Elite Analysis – Day 1 in Palatka

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Elite Analysis – Day 1 in Palatka

“Why don’t we just dive into this thing?” Tommy Sanders asked in his dulcet-toned voice at the beginning of Bassmaster LIVE. “We have waited long en

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“Why don’t we just dive into this thing?” Tommy Sanders asked in his dulcet-toned voice at the beginning of Bassmaster LIVE. “We have waited long enough.”

And with that we began the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series season, the 17th such iteration. While they all have their twists and turns, this one started in a familiar locale, the town of Palatka, Fla., on the St. Johns River. The on-air team of Sanders, Mark Zona, Ronnie Moore, Davy Hite and Dave Mercer kept us entertained and informed in a way that we could not have envisioned back in 2006. While nothing’s certain yet, here are my takeaways and questions from Day 1:

Strikes are For Show, Spares are for Dough – Anglers delight in talking about “swinging for the fences” and going lunker-hunting early, so I was surprised to hear Zona talking about anglers starting in their “potatoes area” and leaving to “go for the meat.” I’ve always assumed that the way to win is to go all-in on your big fish early, but he said the opposite. In fact, he suggested that the way to stay in contention is to “Cliff Prince ‘em” to death, staying consistent with solid-but-not-exceptional limits. I don’t know if that’s a Florida thing. Maybe it’s a first derby of the year thing, because while you can’t win AOY or gain a Classic berth on Day 1, you can likely severely jeopardize those goals.

Afternoon Delight – Despite predictions to the contrary, there was no fog delay, which provided anglers with a long day. The afternoon bite was strongest for many of them. Brandon Lester reported having nothing at noon and then had a limit at 2:30.  Rookie Matty Wong reported one fish at 11 o’clock and ended up with nearly 20 pounds. Those examples could be because the tide got right, but more likely it’s because the sun warmed the water. As Zona said, Florida waters are best when they “bake” and “marinate.”

How hard is it to win on the Elite Series? Tournament leader John Crews has had a storied career and always seems to be in the hunt for titles. Nevertheless, even serious fishing fans may be surprised that he’s only enjoyed one win in B.A.S.S. career – an Elite Series event at the California Delta in 2010. Since that time he’s fished eight Bassmaster Classics, but the closest he’s come to winning an event was two years ago here at the St. Johns, where he finished second. Bonus points if you can recall the song that Crews sang on camera at the Delta as he clinched the event.

Rookie Runs – Elite Series “rookies” and rookies come to the game with different levels of experience and varying numbers of butterflies in their stomachs. No matter who you are, though, it has to be daunting to line up next to the likes of Rick Clunn and Hank Cherry. The rookies did not disappoint today, though. Joseph Webster caught the first Elite fish of the year with a 3-pounder at 7:42, followed in quick succession by two more keepers. Northern Opens points champ Jonathan Kelley caught a 5-pounder at 8:06. Matty Wong is in 6th with 19-14 and Kelley is in 12th with 18-04.

Not so Bright for the Sunshine Staters? While Florida is generally considered a state that gives home state anglers an advantage, that may apply more on the downstate bowl-like waters than it does on the St. Johns. No Floridian finished in the top ten. Currently,  Bernie Shultz, in 29th with 13-07, is the best among them. With the cut at 11-03, only Schultz is inside of it, although former Floridian Drew Benton is in 45th with 11-05. There is an asterisk to this note, however – we found out from Ronnie Moore on Live that Matty Wong is living with Moore’s parents in Florida, so maybe the Hawaiian-by-way-of-California is now an honorary Florida Man.

Hawaii Connection – Speaking of Hawaii, in addition to Wong, 2002 Classic Champion Jay Yelas (28th) also spent much of his childhood on the islands. A few decades back, the former Operation Bass held events there, which must have been logistical nightmares. While the dominant language is the same in Hawaii as it is in the rest of the US, in some ways the chance of a bass pro coming from there is less likely than from Japan, where there is a vibrant tournament culture and tackle industry.

You Can’t Go Home Again – After Greg Hackney and Jason Christie made returning to the Elites last year, we had every reason to expect that this year’s returning anglers would do the same, but two out of three fell short. Jacob Powroznik (64th, 4 fish for 8-09) and Mike Iaconelli (93rd, 1 for 14 ounces) struggled. David Williams in 44th is the only one inside of the cut.

Taku Talks Pigskin – Despite repeated attempts to get him to predict a Super Bowl winner on camera, Taku Ito repeatedly dodged the question – but based on the way he figured out northern footballs last year, if he puts his mind to it you should expect that he’ll be making bank on DraftKings or FanDuel in the near future.

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