By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor


Robbie Latuso didn't post a finish higher than 30th in his first two years on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He has a great chance to far exceed that mark this week in the 2019 season opener at the St. Johns River in Florida.

The 52-year-old Louisianan caught a 25-02 stringer to pace the 75-angler field. Veterans John Crews (24-13) and Mark Menendez (24-08) will be right behind him to start day 2, with rookie Brad Whatley (23-04) less than 2 pounds back. Micah Frazier rounds out the top 5 with 22-08.

The remainder of the initial top 10 also exceeded the 20-pound threshold. That group consists of David Mullins (21-06), brothers Chris and Cory Johnston (21-05 and 21-01, respectively), Drew Benton (20-10) and Shane Lehew (20-08).

With the Sunshine State in the midst of a warm-weather trend, the giant bass the state is renowned for are emerging from their doldrums. Crews caught an 11-pounder, Menendez had one just shy of 10 and Latuso scaled two that were in the 8-pound class.

Local ace Cliff Prince got off to a solid start with an 18-03 stringer. The 71-year-old Rick Clunn, who triumphed the last time the circuit visited the St. Johns in 2016, is 23rd with 17-05.

Former Bassmaster Classic champion and B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Jay Yelas, competing in his first tournament with the organization in 13 years, is 36th with 13-04. Clark Wendlandt, also back with B.A.S.S. following a long stint as an FLW pro, sacked 14-04 and sits in 28th.

A lot of visibly spawning fish were caught on day 1 despite water that's significantly tannic in a lot of places and difficult to see through. Latuso, Menendez and Whatley said they didn't sight-fish at all and Crews caught only a couple of his smallest specimens while employing that tactic.

Day 2 will again bring air temperatures in the 80-degree range, which should entice more big female largemouths to move toward shallow water. A storm front is expected to move in for the weekend, though, bringing much cooler temperatures, clouds and considerably stronger winds.

The field will be reduced to the top 35 after Friday's weigh-in. Only the top 10 will advance to Sunday's final round.

Latuso, who finished 88th on last year's points list and 107th as a rookie in 2017, said he found the fish he exploited during Tuesday's final practice round. In one pass through the area that day he caught 4 that weighed over 4 pounds, then quit setting the hook and had four additional bites that seemed to be the same caliber.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

John Crews' 11-02 bruiser took big-fish honors on day 1.

"I knew it had potential and I felt like there'd be more fish coming to it to spawn," he said. "I didn't know what I could catch, but I felt like I could have a pretty good day.

"I think they might be bedding fish, but I can't see them because the water's too tannic and too deep. They could be just setting up, though, because none of them had bloody tails."

In addition to his 8 1/2, he boxed a 6-pounder and a trio of 3 1/2s. He lost one that he estimated at over 5.

He didn't have to share his water he said a couple of anglers pulled in during the day, but departed within 5 minutes.

"There should be more fish there I'm pretty sure I didn't catch them all. Hopefully more will come in.

"I don't know if I can catch 25 pounds again, but I'm pretty sure I can catch something."

Crews said he had no inkling that he'd catch a bag that was just a few ounces shy of the 25-pound mark.

"The only thing I had in mind was it's Florida and crazy things can happen really fast," he said. "I've seen it way too many times and I just tried to stay positive. I only caught five keepers all day and those were what I weighed in.

He caught the giant during the middle portion of the day. He hooked it on spinning gear and it gave him a major tussle.

"It was all over the place. I felt like I fought it for 5 minutes, but I can safely say it was over a minute. It got way up under some trees, then into the grass, then it came out and I thought it was going to get around some poles but I was able to keep it away from those.

"It finally went under the boat and just kind of gave up."

Menendez said his initial day of practice was his only good day, but he parlayed what he discovered then into his heavyweight opening-round stringer. He's approaching the St. Johns the way he always does, even though the system now contains almost no eel grass due to recent weather events in the region.

"It's a gathering I catch one here and one there," he said. "I caught the big one about noon-ish and then I quit fishing for them and got out of there.

"I think I'm set up where there should be more fish coming down through there. When I find what I'm looking for, I can almost guarantee that I'm going to get a bite."

Whatley, a 39-year-old, first-year pro who qualified for the Elites via a runner-up finish on last year's Central Opens points list, spent half of his day in one area where he'd gotten a couple of decent bites in practice. His bag was topped by a fish that pushed 8 pounds.

He shared the place with two other competitors and thinks there are more fish to be caught there. He didn't lose any bites that would've aided his cause.

Notable

> Day 1 stats 75 anglers, 57 limits, 6 fours, 5 threes, 4 twos, 1 one, 2 zeroes.

Weather Forecast

> Fri., Feb. 8 Partly Cloudy - 81/53
- Wind: From the WNW at 4 mph

> Sat., Feb. 9 Cloudy - 66/56
- Wind: From the NNE at 15 mph

> Sun., Feb. 10 Showers - 71/58
- Wind: From the ENE at 11 mph

Day 1 Standings

1. Robbie Latuso -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 25-02 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 25-02

2. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 5, 24-13 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 24-13

3. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 5, 24-08 -- 98
Day 1: 5, 24-08

4. Brad Whatley -- Bivins, TX -- 5, 23-04 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 23-04

5. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 5, 22-08 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 22-08

6. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 5, 21-06 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 21-06

7. Chris Johnston -- Peterborough, ON -- 5, 21-05 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 21-05

8. Cory Johnston -- Cavan, ON -- 5, 21-01 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 21-01

9. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 5, 20-10 -- 92
Day 1: 5, 20-10

10. Shane Lehew -- Catawba, NC -- 5, 20-08 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 20-08

11. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 5, 19-13 -- 90
Day 1: 5, 19-13

12. Lee Livesay -- Longview, TX -- 5, 19-12 -- 89
Day 1: 5, 19-12

13. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 5, 19-07 -- 88
Day 1: 5, 19-07

14. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 19-03 -- 87
Day 1: 5, 19-03

15. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 5, 19-02 -- 86
Day 1: 5, 19-02

16. Kelley Jaye -- Dadeville, AL -- 5, 18-14 -- 85
Day 1: 5, 18-14

17. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 5, 18-08 -- 84
Day 1: 5, 18-08

18. Rob Digh -- Denver, NC -- 5, 18-03 -- 83
Day 1: 5, 18-03

18. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 5, 18-03 -- 83
Day 1: 5, 18-03

20. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 5, 17-08 -- 81
Day 1: 5, 17-08

20. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 5, 17-08 -- 81
Day 1: 5, 17-08

22. Bernie Schultz -- Gainesville, FL -- 5, 17-07 -- 79
Day 1: 5, 17-07

23. Rick Clunn -- Ava, MO -- 5, 17-05 -- 78
Day 1: 5, 17-05

24. Derek Hudnall -- Baton Rouge, LA -- 5, 17-02 -- 77
Day 1: 5, 17-02

25. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 5, 16-13 -- 76
Day 1: 5, 16-13

26. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 5, 16-00 -- 75
Day 1: 5, 16-00

27. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 5, 14-13 -- 74
Day 1: 5, 14-13

28. Clark Wendlandt -- Leander, TX -- 4, 14-04 -- 73
Day 1: 4, 14-04

29. Koby Kreiger -- Alva, FL -- 5, 14-03 -- 72
Day 1: 5, 14-03

30. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 5, 13-15 -- 71
Day 1: 5, 13-15

31. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 5, 13-11 -- 70
Day 1: 5, 13-11

32. Dale Hightower -- Mannford, OK -- 5, 13-10 -- 69
Day 1: 5, 13-10

33. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 5, 13-08 -- 68
Day 1: 5, 13-08

34. Quentin Cappo -- Prairieville, LA -- 5, 13-07 -- 67
Day 1: 5, 13-07

34. Shane Lineberger -- Lincolnton, NC -- 5, 13-07 -- 67
Day 1: 5, 13-07

36. Jay Yelas -- Lincoln City, OR -- 5, 13-04 -- 65
Day 1: 5, 13-04

37. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 5, 12-15 -- 64
Day 1: 5, 12-15

38. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 5, 12-12 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 12-12

38. Jesse Tacoronte -- Kissimmee, FL -- 5, 12-12 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 12-12

40. Garrett Paquette -- Canton, MI -- 5, 12-10 -- 61
Day 1: 5, 12-10

41. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 5, 12-09 -- 60
Day 1: 5, 12-09

41. Bill Weidler -- Helena, AL -- 5, 12-09 -- 60
Day 1: 5, 12-09

43. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 5, 12-00 -- 58
Day 1: 5, 12-00

44. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 5, 11-15 -- 57
Day 1: 5, 11-15

45. Ed Loughran III -- Richmond, VA -- 4, 11-15 -- 56
Day 1: 4, 11-15

46. Yusuke Miyazaki -- Forney, TX -- 4, 11-13 -- 55
Day 1: 4, 11-13

47. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 11-08 -- 54
Day 1: 5, 11-08

48. Gary Clouse -- Winchester, TN -- 5, 11-07 -- 53
Day 1: 5, 11-07

49. Tyler Carriere -- Youngsville, LA -- 5, 11-06 -- 52
Day 1: 5, 11-06

50. Brett Preuett -- Monroe, LA -- 5, 11-05 -- 51
Day 1: 5, 11-05

51. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 5, 11-02 -- 50
Day 1: 5, 11-02

52. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 5, 10-15 -- 49
Day 1: 5, 10-15

53. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 5, 10-13 -- 48
Day 1: 5, 10-13

54. Chad Morgenthaler -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 4, 10-10 -- 47
Day 1: 4, 10-10

55. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 5, 10-03 -- 46
Day 1: 5, 10-03

56. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 5, 10-00 -- 45
Day 1: 5, 10-00

57. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 5, 09-08 -- 44
Day 1: 5, 09-08

58. Harvey Horne -- Bella Vista, AR -- 4, 09-05 -- 43
Day 1: 4, 09-05

59. Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 5, 08-13 -- 42
Day 1: 5, 08-13

60. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 3, 08-11 -- 41
Day 1: 3, 08-11

61. Frank Talley -- Temple, TX -- 4, 08-10 -- 40
Day 1: 4, 08-10

62. Tyler Rivet -- Raceland, LA -- 5, 08-01 -- 39
Day 1: 5, 08-01

63. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 5, 08-00 -- 38
Day 1: 5, 08-00

64. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 3, 07-13 -- 37
Day 1: 3, 07-13

65. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 2, 07-13 -- 36
Day 1: 2, 07-13

66. Kyle Monti -- Okeechobee, FL -- 5, 07-08 -- 35
Day 1: 5, 07-08

67. Carl Jocumsen -- Queensland, AUS 3 -- 07-05 -- 34
Day 1: 3, 07-05

68. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 3, 06-05 -- 33
Day 1: 3, 06-05

69. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin, ON 2 -- 06-05 -- 32
Day 1: 2, 06-05

70. Chris Groh -- Spring Grove, IL -- 3, 05-12 -- 31
Day 1: 3, 05-12

71. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 1, 05-02 -- 30
Day 1: 1, 05-02

72. Randy Pierson -- Oakdale, CA -- 2, 04-09 -- 29
Day 1: 2, 04-09

73. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 2, 02-04 -- 28
Day 1: 2, 02-04

74. David Fritts -- Lexington, NC -- 0, 00-00 -- 0
Day 1: 0, 00-00

74. Randy Sullivan -- Breckenridge, TX -- 0, 00-00 -- 0
Day 1: 0, 00-00