The St. Johns River was in a bit of a funk for the Toyota Series Southern Division opener. Instead of a full-on spawning slugfest, a couple cold fronts and quickly changing wind and water conditions kept fish moving in and out. The anglers chasing them had to stay on their toes.
Plenty of pros did find quality fish, though, and they did so with a lot of familiar baits when it comes to late-winter fishing in Florida. Right now, it’s all about the black and blue plastics on the St. Johns.
Here’s a look at what the top 10 used to catch their fish in the first event of the Southern Division season.
1. Trevor Fitzgerald tipped a shaky head with a Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket in black and blue when fish got finnicky on day three. He threw it on a Fitzgerald Stunner spinning rod and spinning reel and 12-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa fluorocarbon. He also dragged a black and blue Reaction Innovations Machete on a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Fitzgerald Stunner casting rod paired with a Fitzgerald Stunner casting reel (7:1) and 17-pound-test Fitzgerald Vursa fluorocarbon.
2. Jason Blair employed just one bait during the tournament: a Bruiser Baits Stick Worm (black blue tip), Texas-rigged with a 1/8-ounce tungsten weight. He threw that on a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Fitzgerald Stunner rod and a Shimano Curado (7.4:1) reel spooled with Sunline 12-pound-test fluorocarbon.
3. Steven Hatala wielded a wacky-rigged Reaction Innovations Pocket Rocket (tramp stamp color) during the tournament and also mixed in a black and blue Yamamoto Senko for similar techniques. He used a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog at times, and to get bedding fish fired up, Hatala used a Lucky Craft Kelly J Prop Bait and a magnum walking bait. The Michigan pro used a variety of rods and reels, including a Fitzgerald All Purpose Series Casting Rod, Fitzgerald Vursa Series Spinning Rod, Fitzgerald Stunner spinning reel and Shimano Metanium casting reel.
4. Rodney Marks employed a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm in a variety of colors (he says the fish were biting equally well on at least a few), including junebug, watermelon and some other natural colors. He Texas-rigged his Speed Worm on a 1/8-ounce weight with a straight-shank hook and threw it on a Level rod with a Shimano Chronarch MGL (7.1:1) reel spooled with 20-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon. Marks also used a white Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw.
5. Keith Carson used a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Jerk Shad in baby bass to target spawners. He threw it on a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod and Abu Garcia Revo Premier reel in 7.3:1 gear ratio and spooled with 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene Big Game. When blind flipping, Carson opted for a Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss (junebug) with a 1-ounce weight and a 7-foot, 6-inch, heavy Abu Garcia Veracity rod and the same reel, but with 50-pound-test Berkley X5 braid.
6. Fishing around docks, Jacopo Gallelli relied on a vibrating jig with a Lake Fork Magic Shad trailer in green pumpkin to do most of his damage. He also used a Neko rig and a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Worm as follow-up baits for when he missed bites on the vibrating jig. Gallelli’s go-to rod was the Airrus Stargate.
7. For fishing around wood and isolated cover, Jonathan Kelley opted for an X Zone True Center Stick (black and blue) with a 1/8-ounce Eco Pro Tungsten weight, Texas-rigged on 15-pound-test P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon and a 7-foot, medium-heavy Denali worm and jig rod and a Shimano Chronarch MGL (7.1:1) reel. For heavier flipping, Kelley went with a Berkley Pit Boss (black and blue) with a 1/2-ounce Eco Pro Tungsten weight on 65-pound-test PowerPro braid and a 7-foot, 8-inch Denali N3 rod and the same Shimano Chronarch reel.
8. Though he carried a Texas-rigged soft stick bait for backup, Frank Kitchens III primarily relied on one bait this week: a white 3/8-ounce Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw trailer, fished with a Lew’s Speed Spool reel with Stren 20-pound-test monofilament line.
9. For sparse cover, Jason Meninger used a black and blue Z-Man ZinkerZ Texas-rigged with a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce weight on a 7-foot, 6-inch, heavy Halo rod and a Shimano Metanium 8.5:1 reel spooled with 18-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon. For the thicker stuff, he employed the same bait but with a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight with 45-pound-test PowerPro Maxcuatro braid spooled on the same Shimano reel and paired with a 7-foot, 9-inch, heavy Halo Kryptonite flipping stick.
10. Chris Hensley wacky-rigged a Bass Pro Shops Stik-O (junebug) or weighted it Texas-rigged with a 3/16-ounce tungsten weight around heavier cover. He used a 7-foot Kistler Magnesium 2 spinning rod for the wacky rig (with a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series spinning reel) and a 7-foot, medium-heavy Kistler Magnesium 2 casting rod with a Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Signature Series casting reel (7.5:1) for the heavier setup. He also sweetened his soft plastics with some JJ's Magic Dippin' Dye.