Crews Grinds Through Tough Day To Retain Bassmaster Elite Lead On St. Johns

Fighting through a painfully slow morning, John Crews of Salem, Va., capitalized on the afternoon bite and caught a limit of 17 pounds, 3 ounces to retain his lead in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River with a two-day total of 45-3.

After posting a Day 1 limit of 28 pounds, Crews edged Bob Downey of Hudson, Wis., by 12 ounces. On Friday, Crews greatly improved his position and will head into Saturday’s semifinal round with a 9-13 lead over Elite Series rookie Masayuki Matsushita of Tokoname-Aichi, Japan.

A telling moment that bespoke the attitude driving Crews’ decisions came midmorning when Crews’ cameraman asked if he had a target weight.

“I never do that; I want to catch as much as I can,” Crews said. “If you say, ‘I’ll be okay if I get 15,’ or, ‘I’ll be okay if I get 18,’ if you reach that, you might take your foot off the gas.

“Early on in my career, I settled more than I should have in a tournament, instead of going for the kill. Whether I finish first, second, 12th, 15th or whatever, I’m going to try to catch every fish I can catch.”

Despite high-pressure, postfrontal conditions, Crews did not take his foot off the gas Friday. Retracing his Day 1 game plan, he returned to Rodman Reservoir, where he threw a jerkbait and a drop shot. Rigged with a prototype Missile Baits worm, the latter produced all of his Rodman catches.

By the time he left Rodman at 1 p.m., Crews had only a small limit of 10-9 that he anchored with a 4-pounder. The reservoir was much more productive on Day 1, as Crews locked out with a 24-pound bag that included an 8-1.

“I got very fortunate to catch the bag that I caught yesterday, but I made some good adjustments today,” he said.

Specifically, he fished his way out of the Rodman canal and spent the rest of his afternoon targeting shallow cover on the main river. His afternoon effort allowed him to make three upgrades with a 4 1/2-pounder, a 4 and a 2.

Crews caught his main-river fish on a 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a Missile Baits D Bomb in the bruiser (black/blue) color. While the bulky 4-inch creature bait is typically used for flipping and pitching presentations, Crews said the D Bomb proved appealing to the quality bass he needed.

“It’s a big profile and when the (ChatterBait’s) blade is vibrating, the whole tail portion of it kicks and it looks big,” Crews said. “These big fish are used to eating bream and crappie. If you throw the little stuff, you can catch some fish, but I like the bigger stuff.”

Crews’ most notable catch came around 2:35 when a fish bit and missed his bait. He threw back to the same spot and again missed a bite. On his third cast to the spot, he caught his largest fish of the day.

“I think it was the same fish,” Crews said. “Sometimes, they just get mad that they missed it.”

Crews said he’s unsure if he will return to Rodman on Day 3. After Friday’s flat calm conditions seemed to hinder the bite, he said he needs wind to stimulate the fish. If Saturday looks windy, he’ll go; if not, he’ll work his main-river spots.

Matsushita caught nearly twice what he caught on Day 1 and improved from 41st place to second with a two-day total of 35-6. Spending his day in the main river, Matsushita bolstered his Day 1 weight of 12-1 with 23-5 — the day’s heaviest catch.

“I fished all shallow water; 3 to 5 feet,” he said. “I got bites all day. I caught two big ones in the morning and when the (sun shined brightly) I caught three big bites.”

Matsushita caught all of his bass on a free rig — a Texas-rigged worm with a tear drop weight hanging from his line. He used a 3/16-ounce weight and a Zoom Magnum Finesse worm in junebug and redbug colors.

Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., added 13-5 to his Day 1 limit of 22 pounds and remained in third place with 35-5. Returning to the Rodman canal, Blaylock caught most of his fish on a wacky-rigged watermelon red Yum finesse worm.

Blaylock caught one of his keepers on a Booyah Hard Knocker lipless bait. While the reaction bait played a bigger role on Day 1, he was unable to replicate that success Friday.

“I went through the whole area with moving baits and never got a single bite,” Blaylock said. “It never did feel right and then once I started picking up finesse, I started catching one here, one there. I just knew right off the bat that, as soon as I got the first one, this is what it’s going to take to get bites today.

“I kept the other stuff honest throughout the day, but it just wasn’t working.”

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.

Crews leads the VMC Monster Bag standings for the event’s heaviest limit with his 28-pound first-round bag.

The Top 47 remaining anglers will take off at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday from Palatka City Docks. The weigh-in will be held at Palatka Riverfront Park at 3:30 p.m., with only the Top 10 pros advancing to Championship Sunday with a chance at the $100,000 first-place prize.

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

The tournament is being hosted by the Putnam County Tourist Development Council and Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.