The last tournament Rick won before this one was 3 years ago — at the St. Johns River, FL. But it was a significantly different river this time. The all-important eelgrass wasn’t there, and that made the water much dirtier. Plus the conditions changed big-time from the last day of practice into the first 2 days of the tournament then into the last 2 days.
So how’d he win this one? Here you go:
> “I went through the area where I won it 3 years ago and the eelgrass was all gone…still dollar pads, and the cypress trees had a little more water. I caught 2 13-inchers there. So I tried to find the nearest water to there that had more fishable-type water.
> “At about 11:00 [practice day 1] I got in that area [where he fished in the tournament]. It was about 5 miles from where caught them before [in 2016].
> “The water temperature was about 55. I was throwing a Hail Mary lipless crankbait and a spinnerbait. A couple hit the spinnerbait, then I caught a 6 and another about 9 or 10 on the Hail Mary. So I left it, but I didn’t find anything else so I started the tournament there.”
> For day 1 “the water temperature changed [warmed] 8 degrees. I was fishing the Hail Mary on the ends of docks, but I only had a 1.5-lber in 2.5 hours. So with the warming water I figured the back side of docks would have the better fish.
> “I went back to the spinnerbait. The 2 bites I had on the spinnerbait in practice where on the backside of the docks near bank…dollar pads…and pitching a worm. The 1st day I caught a 5 on the spinnerbait and the rest on a Gator Tail Worm.
> “I made a mistake that day — I didn’t realize they’d catch ’em that big, and since other boats were in the area I tried to save it and hide it. I only had 17 lbs and I figured it cost me the tournament.
> “I caught 2 on the spinnerbait the 2nd day. …cloudy 3rd day…had 5-6 of the top 10 in there…everything I was fishing, they were fishing. The only thing not hit hard were the dollar pads in between [the docks]. I knew there were fish people weren’t finding. So with the cloud cover I knew I had to cover water [with the spinnerbait] to get more bites.
> The final day…had to catch big fish. The spinnerbait will do that. Every one that final day I weighed were on the spinnerbait except one of the 9s.
> “Most of the good fish were coming from 1-2′. Everyone was keying on docks…scattered reeds in 1’…fish really wanted to get around those. They were getting hit pretty hard.”
> Spinnerbait: 3/4-oz Luck E Strike Trickster Spinnerbait, 7′ 6″ H Bass Pro CarbonLite Rod, Johnny Morris signature Reel (6.3), 25-lb BPS Excel mono.
> “…what’s unique about that spinnerbait is the heavy Long Drop blade. The Long Drop is a cross between a willow and IN. [With it] you don’t have to have as big a blade [key for big fish but tough to cast]. The key is water displacement — the more water you displace, the better fish you catch.”
> His bait had 2 blades — “a small blade up front and the smallest long drop on the back, a #3.5 [both silver]. The smaller blade came through the dollar pads better…. It had a perch-colored skirt and Ringworm (firecracker — sparkly red — with chartreuse tail).” He said he was using an older-model worm, but it’s probably something like this one. The spinnerbait had a trailer hook.
> Why the spinnerbait was so heavy even though he was fishing shallow: “It has to be that heavy to carry that blade…so much water displacement [so it doesn’t roll].”
> 6″ Gator Tail Worm (junebug) — “made years ago, it’s my favorite FL worm.” 5/0 Owner hook (“because I do swing them”), 1/2-oz weight, same rod, same reel, 65-lb braid. [Here’s a Zoom gator tail worm.]
> Why the H-action rod: “I swung everything — you have to have big equipment to do that, and you need big equipment for big fish. On the spinnerbait you rarely lose one on the swing.Usually I’ll make eye contact — how much bait is in the fish’s mouth before I make a decision [whether to swing]. I couldn’t see the back side of the baits so I figured they were hooked well.
> “One thing I’ve learned in FL — put those Power-Poles in the dirt. With my muscle memory I hit the trolling motor every 5 seconds. But you have to slow down around those fish. Power-Poles are a big help. I’m not sponsored by them — they just give you so much more boat control.”