “I caught a good fish in that area in practice and I think the weather conditions set up right — the cold last night just sucked them into this area. I only caught five fish today.
“I would have loved to have gone and practiced elsewhere today; I had some stuff south of Lake George and I would have loved to run some canals later today just to see if I could find a bigger one, but I didn’t do that because I didn’t know if I could get back or not.”
Downey caught his fish in what he described as a backwater creek. He caught his fish off the bank and used his Humminbird 360 to locate key areas. Winding a reaction bait produced all of his fish.
Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., is in third place with 22 pounds. Starting with a solid game plan, Blaylock realized the situation was not going to produce, so he made a wholesale change and salvaged his day.
“There are a couple of little places that people keep overlooking and every year that I’ve caught them (well) here, I’ve caught some key fish in those areas and this year was no different,” Blaylock said. “I just happened to catch a couple of really nice ones midday that really helped the cause.
“In my primary stuff, only one place out of all the stuff I’d found in practice had a fish on it. I just got one bite and that was it. Hopefully, there’s enough left in that backup spot to carry me on to a Top 10.”
Blaylock caught his bass on a trio of moving baits. His strategy was to “buzz through” the area to locate active fish that were positioning off the bank in open water.
“I definitely left them biting today,” he said. “But it’s not like you just pull up and just throw at one spot and catch them; you have to work hard to get those bites.”
Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-13 largemouth.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. ET from Palatka City Docks. The weigh-in will be held at Palatka Riverfront Park at 3:30 p.m.
After Friday’s weigh-in, the Top 47 remaining anglers will advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.