Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 03/19/2014

Story by Matt Pangrac-Photos by Dave Rush 

Palatka, FL - After Brett Hite’s runaway victory last week on Lake Seminole, the Bassmaster Elite Series moves east to the St. Johns River in Palatka, Florida for the second stop of the season.   

2014 will mark the third time the Elite Series has visited the Florida fishery, so the St. Johns River is no mystery for the majority of the 108 competitors looking to finish the first quarter of the season on a high note.  In 2011, Edwin Evers lifted the trophy on the St. Johns with a total weight of 77-1.  The following year, Alton Jones earned his first Elite Series victory, besting the field on the Florida river with four limits of largemouth weighing a total of 75-9.  

The biggest story leading up to Thursday’s opening round has been the weather.  According to The Weather Channel, Palatka received 3.52 inches of rain between Sunday and Tuesday, making the sight fishing bite more challenging.  Despite the abundant precipitation, bedding bass will likely play a critical role in the outcome of the tournament.  

The conditions are shaping up for a classic slugfest this week in Palatka with high temperatures predicted to be in the upper 70s with bright sunshine and calm winds on Thursday and Friday.   

Even though the 2014 season is just one tournament old, last week’s results on Seminole generated some interesting results in the Angler Of the Year race.  Newly crowned Classic champ, Randy Howell, finished in 106th place at Seminole, all but dashing his hopes of following up a Classic victory with an Angler Of the Year trophy.  Perennial AOY and Classic contender, Edwin Evers, also struggled last week on Seminole with a 94th place finish.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brett Hite enters the week looking to remain white hot.  The Arizona pro has dominated the 2014 season and has victories on both the FLW Tour and Bassmaster Elite Series.  With a Top 50 finish this week on the St. Johns, Hite will break $250,000 in combined earnings for the young 2014 season.

Tournament:  Bassmaster Elite Series
Fishery:  St. Johns River – Palatka, Florida
Fishery Facts: Longest river in the state of Florida.
Previous Elite Series Winner: Alton Jones (2012)
Field Size: 108 anglers 

Terry Scroggins
Scroggins on his tournament strategy after covering over 100 miles of river in 2012 on the St. Johns:
"You know, I have a lot of places on this river within a 100 mile stretch.  The problem is that there are fish on a lot of the places, so you can get yourself strung out.  The good thing about it is that you give yourself plenty of places to catch them over a four day event, which is what you need to do well here."

Scroggins on the water clarity this week:
“It isn't only the rain that we are dealing with that is muddying up the water.  We also have a lot of pollen in the water, and also the Northeast wind we had for the last few days has blown a lot of water in the river.  Something else that is going on is that the water is really tannic right now.  That is caused by the water being high for a long period of time and being up in the trees.  It turns that dark, reddish color when we have those conditions."

Brett Hite
Hite on his ability to decompress and concentrate after last week’s victory:
"I came down here and just went back to work right away, so it hasn't really had anytime to set in.  I bet I have had over 300 texts since Sunday, and have had to clean out my voicemail several times from all the people calling to congratulate me."

Hite on managing his busy schedule this season:
"It is really tough when you are trying to do so much at once.  With a lot of these events being back to back, you are super pressed for time - especially when you want to fulfill all your media and sponsor obligations as well."  

Todd Faircloth
Faircloth on his initial thoughts about the St. Johns River:
“I think grass.  I think bass….and I like it.  The fishing seems to be a little bit better than it has been the last two times that we’ve been here, so I think that the weights will be a little bit higher overall.  It’s fishing small in some areas, but that’s not unusual for Florida.  Whoever draws boat number one will be happy – I can promise you that.”

Faircloth on his affinity for fishing in Florida:
“I grew up on Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, and even though it’s not shallow water grass like here, it’s still grass. Over time you develop an understanding of what to look for in the grass.  I’m really comfortable out there and I’ve just learned the subtleties of grass fishing over time.”  

Bernie Schultz
Schultz on practicing Monday on the St. Johns River after a 7th Place finish last week on Lake Seminole:
“I live close to here, so I went home on Sunday and got up early on Monday and drove to a section of the St. Johns River that I wanted to check.  I’m glad that I did, because there were some fish there.  I came back to Palatka, and everything was going well on Monday until I went to a famous fast-food place and got food poisoning. I’ve been trying to get over that for the last two practice days, but I haven’t eaten anything but a pack of saltine crackers for the past two days.

Schultz on how he sees Thursday on the St. Johns River playing out:
“Right now, I need some momentum.  I don’t want a decent finish last week to go to waste.  I know that I’m around some fish, but I think that the place is going to fish pretty crowded.  It will be a matter of how you manage the crowd and get the fish to bite.”     

Randall Tharp
Tharp on his lack of familiarity with the St. Johns River:
“You know, I’ve never been here.  I didn’t do a lot of research, but I can tell you that I like this place.  It’s big and vast and it has a bunch of big fish in it.  I’m excited about this week.”

Tharp on the last time he fished a tournament in Florida without cashing a check:
“It’s been a while.  Honestly, I can’t remember off the top of my head.”

Jason Williamson
Williamson on the current conditions in Lake George:
“There are several things that are different in Lake George this year than in past years.  From what I can tell, the water is a lot higher because of the good amount of rain we have received this week.  The biggest difference for me is the water clarity.  

“You need to be able to see down to three or four feet, and you just can’t see that deep with the water color.  It’s not necessarily muddy; it’s just a really dark, tannic color that I’ve never seen here before.  Hopefully the water will flush out over the next couple of days because it’s tidal.”    

Jacob Powroznik
Powroznik on how the rainfall during practice will affect the sight fishing this week:
“The rain that we had won’t affect the sight fishing at all.  There are a lot of fish that are moving up, and today was a really good day of practice and we are going to have very good conditions during the tournament.  These fish are a little bit spooky, but you’re just going to have to go out and go fishing.”

Powroznik on the potentially crowded conditions on the St. Johns River:
“In my opinion, probably 10 out of the top 12 finishers this week will be fishing within a five mile radius of each other.  There’s a good portion of the river where the visibility is still good, so you’re going to be able to get out there and fish really slow.  You’re only looking for five bites each day, so you can take your time on a big one if you find one.” 

Edwin Evers
Evers on his initial thoughts on the St. Johns River:
"It's been pretty chilly since we've been here.  There has been very little sun, but I am looking forward to the warmer temperatures predicted for later in the week.  I always look forward to fishing the St. Johns."

Evers’ game plan heading into the tournament:
"I just need to upright the ship and get it back to floating after last week.  The water is way up from all of the rain and also the tides this week. You can't really be that productive practicing for what will more than likely be a sight fishing tournament dealing with those conditions.  I think people are going to find their fish during the tournament this week."

Alton Jones
Jones on his approach this week:
"I always try to approach every tournament with an open mind, but at the same try to build off the things you have learned from previous trips to the same body of water.  Hopefully, when you do that you can land on the right group of fish during the tournament to do well."

Jones on sight fishing this week:
"I think sight fishing is a skill deal, particularly here in Florida where you really have to get dialed in on what it takes to get a bite. If you can figure out exactly what the fish want on really an hour by hour basis then you can be successful when others aren’t."

Jones on the last time he fished a tournament in Florida with stable conditions:
"I can't even remember one to be honest.  We had our cold front conditions the first day of practice with torrential downpours, but it has gotten nicer each day.  We still haven't gotten the optimal conditions we need for sight fishing, but they are coming during the event.  I truly believe that the guy who wins this thing is going to find the fish during the event."