Clouse Makes Long Run To Take Lead At Bassmaster Elite On St. Johns River
Photo by: Photo by Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.
PALATKA, Fla. —
Gary Clouse knew what he had to do, and he was determined that not even a three-hour fog delay was going to stop him.
It was a good call for the Tennessee pro who caught a five-bass limit that weighed 25 pounds, 12 ounces Thursday to lead Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River.
After dense fog created hazardous navigational conditions, B.A.S.S. delayed Thursday’s scheduled 7 a.m. takeoff until 10:15.
Taking off in the 69th position in a field of 99 boats, Clouse had plenty of time to contemplate his game plan, which involved making what he called a long run.
“I was fishing bedding areas and bed fish too; it was a little of both,” Clouse said. “I feel like the fish are coming to me because I went into this area in practice and I had a couple of bites, but I had no idea it was going to be loaded like that.”
With this week’s new moon plus a warming trend that started Wednesday, the stage was set for a textbook spawning movement. Clouse said he believed his distant spot offered him the best opportunity, but he admits he had to ignore his mental question marks.
“I had all kinds of doubts while I was running,” he said. “I thought maybe I should just pull over here and try to catch one. That crossed my mind — like I shouldn’t make this run.
“It was a huge gamble. The smarter money would have been to stay close and get a couple fish and hopefully get a long day tomorrow. But I just decided to go for it and I’m glad I did.”
Clouse was understandably guarded with his tactical details, but he said he caught his fish on a mix of moving baits and reaction baits. Targeting bass that were moving up to spawn, he had only six bites, but they were mostly quality fish.
“It really didn’t matter what you threw,” Clouse said. “You just had to get around one.”
The smallest bass in Clouse’s bag was a 2-pounder. According to BassTrakk, between 1:51 and 2:37, he caught three in the 5-pound class and one about 4 pounds.
“I had a really unbelievable day; things just went right,” he said. “It was just my day. There wasn’t anything magical about it. Everything lined up for me.
“I may have burned up everything I had. I could zero tomorrow probably easier than catching 25 pounds. We’ll see what happens.”
Derek Hudnall of Baton Rouge, La., is in second place with 22-5. Making a long run south, Hudnall focused on areas with gaps and openings in shoreline vegetation where spawning fish would likely position themselves out of sight.
“I’m not looking at these fish,” Hudnall said. “It’s extremely shallow, and anywhere those fish can get to the bank, that’s where they’re moving up and spawning.
“If you have available cover, like an overhanging limb, and the fish can get to the bank, that’s where the fish are going to spawn. This area has some great big ones in it, and when those fish move up, I can pinpoint where those fish are going to be.”
Hudnall caught all of his bass on a wacky-rigged Missile Baits 48 worm in the bruiser flash and junebug colors. Fishing his bait on 15-pound braided line was essential for making long skips into the cover to avoid spooking the fish.
Australian pro Carl Jocumsen is in third place with 18-2. Running about an hour south of takeoff was a risky call for him as well, but Jocumsen said practice allowed him to dial in an area with the right mix of habitat and conditions.
“I fished from one end of (tournament waters) to the other, and I felt like that was the area where it was going to happen,” he said. “I started to see better water temperature, more life and fish.
“I targeted anywhere I thought they were going to spawn and anywhere I thought no one else was casting. I wasn’t looking at them, I’m just fishing where I think they are and I think that’s helping me run into some fresh fish.”
Jocumsen caught his bass on a Texas-rigged X Zone Lures Deception Worm in the plum color.
Hudnall is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-8.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. ET from Palatka City Docks. The weigh-in will be held at Palatka Riverfront Park at 3 p.m.
After Friday’s round, only the Top 50 anglers will advance to Saturday’s semifinals. The Top 10 remaining pros will fish Championship Sunday with a chance at the $100,000 first-place prize.
Live coverage of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live from the tournament beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River is being hosted by the Putnam County Tourist Development Council and Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
Photo by: Photo by Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.