Canadian Chris Johnston takes second in final Elite Series event of 2023

CLAYTON, N.Y. — Canadian Chris Johnston fell just short in the season-ending Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence but did claim family bragging rights.

Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., brought in a five-fish limit weighing 25 pounds, 12 ounces for a four-day total of 103 pounds, 12 ounces. That stood up for the tournament lead until American Kyle Welcher, the last competitor to weigh in, had 24 pounds, 10 ounces for an overall total of 105 pounds to relegate Johnston to second spot.

Welcher and Johnston were among four competitors to crack the 100-pound plateau, boosting the overall total to six, which have all been registered here. Last year, Johnston's brother, Cory, became the first competitor to weigh over 100 pounds of smallmouth bass in an Elite Series event.

But American Jay Przekurat became the second and finished two pounds, four ounces ahead of Johnston, who also had to settle for second. However, Chris Johnston's total weight was heavier than his brother's.

Cory Johnston finished sixth overall with 96 pounds after registering a weight of 23 pounds, 14 ounces Sunday. Johnston's final placing was solid considering he stood 51st overall in the 102-competitor field after a windy first day.

But Cory Johnston's strong finish meant little to his brother.

"It's music to my ears, he'll never hear the end of it," Chris Johnston said. "To be honest, he messed up on Day 1 and really cost himself.

"He didn't go out to (Lake Ontario) and he won't live that one down, either. He needed to put his big-boy pants on and go out in big waves."

Given his start to the tournament, Cory Johnson was content with his finish.

"It was a great week, minus the first day," he said. "(On Sunday) I went out fishing and caught them the way I like to catch them.

"I had a blast and caught a ton of fish and saw a bunch of big ones. I was just glad to be here on Championship Sunday."

But Chris Johnston sensed Sunday he didn't quite have enough weight to secure a second career Elite Series win.

"We had a little bit of everything this week," he said. "We had wind, we had some rain, we had north wind, which changes the bite on these fish and they usually don't bite as well.

"But these guys are good anglers and they all caught them. I figured I needed 27, 28 pounds to have a chance."

In 2020, Chris Johnston became the first Canadian to win an Elite Series tournament, finishing with a four-day total of 97 pounds, eight ounces on the St. Lawrence River. And for years, the general consensus was the Johnstons had a huge advantage on the St. Lawrence and the adjoining area given they've spent a lot of time in this fishery.

But Chris Johnston said the times are certainly changing.

"I was thinking on the drive back in that it's getting harder and harder to win this event," he said. "I had a huge advantage seven, eight years ago, I used to catch them all shallow and they were like my pets.

"I could basically name them and go catch all of these shallow ones. Now they've changed, they've gone offshore and then Livescope came out and it really levelled the playing field for everyone on this lake. There's not really any secret spots left, everyone has the same bait, the same technology."

Series rookie Cooper Gallant, of Bowmanville, Ont., reached Saturday's round before finishing 18th overall with 67 pounds, 14 ounces.

Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., who earlier this year became the first Canadian to win the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic, finished 51st. He just missed qualifying for Saturday's round as the top-50 competitors advanced.

The Johnstons and Gallant all finished in the top-40 of the overall standings to earn berths in next year's Classic, pro bass fishing's premiere tournament. Gustafson, as the defending champion, received an automatic spot into the event.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 27, 2023.

The Canadian Press