BIG GREEN BASS
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush
Palatka, FL - After Thursday’s results, there’s little doubt that Georgia’s J. Todd Tucker has taken quite a liking to Florida’s St. Johns River during the spawn. In 2011, Tucker finished in 6th Place when the Elite Series visited Florida’s longest river, and it appears as though he’s well on his way to another Top 10 finish.
With an even 24-pound limit that was aided by two 8-pound kickers, Tucker took the lead at the St. Johns River Showdown on Thursday by 2-ounces over Louisiana’s Greg Hackney, who finished the day in 2nd with 23-14.
Tucker credited his success to maximizing the last few hours of practice time on Wednesday. “I spent every last minute of practice that I had looking for one big fish. I found here on Wednesday, and it was that 8-6 that I weighed-in today,” he explained.
While the bass eventually made it to the scales, the process was a little more complicated than Tucker was hoping for. “I went to her this morning and she bit on the second cast,” he said. “I lost her, and it took me about 15-minutes to get her to bite again. I lost her a second time, and it took another half hour before I finally hooked and landed her.”
While many anglers in the Top 10 after Thursday said that they relied on a combination of sight fishing and blind casting, all of Tucker’s bass came off of beds. “I sight fished the whole day,” he said. “Right now, that’s all that I’ve got going. I have to be patient, get my big push-pole out and make as little noise as possible, and soak my areas. It’s the same thing that I did last year to make it into the final day.”
Tucker said that he worked two main areas on Thursday, but said that he has several more areas on the St. Johns that he expects to produce later in the week. “Tomorrow, I may go to another area that I didn’t go to today. You really don’t want to have to run around,” he said. “You want to be able to stay in one little area. My areas today were about the size of the weigh-in stage. I just kept doing circles and then all of the sudden they moved up. I’ve got five different areas on the lake that are holding fish and none of them are very big.”
Aside from keying on several small key areas, Tucker said that his past experience with bedding bass in Florida also played a major role in his success on Thursday. “Some of these fish are hard to see,” he explained. “I’m staying way off of the fish in order to get them to bite. With the lack of water clarity this year, you have to move a lot slower in order to see the fish, and you really have to be quiet.”
Knowing that the sight fishing bite might dwindle as the weekend approaches, Tucker divulged that he has a backup plan. “I’ve got another thing going where I caught them really good on Monday,” he explained. “I think that I can actually catch a pretty good bag by just fishing.”
Hackney Mixed and Matched
Noted for his prowess fishing shallow water, Greg Hackney rode a 10-9 kicker bite on Thursday to 2nd Place on the leader board. The Louisiana pro said that he switched between sight fishing and blind casting throughout the day, but nailed his anchor fish on the first flip to a visible bed.
“A big fish each day is what will win this tournament, so you’ve got to find one four days in a row,” he explained. “I pitched in a hole and saw half of her. I thought it was only about a six- or seven-pound fish, but I had no idea how big she was.”
While Tucker is maximizing his time in small areas, Hackney said that he covered large stretches of the St. Johns River in search of quality bites.
“I’ve got fish located in a 60 mile stretch, but not many of them,” admitted Hackney. “I’m just junk fishing around, really. I weighed two or three today that I saw and then I pulled out and caught one good one out that was my second biggest fish. Every day is a change. I’ll be honest, it’s junky. There are fish still coming, fish going, and fish that are already done (spawning).
“There’s not one thing that says ‘this is the deal,’” continued Hackney. “I’m hoping that I can get a little bit more dialed in as the days pass. I got a little more dialed in today, but you never really know. I’ve caught everything that I found in practice, but I kind of know where to look after today.”
Lowen Fished the Tides
Like Hackney, Ohio’s Bill Lowen also scored a kicker bite on Thursday to climb the leader board. With a total weight of 22-3, the river fishing expert will enter Friday sitting less than 2-pounds behind tournament leader, J. Todd Tucker.
“Everything was solid,” explained Lowen, who switched between blind casting and bed fishing depending on the tide. “I’m catching some fish just fishing before I go looking because I don’t like looking at them when the tide is really high. When the tide gets low, it makes the fish easier to see.”
Lowen said that he found his 8-pounder on Wednesday, just hours before the official practice period ended. “Yesterday, she bit pretty easily,” he explained. “Today, I made about five or six pitches, she ate the bait, and then she came up and threw it. I thought that I’d ruined it. I caught the buck, made a few more pitches and she ate it again.”
Even though his big bite came sight fishing, Lowen estimated that he “just fished” for 75% of his day on Thursday – a tactic that he plans to employ again on Friday. “I think that where I’m at there are a lot of new fish moving up. Hopefully they’ll all set up where we can catch them. The tide is getting later every day and that is going to be the biggest problem for me.”
Morris Keyed on Quality
After a dismal 91st place finish in 2011 on the St. Johns River, Rick Morris entered this year’s St. Johns Elite Series stop with an entirely new attitude. “I looked at everything that I did last year and just did the exact opposite,” he said with a laugh.
With a limit of Florida largemouth weighing 21-12 on Thursday, it appears as though his strategy worked. “I was looking for bed fish all week and I just didn’t like what I saw. I went to power fishing and covering a lot of water. Most of the fish are either coming off of a bed to bite the lure, or they’re bass that are finished bedding and going into a post-spawn mode.”
Morris said that although he brought in the day’s fourth heaviest weight, he had to work for his fish on Thursday. “I probably caught nine keepers today. On my last cast, I culled a 12-incher. It took every minute of the day to pound some very subtle areas over and over.”
Making a substantial run to his fishing location, Morris is optimistic that his area will hold up but said that he most likely mined the best fish from his primary area. “I don’t feel like I can duplicate this tomorrow because I think that I used up a lot of the fish,” he stated. “You’re going to see the weights for a lot of people drop off tomorrow. Do I think that I can win this tournament? Probably not, but you never know.”
Crochet Fished His Strengths
Louisiana’s Cliff Crochet went back to his roots on Thursday, translating his years of experience on the Atchafalaya Basin to Florida’s St. Johns River. “It had everything, absolutely everything, to do with it today,” he explained. “I enjoy sight fishing, I’m just not comfortable enough with it to go after it. This is definitely textbook post-spawn stuff. “Instead of stumps and grass, it is palm trees and eel grass,” he said with a chuckle.
While his 21-5 limit was good enough for 5th, Crochet said that it took him the majority of the day to amass his weight. “I didn’t bust them today. It was slow and progressed as the day went on. I made a little move and it worked out perfectly like it was supposed to. In practice, I caught one that was 6-pounds, but I didn’t know exactly what was there because I left them alone. I knew that the fish really lived in my second area.”
Throughout the day, Crochet said that he didn’t see a single other competitor. “I’m running solo,” he explained. “I fished four different places and caught fish in all four, but two areas were key.”
DAY 1 STANDINGS