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Canadian Cory Johnston moving up Bassmaster Elite overall standings


The break in the Bassmasters Elite tournament schedule comes at a good time for Cory Johnston.

The Cavan, Ont., resident is coming off three straight final-day appearances, including a second-place finish Sunday at Lake St. Clair in Michigan. That's moved Johnston to 13th in the overall standings after placing 71st and 68th in the season's first two events.

But after spending countless hours on the road and covering water, Johnston is thankful for some down time with his wife Kerrilee, who's expecting their second child in October, and two-year-old son Jack.

The sixth of the nine Elite events goes Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro, Ala.

"The body is sore and I'm worn out," Johnston said during a telephone interview. "We have a few local tournaments that we'll fish but I'm going to take a break and spend a little time with the family then get ready for the next one."

Johnston, 35, is in his second Bassmasters Elite series season and is one of three Canadians on the circuit. The others are Johnston's younger brother, Chris, of Peterborough, Ont., and Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Ont.

All three qualified for the Bassmasters Classic, the Series' championship event, last year and remain in contention to make a second straight appearance. Chris Johnston is 23rd overall with Gustafson standing No. 33.

The top 39 anglers qualify for the Classic, slated for Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas, March 19-21, 2021.

Bassmaster Elite events begin with more than 80 anglers. The top 40 through the first two days advance to the next round, with the top 10 qualifying for the final day.

Tournament winners receive US$100,000, with the second-place finisher securing $25,000. Third place is worth $20,000 with fourth through 10th earning $15,000.

Anglers also receive points based upon their finish that go towards qualifying for the Classic.

After the Series began with tournaments in Florida and Alabama, it switched to three events in the northern U.S. (two in New York, the other in Michigan), where giant smallmouth bass swim. That was certainly in the Johnstons' wheelhouse as they grew up in Peterborough, part of a region that features solid smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing.

"When we get to fish those waters, we really understand that kind of stuff, especially the smallmouth fisheries," Cory Johnston said. "Many of those guys down south don't get to experience the northern smallmouth fishing.

"So in my opinion we have kind of a big advantage as far as versatility goes."

Johnston certainly made the most of it. He was seventh at the St. Lawrence River stop July 26 — where Chris Johnston became the first Canadian to win an Elite event — and ninth Aug. 2 at Lake Champlain before finishing second Sunday.

"That one stung a bit," Johnston said. "I had opportunities (to win) Sunday, I lost multiple fish but that's just part of it."

After landing all 50 fish he hooked Saturday, Johnston said he lost seven quality smallmouth Sunday. That was crucial as Johnston finished just eight ounces behind winner Bill Weidler.

"The way we were fishing, we were using forward-facing sonar where you can see the fish way out in front of the boat," Johnston said. "It allows you to cast to them without the boat being near and they bite almost immediately when you can do that.

"They were spooky Sunday, they weren't taking your bait right away and just nibbling at it. There's nothing you can do about that."

Johnston knows some of the fish he lost were keepers.

"With that (sonar), you can tell how big the fish is when you see it," he said. "So you can say, 'That looks like a two-pounder, or you see one and you go, 'that's a four-, five-pounder.'

"There were definitely multiple big ones I lost. But, again, that's part of it."

So Chris Johnston still owns family bragging rights, but Cory Johnston remains confident his time will come.

"He's got me in the win column and money this year," he said. "But I'm beating him in (overall standings) and that's my goal throughout the rest of the year.

"We're competitors through and through. It doesn't matter if it's fishing, hockey, cards, whatever, it's always a competition and there's usually some money on the line. There's no doubt I'll win one, it's just a matter of time and we'll keep grinding it out until that happens."

Johnston has been a consistent Elite Series performer. He's finished in the money in 18 of 20 career events and has 10 top-10 results, amassing earnings of $242,357.

Before joining the Elite Series, Johnston competed on the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) circuit. He claimed three victories and 16 top-10 finishes in 67 career events, earning $416,133.

Not bad considering Johnston gave up a full-time job at Hydro One to become a professional angler. But the Johnstons come by their passion honestly as their father, Lynn, fished competitively in Ontario.

"It's something I always wanted," Johnston said. "When I was young I'd watch Bassmasters on television and my dad fished at a high level but back then a Canadian going to the U.S. wasn't even talked or thought about.

"I always told my mom and dad I was going to fish for a living . . . when the opportunity came I jumped on it and haven't looked back."

When the Elite Series resumes, so too will the grind for Johnston.

"Down south in late summer and early fall, the fishing is not good," he said. "It's hot, it's probably the worst time to be fishing down there.

"It's going to be just grinding it out trying to get five bites a day and just surviving. I'm just looking to make four top-20s in the next four events, I'd be happy with that."

Regardless of the body of water, Johnston said the key to success remains the same.

"It's long hours on the water during pre-fish," he said. "Pre-fish is everything, it's where you formulate a gameplan.

"You're up at 5 a.m. and get off the water at 9 p.m. They're long days, it's not fun. It's gruelling, it's hot, it can be raining. But that's what it takes to do well . . . just putting in the time on the water."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press