ALTON JONES IN COMMAND WITH 62-14
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac
Palatka, FL – While his limit on Saturday didn’t approach the eye popping 28-7 that he toted to the scales on Friday, Texas’ Alton Jones did more than enough on the third day of competition at the first Elite Series stop of the season on Florida’s St. Johns River to add a little cushion to his already comfortable lead.
Sticking with his game plan to target only quality bedding bass, Jones brought 18-0 to the scales on a day when not one of the 50 remaining anglers managed to break the 20-pound mark. With the third heaviest limit of the day, Jones stretched his already wide lead to a robust 9-pounds, 1-ounce over fellow Texan Todd Faircloth.
“My day started better than any day that I’ve had this week,” said Jones, who boated a quality keeper on Saturday before the sun illuminated the beds that he has been plying for the duration of the tournament. “It took me a few hours to fill my limit out, and finally I came across a 6-pounder,” he explained.
After working on the bedding bass for the better part of half-an-hour, Jones boated his biggest keeper of the day. Spending the majority of his time this week sharing proven spawning flats with a number of fellow competitors, Jones said that the boat pressure has played little, if any, factor this week.
“When I’m out there, I’ve got my head down,” he explained. “I’d like to think that I’m spotting some fish that maybe they’re (other anglers) are overlooking. Stealth is a big part of my game, and I pride myself in being able to catch fish that other people deem as uncatchable.”
While he has mined several key areas for the first three days, Jones said that he was encouraged to see several quality fish still milling about his areas. “I saw a couple 5- to 6-pounders swimming around that weren’t set up,” he said. “Maybe they’ll get on a bed.”
To encourage more female bass to spawn, Jones has made an effort to leave a number of male bass on the nests, rather than catch them. “You don’t want to pluck those male bass. There’s no reason for the females to be there if the males are gone. There’s at least a dozen males in my area, and that’s plenty enough for one of the big girls to spawn with tomorrow.”
In 2011, Jones entered the final day on the St. Johns with a 2-pound, 9-ounce lead, but eventually fell to Edwin Evers on Sunday. While Evers failed to make the Top 12 cut this year, finishing in 14th, Todd Faircloth, who sat in 3rd place after Saturday last year, is again nipping at Jones’ heels heading into the final day.
Jones said he’s cognizant of the fact that, particularly in Florida, no lead is safe. “There’s no question that a 9-pound lead makes you feel more comfortable than 2-pound lead, but that’s just one bite down here,” he explained. “There have been a lot of 8- to 9-pound fish weighed-in this week, so I’ve got to go out and hope that it’s me who gets that 8-pound bite tomorrow to put some more distance there.”
Faircloth Caught them by Just Fishing
“The day started out slow for me this morning, but then I made a little move and caught a limit pretty quickly,” said Todd Faircloth, who brought in 17-7 on Saturday to move into 2nd Place. “I went looking, but I only saw one good fish that wouldn’t act right.”
With his sight bite dwindling, Faircloth returned to his primary area and began searching for fresh fish by blind casting. “Most of my fish, including my big one, just came fishing today,” he explained. Having identified a viable pattern that doesn’t include sight fishing, Faircloth said that he’s excited for the final day of competition on Sunday.
“Who knows what could happen tomorrow,” he stated. “I’m going to settle down in an area and kind of expand on it a little. There’s a lot of water there. It’s not as easy to see the fish in the area because the water is a little darker, but I’m sure that the fish are spawning. I’m just making short pitches and long casts and fishing holes in the grass.”
While he is the closest competitor to Alton Jones, Faircloth admitted that Jones would most likely have to stumble on Sunday in order for him to catch up. “He’d have to stub his toe, but it’s very possible to go out and catch only 8- or 9-pounds. There’s a fine line between 8-pounds and 20-pounds. Today, I caught a 7-15, and if I wouldn’t have caught that fish, I would have only had around 12-pounds.”
Hackney Stuck with His Game Plan
Greg Hackney appeared to be slipping on Friday after bringing a limit weighing just 8-1 to the scales to slip from 2nd to 14th. On Saturday, he regained some of his opening day momentum with an impressive 19-4 limit to jump into 3rd place with a total weight of 51-3.
“I didn’t catch many fish today, but I found a big one. The big one was actually the only fish that I saw today,” said Hackney, who discovered that he fished over several spawning fish on Friday due to the stained water color.
Needing a massive limit on Sunday to challenge Jones for the lead, the Louisiana pro believes that his only shot on Sunday is to return to the area that he has fished for the past three days. “There’s the right kind of fish there, just not a lot of them,” he explained.
“Honestly, he’d (Alton Jones) would pretty much have to jack it up not to win, but this is Florida and there are 10-pounders swimming around. There are a lot of game changers down here. The only thing that worries me is that I don’t have many stretches.”
Combs Saw Giants
Texas’ Keith Combs has quietly put together a solid tournament this week on the St. Johns River. On Saturday, he vaulted into contention with a 19-10 limit that was anchored by a 9-9 brute. After his post-spawn pattern failed to produce on Thursday, Combs committed to the sight bite, and his weight has increased each of the last two competition days.
“I’m making a long run to an area that I went to on a hunch yesterday,” he said. “I saw four big ones today. Two of them were really spooky, but two of them big right away. That 9-9 meant everything. With about 15-minutes to go (in the day), it bit on the first flip. I missed it, but it bit again about five minutes later.”
Combs said that while he’s hoping for a 15-pound day on Sunday, the possibility exists for a truly giant limit. “I saw another fish today that was at least that bit (9-9), and I also saw an 8-pounder. If they lock down and I catch them and then find another big one, it’s anybody’s game.
“I really regret my practice this week,” continued Combs. “I went north one day and then I went south one day. I was just way too scattered. I scrapped everything after the first day and just went fishing.”
After a stellar opening round where he crossed the weigh-in stage with 21-5, Louisiana’s Cliff Crochet failed to capitalize on his bites on Friday, and brought in just 10-12. On Saturday, it was a different story for the third year pro. Relying on what he called a classic post-spawn pattern, Crochet mined the St. Johns River for 16-5 to land in 5th Place.
“It was a whole lot better today,” he said. “I knew that the Top 12 cut was on the line and I needed one of those to get my mind right and get some confidence. As the day went on, I kept making good decisions.”
Late in the day, Crochet decided to return to his primary area and promptly caught a four-and-a-half pounder. “I’m throwing a little Hunny Bunny Baits frog for most of my fish. The key is that I have deep water right at my back. There may be some spawning fish around, but I could care less. I haven’t looked for any of them. “
While he’s pleased with his Top 5 finish on Saturday, Crochet lamented that he could have been several places higher. “I’m very disappointed, because yesterday was my fault. As tough as it was, I just kept grinding through it.”
DAY 3 STANDINGS
|Place||PRO ANGLER||Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Total Fish||Total Weight|
|1||Alton Jones||5||16- 7||5||28- 7||5||18- 0||15||62-14|
|2||Todd Faircloth||5||15-14||5||20- 8||5||17- 7||15||53-13|
|3||Greg Hackney||5||23-14||5||8- 1||5||19- 4||15||51- 3|
|4||Keith Combs||5||12- 6||5||16- 7||5||19-10||15||48- 7|
|5||Cliff Crochet||5||21- 5||5||10-12||5||16- 5||15||48- 6|
|6||Brent Chapman||5||17- 5||5||18-13||5||11- 5||15||47- 7|
|7||Skeet Reese||5||16- 2||5||15-15||5||14-14||15||46-15|
|8||Terry Scroggins||5||14- 0||5||18- 4||5||13- 5||15||45- 9|
|9||Dean Rojas||5||17- 2||5||15- 5||5||12- 5||15||44-12|
|10||David Walker||5||20- 9||5||17- 1||5||6- 7||15||44- 1|
|11||J Todd Tucker||5||24- 0||5||9- 9||5||10- 6||15||43-15|
|12||Randy Howell||5||14-10||5||18- 1||5||11- 1||15||43-12|
|13||Matthew Herren||5||14-14||5||19-12||5||8- 2||15||42-12|
|14||Edwin Evers||5||20- 4||5||9- 3||5||12- 9||15||42- 0|
|15||Stephen Browning||5||18- 5||5||10- 5||5||11-10||15||40- 4|
|16||Cliff Prince||5||15-10||5||12- 4||5||12- 4||15||40- 2|
|17||Rick Morris||5||21-12||5||15-14||2||2- 1||12||39-11|
|18||Gerald Swindle||5||11-11||5||15- 9||5||11-10||15||38-14|
|19||Russell Parrish||5||15- 3||5||12- 1||5||11- 7||15||38-11|
|20||Marty Robinson||5||10-15||5||19- 9||5||8- 2||15||38-10|
|21||Brandon Card||5||10-15||5||15-13||5||11-10||15||38- 6|
|22||Timmy Horton||5||13-13||5||10- 0||5||14- 4||15||38- 1|
|23||Shaw E Grigsby||5||7-11||5||23- 1||5||7- 0||15||37-12|
|24||Kevin VanDam||5||12-12||5||17-10||5||7- 5||15||37-11|
|25||Bill Lowen||5||22- 3||5||9-15||3||4-15||13||37- 1|
|26||Jamie Horton||5||10- 6||5||14- 3||5||12- 4||15||36-13|
|27||John Crews||5||19- 9||5||9- 3||5||7- 7||15||36- 3|
|28||Yusuke Miyazaki||5||18- 8||5||10-11||4||6-13||14||36- 0|
|29||Takahiro Omori||5||11- 7||5||13-15||5||10- 4||15||35-10|
|30||Dustin Wilks||5||12- 4||5||14- 0||5||9- 5||15||35- 9|
|31||Stephen Kennedy||5||10- 0||5||14- 2||5||11- 3||15||35- 5|
|32||Greg Vinson||5||12-10||5||13- 2||5||9- 6||15||35- 2|
|33||Chris Lane||5||15-11||5||10- 2||5||9- 1||15||34-14|
|34||Grant Goldbeck||5||13- 3||5||13- 7||4||7- 6||14||34- 0|
|35||Derek Remitz||5||17- 8||5||8-12||5||7-11||15||33-15|
|36||Mark Menendez||5||10- 7||5||13- 6||5||10- 1||15||33-14|
|37||Tommy Biffle||5||19- 0||2||7- 7||3||7- 1||10||33- 8|
|38||Jared Lintner||5||15- 7||5||9- 7||5||8- 9||15||33- 7|
|39||Kelly Jordon||5||14-14||5||10- 0||4||8- 6||14||33- 4|
|40||Andy Montgomery||5||15-14||5||8- 0||5||9- 3||15||33- 1|
|41||Ott DeFoe||5||13-10||5||10-10||5||8- 3||15||32- 7|
|42||Pete Ponds||5||15-12||5||10- 0||4||6- 5||14||32- 1|
|43||Scott Ashmore||5||15-10||5||10- 8||3||5- 9||13||31-11|
|44||Matt Reed||5||12- 7||5||12- 8||4||6-11||14||31-10|
|45||Casey Scanlon||5||18- 1||4||8- 8||4||5- 0||13||31- 9|
|46||Nate Wellman||5||14- 8||5||11-15||3||3- 5||13||29-12|
|47||Jeremy Starks||5||9- 0||5||14- 5||5||6- 3||15||29- 8|
|48||Casey Ashley||5||14- 3||5||11- 6||3||3-14||13||29- 7|
|49||Billy McCaghren||5||10-10||5||12-11||3||4-11||13||28- 0|
|50||Kevin Ledoux||5||18- 9||2||4-11||2||4- 6||9||27-10|