CLAYTON, N.Y. - Consistency helped Canadian Chris Johnston capture a historic SiteOne Bassmaster Elite tournament victory.
Johnston, 31, posted a final five-fish limit of 22 pounds 12 ounces Sunday for a four-day total of 97 pounds eight ounces at Clayton, N.Y. Johnston not only captured his first career Bassmaster Elite victory but became the first Canadian to win an Elite Series event.
"This has been a crazy year fishing-wise for me; I had two of the worst tournaments probably in my career and to bounce back and win on the St. Lawrence, of all places, is just incredible," said Johnston, who finished 71st and 59th in the first two Elite Series events this year. "I've wanted a big tournament win on the St. Lawrence River bad, and it finally came together.
"I’ve watched Bassmaster my whole life and even if you’d asked me three or four years ago, I didn't think I'd be here in this position. It's been surreal. I can't even describe how cool it feels."
The tournament was originally scheduled for Waddington, N.Y., but was relocated to Clayton (about 105 kilometres southwest) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the event was held in Waddington, competitors were relegated to fishing the St. Lawrence River — a noted trophy smallmouth bass fishery — but with Clayton being located at the river mouth, anglers also had the option of fishing the American side of Lake Ontario (Canadian waters are off-limits).
Johnston captured the historic victory in dramatic fashion. After trailing Paul Mueller through each of the first three rounds, Johnson successfully managed swells of nearly three metres on Lake Ontario to surpass his American rival on the final day and secure the US$100,000 winner's prize.
Johnston also earned some redemption. He led this event last year for three days before settling for second.
"The biggest thing with the weather is just getting to your spot," Johnston said. "Once I got there, I just went upwind and drifted into the spot and then held on the spot as long as I could.
"Then I'd blow off the spot and do another drift. Finishing second last year makes this win all that much sweeter. I can't wait to get home and celebrate with family and friends."
Mueller took a two-pound, three-ounce lead into Sunday's final round. He brought in a five-fish limit for the fourth straight day but it weighed 18 pounds 15 ounces — his first of the week under 20 pounds — to leave him second overall at 95 pounds 14 ounces.
Johnston's older brother, Cory, also qualified for Sunday's final. The 35-year-old resident of Cavan, Ont., had a five-fish limit weighing 16 pounds seven ounces to finish seventh overall at 80 pounds nine ounces and claim $15,000.
Chris Johnston was the only competitor in the 86-angler field to weigh over 20 pounds each day. And for the second time in the tournament, Johnston finished with the big fish of the day (four pounds 13 ounces) to secure an additional $2,000 in prize money.
Johnston is in his second season on the Bassmaster Elite circuit, which is the top level of pro bass fishing. He qualified for last year's Bassmaster Classic, the loop’s premier competition.
Prior to joining the Bassmaster ranks, Johnston also competed in the Fishing League Worldwide (2016-18). A full-time angler, Johnston registered 21 top-10 finishes in 65 career FLW tournaments, including his first win 2018, and amassed nearly $500,000 in overall purse money.
The third Canadian in the field, Jeff Gustafson, of Keewatin, Ont., didn't qualify for the final. His five-fish weight Saturday was 18 pounds 11 ounces, giving him 58 pounds three ounces to finish 12th overall and earn $12,000.
Gustafson missed out securing the 10th and final berth into Sunday's round by just one pound 10 ounces.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2020.