Saturday, February 12, 2022

2022 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River Day 3: John Crews Maintains Lead into Finals!

Canadians: Cory Johnston 17th & Chris Johnston 35th 

John Crews of Salem, Va., is leading after Day 2 of the 2022 AFTCO Bassmaster 
Elite at St. Johns River with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 3 ounces. (Photo: Seigo Saito/BASS)


PALATKA, Fla. — You can’t win a Bassmaster Elite event with one fish, but a single bite transformed John Crews’ day and kept the veteran from Salem, Va., in the lead on Day 3 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 3 ounces.


Crews opened the event with a Thursday limit of 28 pounds and held on to the lead on Friday with a limit of 17-3. He added a 13-pound limit Saturday — anchored by a crucial 6-pounder — and overcame a slow morning to head into Championship Sunday with a lead of just 3-1 over hard-charging John Cox of DeBary, Fla.


Breaking his pattern of starting in Rodman Reservoir, Crews spent his first hour fishing the main river, where he caught a small keeper on a 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a Missile Baits D Bomb in the bruiser (black/blue) color. Transitioning to the reservoir, he spent two unproductive hours before making a key transition.


“I fished the areas where I caught my fish the first day and I never had a bite,” Crews said. “I told my cameraman ‘We need to make a change, I’m going to go shallow. I think I can catch some small fish, fill out a limit and see what happens.’


“I made a run and when I set the boat down, I looked over and saw a clump of pads. The first flip was that 6-pounder. I pitched in there and when I reeled up, my line was zipping on out to the main channel.”


Bassmaster LIVE captured the entire sequence — including Crews’ clear expression of relief and encouragement.


“That let me know I made the right decision,” Crews said. “I just settled down, caught a limit and culled one in the vicinity.


“I feel like that fish had just moved up. When they just move up, they’re sitting there with their mouths open.”


Crews caught his big fish and one more on a Texas-rigged Missile Baits Quiver Worm. He caught the rest of his Rodman fish on a Zoom Fluke.


Crews said he’s not comfortable that enough fish have moved up shallow in Rodman to stake his final day on that pattern. He said he believes he can catch a couple shallow if he needs to salvage his day, but he may end up expanding his game plan for Championship Sunday.


With the final round forecast showing cloudy, windy and possibly rainy weather, Crews said the change might stimulate the Rodman bite — just not necessarily the shallow game.


“If we get that weather, I think the fish may go to biting,” he said. “Rodman’s a lot clearer than the river and a little weather would probably go a long way.”


After placing 57th on Day 1 with 9-6, Cox added 13-13 on Day 2 and rose to 38th. On Saturday, he electrified the weigh-in crowd with the tournament’s heaviest catch — a massive limit of 31-15, anchored by an 8-5, which pushed him into second with 55-2.


“I’m thrilled; I’ve been waiting to catch a 30-pound bag here,” Cox said. “Every time we’ve had an event here, whether it was the (St. Croix Bassmaster) Opens, or the Elites, I always knew that was possible. I was like ‘One of these days, it’s going to line up.’ Today it did. I’m so glad I made it into Semifinal Saturday.”


Running an hour south of Palatka, Cox fished a backwater area off the main river and focused his effort on shallow cover. With daytime highs and overnight lows rising significantly since Day 1, Cox knew a shoreward movement was imminent.


“When I pulled up today, there was a buck (smaller male bass) on every bed and I was like ‘Oh gosh,’” Cox said. “I kept trolling by them and then I ran into a big one, then another big one.”


Cox caught his fish on a black prototype Berkley craw bait rigged on a 3/0 Berkley Fusion Flipping Hook. He found his fish in a variety of habitat settings and one of those fish took an hour to entice.


Elite rookie Masayuki Matsushita of Tokoname-Shi, Japan slipped a spot to third with a three-day total of 52-13. After placing 41st on Day 1 with 12-1, he rose 39 spots to second after catching Day 2’s heaviest bag — 23-5. On Saturday, Matsushita added 17-7.


Spending his day in Crescent Lake, Matsushita caught three of his keepers on a free rig. A Japanese innovation, his rig comprised a Texas-rigged Zoom Magnum Finesse Worm (redbug color) with a teardrop shaped sinker hanging perpendicular to his line and a bobber stop keeping the weight within a limited range.


Matsushita caught the rest of his keepers on 1/4- and 3/8-ounce versions of the Deps Matsuraba swim jig that he designed. He used brown craw swim jigs and paired them with Deps twin-tail trailers in green pumpkin black fleck.


“I threw the swim jig in shallower water around wood and used a straight retrieve,” Matsushita said. “Maybe the fish were on spawning beds, I don’t know.”


Brandon Cobb of Greenwood, S.C., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with the 9-13 largemouth he caught on Day 1.


Cox leads the VMC Monster Bag standings for the event’s heaviest limit.


Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn., earned the $1,000 BassTrakk bonus for the most accurate weight reporting over the tournament’s first two days.


The Top 10 remaining pros will take off for Championship Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET from Palatka City Docks. The weigh-in will be held at Palatka Riverfront Park at 3:30 p.m., with the winning angler earning $100,000.


FS1 will broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday. Live coverage can also be streamed on and the FOX Sports digital platforms.

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