Greg Hackney zigged when other anglers zagged and caught a five-fish limit Friday weighing 18 pounds, 1 ounce to take the second round lead of the Bassmaster Elite Series stop at the St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla.
By daring to be a little different, Hackney, of Gonzales, jumped into the overall lead with a two-day total of 39-6. Florida pro and local favorite Terry Scroggins is second with 38-8, followed by Alabamian Jordan Lee with 38-7 and South Carolina angler Marty Robinson with 38-5.
“I’m fishing spawning fish for sure,” Hackney said. “I’m not necessarily looking at all of them, but I know they’re bedding or guarding fry or something.
“I caught a couple of rats (small fish) that I was looking at. But I caught all of the good ones just fishing.”
Hackney, a 13-time qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic, the 2014 Bassmaster Angler of the Year and host of Sportsman TV, is one of the more secretive competitors on the Elite Series.
With plenty of fishing left, he wouldn’t say which lures he’s been using. But he did say he changed areas from Thursday to Friday — and will probably make another change for Saturday’s semifinal round.
“Today, I went back to the place I fished (Thursday) and caught a bunch of fish, but they were small,” Hackney said. “I’m just having to run new water. I caught them one place yesterday, a different place today, and I’ve about decided I’m going to do something totally different tomorrow.”
With the spring spawning run in full swing, lots of beds are visible in the clear waters of the St. Johns fishery. The bass are easier to see when the conditions are calm and sunny — and for that reason, many anglers in the field are hoping for bright sunshine Saturday.
Since Hackney isn’t sight fishing, he said the conditions won’t matter to him.
“I don’t care one way or another,” he said. “I would just as soon it be cloudy and windy and rainy. Why not?
“If people can’t see them, it cuts down on the fishing pressure.”
After getting off to what some considered a slow start with 16-14 Thursday, Scroggins rebounded Friday with a nice five-bass limit that weighed 21-10. His knowledge of the fishery and how it’s influenced by the tidal pull of the Atlantic Ocean seemed to have keyed his comeback.
Scroggins has been starting south of the takeoff site at Palatka City Dock and fishing just long enough to let the tide get right before moving north. He’s been catching big spawning bass on an unspecified topwater lure.
“When you go up the river, the tide really affects the water levels,” Scroggins said. “If you go south to Lake George, it doesn’t affect you that much. But if you go north, it’s got to be a low tide before you can see.”
Scroggins’ two-day weight of 38-8 was an ounce better than that of Lee, who finished Friday’s round with a flourish. He caught his biggest fish of the day — a 6-pound largemouth — with less than 10 minutes left before he had to return for the weigh-in.
“I saw one up there on a bed, and I thought it was a 3- or 4-pounder,” Lee said. “So I used my push pole and kind of backed off a little bit.
“I pitched over there a couple of times and missed it at first. But then I set the hook, and it was on.”
The big fish helped Lee cull a smaller one that he said weighed only about a pound and kept the 24-year-old angler within striking distance of his first career win with B.A.S.S.
The field was trimmed to the Top 51 anglers for Saturday’s second round, with only the Top 12 advancing to Sunday’s championship finale. The winner will receive $100,000.
Hackney also earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for leading on the second day.
For the complete leaderboard, click here.