Despite challenging weather conditions, veteran John Crews captures wire-to-wire win on the St. Johns River.
Twelve years after winning his first Bassmaster Elite Series trophy, John Crews of Salem, Virginia, topped the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River with a four-day total of 75 pounds, 4 ounces.
The 17th-year Elite took the Day-1 lead with his best bag of the tournament--a limit of 28 pounds, which included a kicker that went 8-1. Over the next three days, Crews added limits of 17-3, 13-0, and 17-1. Crossing the finish line with a winning margin of 1 1/4 pounds, he took home his second blue trophy and a first-place prize of $100,000.
As Crews acknowledged, winning an Elite event is a huge challenge and doing so wire-to-wire is even bigger. This week, weather pattens ratcheted up the difficulty by saddling the first two days with post-frontal conditions. Days 1 and 2 began with morning temperatures in the low-to-mid 30s and unfolded with the high pressure and clear skies that often hinder bass fishing.
Day 3 brought warm, stable conditions, followed by rain and wind the first half of Championship Sunday. Impressively, Crews turned in his best performance on Day 1, when many in the 94-boat field struggled.
"I was very fortunate to hit certain bite windows," Crews said. "When the tide was right and the weather was right, I was throwing reaction baits."
Where He Fished
Each day Crews spent about half of his time in Rodman Reservoir, upriver from Palatka. An impoundment of the Ocklawaha River, which flows through the Kirkpatrick Dam and into the St. Johns, the reservoir requires a time-consuming run and passage through a canal and lock, but Crews banked on its benefits.
Emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Johns feels daily tidal fluctuations, while Rodman offers more stable water level, clarity, and temperatures. Also, abundant vegetation and standing timber provides significant bass habitat.
He also fished the main river and the Rodman Canal--on both sides of the Buckman Lock accessing Rodman. Inside the reservoir, Crews caught fish on standing timber and pads, while a mix of pads and other shallow targets comprised his river and canal action.
"There was not a big wave of fish moving up (to spawn), so I didn't think there would be a ton of bed fishing opportunities," Crews said. "I just decided not to go for that this week."
How He Caught 'Em
When he fished Rodman's deeper areas, Crews relied on a suspending jerkbait and a dropshot that carried a prototype Missile Baits worm. Going shallow in the reservoir, he caught a bed fish by pitching a Texas-rigged Missile Baits Quiver Worm and also threw a Zoom Fluke in open areas.
Targeting active fish along pad edges in the river and the canal, Crews caught fish with a 1/2-ounce white spinnerbait and a 3/8- and 1/2-ounce ZMan Chatterbait Jack Hammer. He used a Missile Baits D-Bomb in the bruiser (black/blue) color and a white Missile Baits Shockwave for his Chatterbait trailers.
Mobility was key for Crews, who said he refused to marry any one pattern. Instead, he targeted scenarios that seemed to logically fit the conditions--deep timber during colder mornings and shallow vegetation during warmer and more stable times.
Of his diverse game plane, Crews said: "I was throwing a spinning rod in 25 feet of water one minute and I'm throwing a (reaction bait) in a foot of water 20 minutes later. Luckily, on the St. Johns River, that works."
Rest of the Best
Bob Downey of Hudson, Wisconsin, finished second with 74-0. After posting a big Day-1 limit of 27-4, he caught only one keeper (6-11) the second day. He added 10-14 on Day 3 and nearly caught Crews by sacking up a final-round limit of 29-3. Downey caught all of his fish on a 1/2-ounce Storm Arashi Vibe lipless bait.
Elite rookie Masayuki Matsushita of Tokoname Aichi, Japan, finished third with 69-13. He placed 41st on Day 1 with 12-1, caught the second round's heaviest bag--23-5--and rose to second. Matsushita added 17-7 on Day 3 for third place and ended in that spot with a final-round limit of 17 pounds.
Matsushita caught his fish on the Depps Matsuraba swim jig that he designed (1/4- and 3/8-ounce) with a Depps twin tail trailer. He also used a free rig, which hangs a free-sliding weight perpendicular to the line, ahead of a Texas-rigged Zoom Magnum Finesse Worm.
John Cox of Debary, Florida, finished third with 67-10. David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tennessee, was fifth with 64-7. Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, South Carolina, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 9-13.
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