Elite analysis – Day 3 in Palatka

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Elite analysis – Day 3 in Palatka

John Crews saw his lead shrink today from slightly less than 10 pounds to 3 pounds 1 ounce, but against the charging tide of a changing top ten he d

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John Crews saw his lead shrink today from slightly less than 10 pounds to 3 pounds 1 ounce, but against the charging tide of a changing top ten he did what he had to do to hold on. Just as yesterday’s hero Masayuki Matsushita closed in on Crews early this morning, the veteran Virginia pro landed a 6-pound “bag saver” that seemed to put him back firmly in command. Indeed, without that fish – and the change in tactics that produced it – Crews would have sacrificed the pole position. His weights have gone down every day, but he’s held onto his top spot. 

Today’s hero John Cox – one of two Floridians in the Top 10 after Day 1 was not kind to them – has made this a ballgame, and Matsushita is also in striking range. 

Here are the stories that caught my attention:

Fear factor – Cox had 9-06 on Day 1, which had him in 57th, then jumped inside the cut yesterday with an additional 13-13 that put him in 38th. Today he dropped 31-15 on the scales and jumped up to 2nd. You have to wonder what would have happened if the tournament started a day later, as the fish started to move toward Cox. Would he have blown this thing out? Of course, Cox, the hardest working man in bass fishing, probably couldn’t have stayed an extra day to fish if that had been the case – he probably has a Monday Nighter, a Tuesday Fruit Jar and a full home remodel scheduled for this week.

Rookie Jitters nowhere to be seen – If Matsushita manages to leapfrog Crews and Cox, it will mark the second consecutive year that an Elite newcomer wins the season-opener on the St. Johns.

Afternoon – Per BassTrakk, at noon yesterday there were 10 anglers with 10 or more pounds, topped by Caleb Sumrall’s 17-0. Today the number grew to 11 anglers, but no one came near that big bag. The closest was Taku Ito’s 14-0.  Matsushita’s lunchtime 10-08 was a bit of a mirage – he only had three fish – and he eventually culled up to 17-07. While it was another tough day for many, the bulk of the weight once again came after noon. That means you might not want to tune into the Super Bowl pregame too early – as there could be fireworks on the opposite coast late in the fishing day.

The most expensive sweatshirt ever – Micah Frazier (9th, 42-2) snuck into the Top 10 by a mere 4 ounces. If he’d missed it by a comparable amount, he might have been haunted by what happened on Day 2 – when his reel handle got stuck in the strings of his hoodie and he proceeded to lose a big fish.

Topwater – After two days that seemed to be dominated by soft plastics and lipless cranks, with an occasional jerkbait thrown in, today we got some topwater action. While watching Bob Downey use one on Live, Drew Benton commented, “A topwater’s going to get a big bite if he can get them to commit to it.” Later we watched Brandon Palaniuk throwing one, too. “I hadn’t caught one on a prop bait all week until yesterday,” he said. Those who remember the absolute giant that Clifford Pirch caught here on a Whopper Plopper in 2019 know that could make for some great footage tomorrow, especially with the changing weather.

Victim of your own success – A generation ago, there was no BASS Live, so it was possible to keep fishing secrets to yourself. The dropshot did not initially spread partially because it was seen as a small fish technique, and partially because it didn’t have media legs. Now, nothing stays closely guarded for long. Does that blunt any advantage that the Japanese pros might have previously enjoyed? After watching Taku Ito’s unique tactics carefully last year, now we’re seeing Matsushita kicking butt with the previously-unheralded Free Rig. I don’t think that North American anglers will sit this one out.

Too early for AOY speculation? –  Stetson Blaylock on not being worried about his small limit at mid-day: “This is a marathon not a sprint kind of year.”

I’ll speculate on Crews and AOY anyway – Over the course of 16 years of Elite Series competition, John Crews (your unofficial leader for 2022) has averaged a 36th place finish. That’s improved slightly to 34th over the past 10 years, but gotten worse (41st) over the last five. In fact, over the past seven seasons he’s seesawed back and forth between a good finish (in the twenties or thirties) followed by one in the sixties (22-62-34-68-24-69-21). Will this be the year he breaks that pattern? So far there’s a pretty good chance. He hasn’t been Top 20 in the AOY race since 2014 (19th) and his only Top 10 as an Elite was in 2013 (7th).

Double digits – We still haven’t seen a 10 pounder this week. Today’s big fish was an 8-5 that Cox weighed in. I’m still hopeful for a dramatic last minute mule, perhaps one that gets tangled in sweatshirt strings, a trolling motor or a big wad of vegetation.

The most important thing to remember – Dave Mercer: “There is no number that you’re safe with here. We’re at Jurassic Park and there are dinosaurs.”

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