I am exactly 19 days out from fishing my first professional bass tournament. I have spent four days on the St. John’s River trying to pay attention to what the bass are doing. Based on my results, I don’t know whether I should be nervous about the event or concerned that I’m not finding numbers of bass.
I have been watching the weights as other tournaments fish this body of water. I thought that one of the best ways to research the river and lakes associated with it would be to keep an eye on some of the other bigger tournaments that are going on there. Much to my dismay, the results from some of the tournaments have not been good. In a recent large tournament held out of Palatka, the results netted only seven anglers with a limit of bass over two days.
I spent last weekend up there fishing pretty hard for two days and my partner and I managed to raise eight bass. He also will be fishing the FLW Costa Series in the Southern Division. Based on the rules, I can pre-fish only with another angler who is part of the tournament or an immediate family member. Needless to say, my choices for people to fish with is very limited, and my wife would rather not fish that many hours if we’re not in a tournament.
The bass we caught were all in the same type of water, but there were not a lot of them in any one area. We covered water over two days from the park in Palatka, which is the launch site for the tournament, down to the end of Crescent Lake, all the way through Lake George down to Lake Dexter. We put some miles on the boat, but know that it might take something like that in order to finish higher up in the standings for this tournament.
If you haven’t followed bass fishing on this body of water, this time of year has been somewhat magical for getting good weight — if the weather cooperates. This year, the constant fluctuation of air temperature has not allowed the water temperature to cool enough to make the bass go on that big winter-time surge. Last weekend the water temperatures were 70 degrees, which is unseasonably warm. I think more than anything it has the bass a little off kilter. They don’t know if they should be moving shallow or staying out to feed.
The pre-spawn time of year usually has bass schooled up and feeding, getting ready for the rigors of the spawn. That I have not seen, nor have I located any beds in shallow water, which would at least indicate that the male bass have moved in and begun to do their thing.
This past week we had a two days of very cold weather (for Florida anyway, so you northern folk that read this, give us a little bit of a break on that statement). Because that little cold snap was short lived, I doubt it had a major impact on the water temperature. The last time I saw this type of a weather pattern, the pre-spawn and spawn bite was very slow, with much lower weights than you would see had the weather followed a traditional pattern.
My theory is that this spring, the bass will spawn in slightly deeper water if it is available to them. Sooner or later, their internal clocks will tell them it is time to spawn, and the water temperature may not be very different from shallow to slightly deeper water. That may make the bass spawn farther out than normal. Something that you should always check when you don’t see that water hit those upper 50s. Personally, I have not seen the water get cooler than 63 degrees in any body of water I have been in.
Am I concerned? Yes, for the simple fact I have yet to put a pattern together to find these bass. Am I nervous? Absolutely. I would prefer not to flop in my first big-time tournament. The next time I get to practice will be the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the actual tournament. With any luck, the weather will be stable and I’ll be able to find some bass grouped up.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.