Historic achievement is nice, but Johnston still in search of first Elite Series win

·5 min read

It wasn't quite enough to secure Cory Johnston his first Elite Series victory, but the Canadian will forever own a piece of circuit history.

The Cavan, Ont., angler became the first competitor to weigh over 100 pounds of smallmouth bass Sunday in the Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, N.Y.

Moments later, though, American rookie Jay Przekurat became the second to finish two pounds, four ounces ahead of Johnston and leave the Canadian still in search of his first circuit victory.

Johnston's final five-fish limit weighed a whopping 28 pounds eight ounces to push his four-day total to a historic 100 pounds eight ounces. But Przekurat came in with 25 pounds eight ounces to secure his first Series title and the US$100,000 winner's cheque with 102 pounds nine ounces.

"I mean, it's great to make the century club but you still don't have that title," Johnston said. "I knew what Jay had (Sunday) so I knew I wasn't going to win.

"I knew I didn't have a chance unless I got 30 pounds. But it was a fun day, for sure. I did all I could do (Sunday)."

Johnston said while he lost a big fish Sunday, he doesn't believe it would've changed the outcome.

"I don't know if it was five or five-and-a-half pounds, it was hard to tell," he said. "But a best-case scenario was it would've put me to 29 pounds."

Johnston figures what cost him the tournament were two separate mechanical problems Saturday. First, he had issues with his Livescope, an electronic device that provides readings in live time of what's under and around the boat.

After getting that fixed, Johnston broke a cable on his trolling motor that again forced him off the water. Johnston posted his lowest weight of the tournament Saturday (21 pounds, five ounces), dropping from second to eighth overall heading into the final day.

In 2019, mechanical problems forced Johnston to borrow a boat during the first day of this event. Despite catching 22 pounds five ounces, Johnston didn't realize the electronics weren't reset to daylight time and received a seven-pound penalty after arriving to the weigh-in seven minutes late.

Despite rallying on the second day, Johnston missed the Day 3 cut by two ounces, costing him about $10,000. He also ended the season third in the overall standings, just eight points out of first.

"Those mechanical issues on Day 3 cost me again," Johnston said. "They probably cost me three hours of fishing time . . . it was a nightmare of a day."

Still, Johnston earned $38,000 for his second-place finish, including $1,000 for Sunday's biggest fish (six pounds one ounce) and $2,000 for the largest single-day weight. All while still recovering from a bout of bacterial pneumonia — an inflammation of the lungs — that landed Johnston in hospital in June.

"I'm probably at 75 per cent," he said. "I had a week where it was not fun by any means."

Taking some of the sting away from Sunday's disappointment was having family and friends in the stands. When Johnston arrived at the final weigh-in, he did so with his four-year-old son, Jack.

"That was nice," he said. "Having family, friends and sponsors there to cheer us on was special because they haven't been able to come for a few years."

Johnston has experienced success on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, winning the Bassmaster Northern Open there last September. He had a three-day total of 78 pounds — including 27 pounds six ounces on the final day — to finish ahead of Cal Climpson, also of Cavan (77 pounds three ounces) while Cooper Gallant of Bowmanville, Ont., who led after the second day, was fourth.

Johnston's brother, Chris, of Peterborough Ont., — who won the '20 Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence to become the circuit's first Canadian winner — finished sixth (98 pounds, one ounce) Sunday. Jeff Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., qualified for the third round and was 23rd overall.

But having two anglers amass over 100 pounds was further evidence of just how good the St. Lawrence River/Lake Ontario smallmouth fishery is. A total of 1,185 smallmouths were caught with anglers in each round netting a five-fish limit.

Helping matters immensely was fabulous weather and low winds, which allowed many anglers — the Johnstons included — to easily run-and-gun vast distances to various spots without having to fight huge waves.

"You'll never get four days like that in a row in a tournament again," Johnston said. "I've been on it at its best and worst and to get four days like that where you can pretty much run wide open wherever you want, that doesn't happen.

"The fishery is good but it's not as good as it used to be. It's just the fishermen are getting better and they know where to go to catch them. With Livescope and stuff, it makes the guys who aren't great good because all they have to do is go around and Livescope them. The fish are getting bigger but there's not as many as there used to be."

Johnston won't have time to relax. He'll attend ICAST 22, the world's largest sportfishing trade show, in Florida this week, then return home to fish two Ontario tournaments before completing the Elite Series campaign at South Dakota's Lake Oahe (Aug. 18-21) and Mississippi River (Aug. 26-29).

"Winning one of those would be perfect," he said.

Johnston stands ninth in the overall standings, 121 points behind leader Brandon Palaniuk of the U.S. Chris Johnston is seventh (502 points) while Gustafson is 18th (463).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 18, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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