Canadians Chris and Cory Johnston proving to be a winning combination as a team

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Individually, Chris Johnston and his older brother, Cory, are serious contenders on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit.

Together, the Canadians are even tougher to beat.

The Johnstons have fished four team events this season -- three in Ontario, another in the U.S. -- winning two. They captured the Sturgeon Bay Open bass tournament on Lake Michigan in May for the third time before winning a Competitive Sport Fishing League (CSFL) event on Balsam Lake in southern Ontario last month.

That's over and above competing in eight Elite Series events this year in the U.S., including the prestigious US$1-million Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas, last month.

Certainly, team competitions add to an already busy fishing schedule. But Chris Johnston always welcomes an opportunity to join forces with his brother.

"We fish the same way so that makes a big difference because I know if he goes to check something he does a good job," Johnston said. "One guy can throw one bait and the other guy throws something else and once you dial it in, you go with that.

"We fish very similar because we grew up fishing together."

The rewards aren't bad, either.

The Sturgeon Bay event offered a US$5,000 cash prize and new boat valued at $38,995, which was put up for sale given both Canadians already have their own. The Johnstons earned about $15,000 for capturing the Balsam Lake competition.

With the '21 Elite Series nearing completion -- just two more tournaments remain -- Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., said he and his brother are planning to join forces in more team events once the Bassmaster season ends.

The Elite Series campaign resumes Thursday on Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh, N.Y. The final event goes July 15-18 on the St. Lawrence River at Waddington, N.Y.

Those tournaments will determine who finishes atop the Elite Series standings and claims the US$100,000 bonus. American Seth Feider (602 points) currently leads with Chris Johnston fourth (541 points), five spots ahead of Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ont. (514 points). Jeff Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., is currently 45th overall but just 28 points behind American David Mullins for No. 39.

The top-39 finishers qualify for the 2022 Bassmaster Classic.

The final two events are on prime smallmouth bass waters. That's good news for the Canadians, as that's a dominant species in Ontario and one all three are intimately familiar with.

Chris Johnston won the '20 Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence, although it was held in Clayton, N.Y. Johnston became the first Canadian to win an Elite Series tournament with Gustafson following suit earlier this year.

"It's still fishing, you can't count your winnings until it's over," Chris Johnston said. "I'm confident going there, that's the nice thing.

"They're not new bodies of water, I know what to look for so I am really excited and looking forward to these last two events. I like both, they're really world-class fisheries and it's just fun to go there. When you've been to these places before and kind of have a good idea of what to expect, it gives you an advantage."

Johnston admits he'll need help to win angler-of-the-year honours but adds what he does control is trying to cap a solid '21 season with a strong finish. And when the circuit heads to the St. Lawrence River, Mother Nature will also have a hand in determining how he defends his title.

"Last year, we were 20 minutes to Lake Ontario and that's where I fished because there's some bigger fish and easier ones to catch out there," Johnston said. "This year being out of Waddington, N.Y., it's going to be about 1 1/2 hours to Lake Ontario by boat.

"If it's flat calm you could do it every day. But if you get wind, your 1 1/2-hour run can turn into three hours to get there and you don't have enough time. I'll practise both the lake and river and try to have all of those bases covered."

Johnston heads to Lake Champlain following a historic fourth-place effort in last month's Classic. Not only was Johnston's finish the best-ever in the event by a Canadian, he was one of three Canucks to make the tournament final with Cory Johnston (11th overall) and Gustafson (21st).

The previous-best finish by a Canadian was 31st in 2016 by Ottawa’s Charles Sim.

"I'm definitely happy with it but I'm one of those guys who's competitive and always wants to do better," Johnston said. "Going into it, you say a top-10 would be nice but once you're there you want to have a shot at winning it.

"I did have a chance of winning it going into the third day, which is all you can ask. It just didn't line up for me but I have that drive and next year I want to do better at the Classic. It just makes me want it more."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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