Canadian Chris Johnston just misses earning second career Elite Series win

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It was a gut-wrenching end to the '22 Elite Series season for Canadian Chris Johnston.

The Peterborough, Ont., angler just missed earning his second career win Monday. Johnston took a lead of one pound 13 ounces into the final round of the season-ending event on the Mississippi River but had to settle for second, just four ounces behind winner Bryan Schmitt.

Schmitt entered Monday's round in third, two pounds one ounce behind Johnston. But he weighed a five-fish limit of 16 pounds 11 ounces for an overall total of 63 pounds four ounces.

Johnston came in with a limit weighing 14 pounds six ounces, giving him 63 pounds for the event.

"It was a disappointing finish," Johnston said. "Going in, if you'd have given me second I would've taken it but when you're that close you want to win."

Schmitt earned US$100,000 for the victory while Johnston took home $35,000. But what stung more for Johnston was after fishing clean the first three days, he lost several decent fish Monday that he figures would've really helped him.

"I couldn't seem to keep them hooked up on a frog," Johnston said. "It's a topwater bait and you're going to lose the odd one but I had some (hooked) coming to the boat and they popped off. It hurts.

"There's definitely a couple I want back bad but there's nothing I can do."

Johnston was aiming to become the first Canadian to win two Elite Series tournaments. He was the first to do so in 2020 on the St. Lawrence River at Clayton, N.Y.

Last year, Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., became the second, winning at the Tennessee River.

Gustafson was 26th at the Mississippi River while Johnston's brother Cory, of Cavan, Ont., finished 52nd.

Still, it was a strong finish to the '22 season for Chris Johnston. He was second in the final two events of the year (also at South Dakota's Lake Oahe) and sixth on the St. Lawrence River at Clayton.

In fact, after finishing 52nd (on Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina) and 63rd (on Harris Chain in Florida), Johnston was no worse than 20th over the final six tournaments of the year. That allowed him to finish third in the Angler of The Year standings with 700 points behind Americans Brandon Palaniuk (723) and Brandon Lester (707).

Johnston was second overall last year behind American Seth Feider. While the Canadian enters each season aiming for top-angler honours, he'd pretty much given up on that in 2022 following his slow start.

"I thought I'd really screwed it up and wasn't going to have a chance at it this year," he said. "It turns out I did, it's just those first couple of tournaments really cost me.

"Again, one or two lost fish in those tournaments don't seem like much at the time but if I go from finishing 60th to about 30th with a couple of those lost fish, that's all it would've taken. It's amazing how those little things affect you in the end."

While finishing third overall remains a solid accomplishment, Johnston said the impact of lost fish on his '22 campaign will weigh heavily on his mind.

"You're always thinking about it," he said. "Every time it frustrates you, you never want to lose one and I'm never happy about it

"You can't complain about finishing third for Angler of The Year, that's a tough task on its own . . . but always looking back you want to do a little better."

Gustafson was 14th overall (618 points) while Cory Johnston finished 18th (605 points). Once again, all three Canadians qualified to compete in the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic, the series most prestigious tournament that goes March 24-26 in Knoxville, Tenn., on the Tennessee River.

Earlier this year on Lake Hartwell at Greenville, S.C., Chris Johnston was fifth at the Classic. It marked the best-ever finish for a Canadian in the event, topping the eighth-place effort he registered the year before at Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas.

Cory Johnston was tied for 26th while Gustafson was 41st.

The '23 season will begin Feb. 16-19 on Florida's Lake Okeechobee. Johnston said his goal will remain the overall title but he's hoping for a much better start to the campaign.

"It's way easier to start strong so then you could afford to have a couple of bad tournaments later on," he said. "It's harder to dig yourself out of a hole.

"At the start of every year, my goal is to win Angler of The Year because that's the most prestigious trophy . . . it means you were the best all year, the most consistent."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press