Terry Scroggins can walk 500 yards from his San Mateo, Fla., home and take a look at the St. Johns River.
"Look" is the operative word; right now, it's look but don't touch. The fishery is off-limits not only to Scroggins, but to the entire 99-angler Bassmaster Elite Series field until the first practice day for the March 17-20 Power-Pole Citrus Slam out of Palatka, Fla.
"Touch" begins March 14, the start of the event's official practice period. The pros are given three days to break down the fishery and pinpoint the best spots for winning the first prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Then competition will kick off Thursday, March 17, with the entire field, which will cut to 50 after the second day and to 12 for the final round on Sunday, March 20.
Scroggins grew up fishing the St. Johns, a big river system known for its excellent bass population as well as the curious fact that it flows south to north on its 300-mile course to the Atlantic Ocean. He said that even before the Feb. 14 off-limits kicked in, he hadn't fished the river in some time; out-of-town tournaments, including the New Orleans Bassmaster Classic in February, kept Scroggins off the river for months.
"But I live here. This is where I learned how to fish. I already have a good idea of where I'm going to go," said Scroggins, whose St. Johns history includes a win in a 2001 Bassmaster Open and seventh in a 2008 Open.
He said fans can expect to see a lot of fish, and some big fish, in the Power-Pole Citrus Slam if the weather is stable. The tournament hits at the time of a full moon, an influence to spawning bass, and many in the field will be targeting the spawners.
Scroggins pegged a winning weight at 90 to 100 pounds. Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., another Elite pro raised on Sunshine State bass, also predicts triple digits as the high range.
"The St. Johns should be an outstanding tournament," Lane said. "Bass spawn through April or May in Florida, so the weights should be big; it could take 80 to 100 pounds to win it. It should be a phenomenal tournament."
Chunky spawners will be the ticket, but on the tidal St. Johns, the bedding bite gets even trickier.
"The tide will be a factor," Scroggins said. "You could see them on low tide, then come back at high tide and you wouldn't be able to see them. You have fish in 3 feet of water, and you put even another foot and a half on top of them, then it becomes very hard to see them."
The river system includes lakes and canals as well as the main channel, where current throws another variable into the mix. Both Scroggins and Lane said they expect many in the Elite field to target the larger lakes. The most popular lake stops include Rodman the only one that is manmade and is accessed via lock, noted Scroggins as well as Lake George and Crescent Lake.
"Rodman is a good sight-fishing impoundment," he said. "And on Lake George, you'll be able to see them pretty well there. Lake George itself has three springs Salt Springs, Silver Glen and Juniper, where the water is very clear and you can see them. They like that clean water."
Florida experts Lane and Scroggins are two of the biggest guns in the event. In contrast are the field's rookies, including Jonathon VanDam from Kalamazoo, Mich. But he's no stranger to the St. Johns. In fact, he'll be returning to the scene of his first pro-level tournament, a January 2008 Open. He led the second day, but Elite pro Peter Thliveros whacked them on the final day and won with a 55-3 total. VanDam finished third good enough to say he bested both Scroggins (seventh) and Lane (ninth) last time they met on the river system.
"We'll be there when the water is warmer everywhere, so bass will be spawning in more places than in the springs," noted VanDam, who will be competing against his famous uncle during the 2011 Elite season.
The St. Johns event will take place on the heels of the March 10-13 season opener on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes.
Besides $100,000, a prestigious title and a Classic entry, Elite anglers also will be competing in both events for points that count toward winning the season's top prize: the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, worth $100,000. In addition, the top eight pros after the eight regular-season events will advance to the postseason in a winner-take-all, $100,000 contest.
Editor's Note: Bassmaster.com is expanding coverage of Elite Series events to include a live blog (much like the Classic live blog) on Saturdays and Sundays. We will also increase live video updates. More information is coming later this week, including schedules and links, so stay tuned.
Power-Pole Citrus Slam facts:
The March 17-20 launches and weigh-ins are free and open to the public. A full list of fan activities is posted at Bassmaster.com.
Launch time is 7:30 a.m. ET at the Palatka City Docks, Third Street Riverfront, Palatka, FL 32117.
Weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET at Palatka Riverfront Park, located south of the Palatka Memorial Bridge.
On March 17, a St. Patrick's Day parade will take place; on March 18, a concert will follow the weigh-in.
Kids activities include a March 19-20 Kids Zone and casting contest.
On March 19, fans can compete for a chance to win a Yamaha Rhino ATV.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive online coverage. Online features all with free access will include BASSCam video reports, extensive photo galleries and daily stories and standings.
Live video of the weigh-ins, along with real-time leaderboards, will begin on Bassmaster.com at 4 p.m. ET.
"Hooked Up!" with The Bassmasters hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona will be presented throughout the event on Bassmaster.com. (Closer to tournament time, check online for air times.)
The local sponsor is the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
The event's title sponsor is Power-Pole, which also is an Elite Series supporting sponsor.
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Lowrance, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ramada, Luck "E" Strike