By BassFan Staff

Chris Johnston has been the leader entering the final day of a multi-day tournament numerous times. This one is different, though. It's a four-day marathon against the best of the best and he's one day away from sewing up the biggest win of his career.

He's just not sure he can do it.

"I really want to win one of these," he said, referring to the Harris Chain FLW Tour, where stayed atop the leaderboard with a 16-12 stringer today. "It's not like a tournaments where I'm dialed in on a pattern and I know I'm going to catch 'em. It's been very hit or miss. I could run into them or I could not get a bite."

The way the Harris Chain has produced big bags and big fish this week, it's highly unlikely the Ontario wunderkind will experience the latter scenario on Sunday, but timing certainly has been a key element to his success so far.

Johnston compiled the majority of his weight before 9 a.m. today, then went several hours before he caught another keeper. A late-day flurry around a shad spawn gave him a bit of a lift and another option to keep an eye on for tomorrow.

His 62-00 total through three days is 14 ounces better than Tony Dumitras, who shaved 2 pounds off his deficit today with an 18-13 stringer and has the Georgia angler in position for a run at an improbable Tour win.

Glenn Browne, who missed the season opener at Lake Okeechobee while recovering from surgery, sacked 17-04 and moved into 3rd with 58-15.

Anthony Gagliardi made an 18-spot improvement up to 4th with a day-best 24-13 effort that gave him 57-13 overall. Jeff Gustafson jumped 11 spots to 5th on the strength of a 20-05 stringer, pushing his total to 55-13.

Here's a look at the Top 10 after the first day of competition, with deficit margin from Johnston indicated by red numbers in parentheses:

1. Chris Johnston: 62-00
2. Tony Dumitras: 61-02 (0-14)
3. Glenn Browne: 58-15 (3-01)
4. Anthony Gagliardi: 57-13 (4-03)
5. Jeff Gustafson: 55-13 (6-03)
6. Buddy Gross: 55-06 (6-10)
7. Jared McMillan: 55-04 (6-12)
8. Matt Greenblatt: 55-00 (7-00)
9. Kurt Dove: 54-05 (7-11)
10. John Hunter: 54-02 (7-14)

Buddy Gross matched Gagliardi's 18-spot improvement with a 23-09 bag that pushed him up to 6th, clinching his first top-10 since his win at Pickwick Lake in 2016. Rookie Jared McMillan tallied 20-11 and moved up 12 spots to 7th, securing a second straight top-10 finish and clinching the lead in the Angler of the Year race regardless of how Sunday plays out.

Also moving into the top 10 today were Kurt Dove (14th to 9th) and John Hunter (18th to 10th).

Day-1 leader Jamie Horton and John Devere each dropped 13 spots today and finished 21st and 22nd, respectively. Floridian Koby Kreiger caught 14-04, but he fell from 7th to 12th, missing the cut by less than 2 pounds. Kreiger was assessed a 2-pound penalty on day 1 for a safety violation stemming from practice.

There will be no complaining about the weather Sunday as temperatures are expected to again reach the mid 80s with a mix of clouds and sun and a light breeze out of the south.



FLW
Photo: FLW

Johnston has spent his tournament probing offshore hydrilla.

Johnston Struggled After Morning Flurry

> Day 3: 5, 16-12 (15, 62-00)

Johnston's morning went as scripted - he notched a limit and gave himself the rest of the day to pick off upgrades. That's when the fishing went off script.

"I fished all day and never caught a decent fish," said Johnston, who finished 10th at the season opener at Lake Okeechobee.

In the last 10 minutes, he caught a small upgrade on a shad spawn in some hydrilla, something he chanced upon.

"There are a lot of fish in there," he said, "but it's one of those timing deals. I could've fish there two hours before and not gotten a bite. You have to pull up at the right time."

He said the largemouth are mixed in with the white bass and hybrids and when the shad start breaking the surface, bird start to swarm. Johnston says when he sees that, he needs to be ready to act.

"You need to get there quick," he said. "I'm going to be looking for that tomorrow."

Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, the 2016 Tour Rookie of the Year has felt his confidence level swell in recent weeks.

"Things are going right and I'm getting big bites," he said. "You feel like you're making the right choices and have confidence in what you're doing. Last year, the confidence wasn't there. I just have to keep it going at least for another day."

3rd: Browne Shooting for 20-Plus

> Day 3: 5, 17-04 (15, 58-15)

Browne thinks he'll need a 20-plus pound bag Sunday to have a legitimate chance at winning and he thinks it's doable where he's been fishing.

"It lives where I'm fishing at," he said. "I should've had that much on Thursday."

It's been an emotional tournament for Brown, who had a portion of his liver removed on Jan. 12 after blood tests and a subsequent PET scan revealed the colon cancer he battled last year had spread to his liver.

"It's very exciting and it would be very emotional," he said. "I want to win really bad, but the fish have to cooperate. I'm going to do same thing I've been doing and hopefully get a few bites."

Browne has been flipping the old-fashioned way in Lake Apopka, slowly pick apart reed clumps and buggy whips, catching spawners he's not able to see. He says when the sun is out for prolonged periods is when his bites come in quick succession.

"It seems like 10 a.m. is the magic time," he said. "I will catch a few before then, but I hit a stretch today where every clump I flipped to I caught one or two. It got steady for a little bit."

He plans to check some different water tomorrow, hoping some big fish are ready to bite.

"Twenty (pounds) would make it interesting," he said. "I think 23 to 25 maybe would seal it. There are so many big fish out there biting right now. It's a crapshoot, plus I'm giving up 3 hours of my day running."

FLW
Photo: FLW

Anthony Gagliardi made an 18-spot improvement today.

4th: Gagliardi Went Looking

> Day 3: 5, 24-13 (15, 57-13)

Gagliardi had experienced the ups and downs of Florida fishing over the first two days so it's understandable that he didn't know what to expect after catching 22-07 on day 1 and 10-09 on day 2.

"I thought I'd maybe fished my area out or they'd moved," he said. "I didn't have a whole lot to go on other than that."

He bagged a 14-pound limit in the first hour today, but he sensed things were slowing down and he was "ready for a change of scenery," he added.

He moved to some bank-related lily pads and checked some beds in a couple of canals. He picked up two keepers off beds and thinks more could be waiting for him tomorrow.

"I thinks some more are moving in," he said. "When practice started, I wasn't sure some were moving up. What little I was up there, I think there's a wave coming. There are a lot of those fish deep that are spawning, too, and not making it into the bank. The moon is coming so it's getting time for those stragglers to move in."

He'll certainly find time to look Sunday, but not until the sun gets up. Until then, he might pick around the deep hydrilla flat that's been productive so far.

"I might start deep to see if any big fish pulled up there or go to the bank and just go fishing," he said. "I caught some on the bank just fishing today."

5th: Gustafson Able to Move Around

> Day 3: 5, 20-05 (15, 55-13)

For Gustafson, it's been all casting and winding around offshore hydrilla this week and with the reduced field today, he was able to sample many of the areas he wasn't able to over the first two days. The end result was his first top-10 cut since Lake Hartwell in 2016. He also snapped a six-tournament streak without a paycheck.

"I was pumped because I'd only gotten to fish half the spots I wanted to," he said. "The lake opened up today. I never had another boat on the places I wanted to be. The fishing was way better. The afternoon had been slow, but today it was pretty good. I just never had a real big one today, which is funny because most of the week I've caught one or two big fish each day. It was just a nice, solid bag today."

He rotated through about 10 spots today and caught a bunch of cookie-cutter 2 3/4-pounders.

"Those would look good with a pair of 7s (tomorrow)," he joked. "I've been in a brutal slump so I'm just happy to get fish tomorrow. I have a shot and that's all you can ask for."

27th: No Big Ones for Cobb

> Day 3: 5, 10-08 (15, 42-12)

Brandon Cobb bounced back from an 83rd at Okeechobee with a top-30 this week, his second such finish in two outings at the Harris Chain.

"It wasn't a bad week," he said. "Any time you get a check or make a cut in Florida, it's a good deal."

He didn't catch as many fish as he had Thursday and Friday and didn't run into any big fish either.

"I'm not an expert Florida fisherman," he said. "I try to catch as man as I can and hope one to three of them are big ones."

He mainly targeted seams in the hydrilla where it would vary in height between 8 and 11 feet. His best lure option was the Yo-Zuri Rattlin' Vibe, which he fished like a worm, meaning he'd let it fall to the bottom and lift it slowly before letting it fall on slack line.

Notable

> Day 3 stats - 30 anglers, 28 limits, 1 four, 1 one.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., Feb. 25 - Clear, Sunny - 86/65
- Wind: From the S at 5 to 10 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Chris Johnston -- Peterborough, On -- 19-13 (5) -- 25-7 (5) -- 45-4 (10) -- 16-12 (5) -- 62-0 (15)

2. Tony Dumitras -- Winston, Ga -- 19-11 (5) -- 22-10 (5) -- 42-5 (10) -- 18-13 (5) -- 61-2 (15)

3. Glenn Browne -- Ocala, Fl -- 21-3 (5) -- 20-8 (5) -- 41-11 (10) -- 17-4 (5) -- 58-15 (15)

4. Anthony Gagliardi -- Prosperity, SC -- 22-7 (5) -- 10-9 (5) -- 33-0 (10) -- 24-13 (5) -- 57-13 (15)

5. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin, On -- 17-15 (5) -- 17-9 (5) -- 35-8 (10) -- 20-5 (5) -- 55-13 (15)

6. Buddy Gross -- Chickamauga, Ga -- 15-1 (5) -- 16-12 (5) -- 31-13 (10) -- 23-9 (5) -- 55-6 (15)

7. Jared McMillan -- Belle Glade, Fl -- 17-2 (5) -- 17-7 (5) -- 34-9 (10) -- 20-11 (5) -- 55-4 (15)

8. Matt Greenblatt -- Port St Lucie, Fl -- 19-11 (5) -- 22-1 (5) -- 41-12 (10) -- 13-4 (5) -- 55-0 (15)

9. Kurt Dove -- Del Rio, Tx -- 19-4 (5) -- 16-5 (5) -- 35-9 (10) -- 19-6 (5) -- 54-5 (15)

10. John Hunter -- Shelbyville, Ky -- 13-6 (5) -- 21-9 (5) -- 34-15 (10) -- 19-3 (5) -- 54-2 (15)

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete on day 4.

11. Zack Birge -- Blanchard, Ok -- 21-13 (5) -- 16-9 (5) -- 38-6 (10) -- 15-5 (5) -- 53-11 (15) -- $12,000

12. Koby Kreiger -- Bokeelia, Fl -- 24-12 (5) -- 13-5 (5) -- 38-1 (10) -- 14-4 (5) -- 52-5 (15) -- $12,000

13. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 16-9 (5) -- 18-9 (5) -- 35-2 (10) -- 17-1 (5) -- 52-3 (15) -- $12,000

14. Randy Haynes -- Counce, Tn -- 22-8 (5) -- 13-6 (5) -- 35-14 (10) -- 15-15 (5) -- 51-13 (15) -- $12,000

15. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, Ar -- 11-2 (5) -- 22-2 (5) -- 33-4 (10) -- 15-13 (5) -- 49-1 (15) -- $12,000

16. Ronald Young -- Lake Wales, Fl -- 17-4 (5) -- 23-0 (5) -- 40-4 (10) -- 8-10 (5) -- 48-14 (15) -- $12,000

17. Shawn Murphy -- Nicholasville, Ky -- 19-1 (5) -- 16-15 (5) -- 36-0 (10) -- 12-5 (5) -- 48-5 (15) -- $12,000

18. Braxton Setzer -- Montgomery, Al -- 20-5 (5) -- 10-7 (5) -- 30-12 (10) -- 17-7 (5) -- 48-3 (15) -- $12,000

19. Bob Morin -- Seymour, Tn -- 13-6 (5) -- 22-7 (5) -- 35-13 (10) -- 12-1 (4) -- 47-14 (14) -- $12,000

20. Kenneth (Boo) Woods -- London, Ky -- 12-7 (5) -- 23-1 (5) -- 35-8 (10) -- 12-0 (5) -- 47-8 (15) -- $12,000

21. Jamie Horton -- Centerville, Al -- 24-13 (5) -- 12-1 (5) -- 36-14 (10) -- 7-17 (5) -- 44-12 (15) -- $10,000

22. John Devere -- Berea, Ky -- 24-4 (5) -- 12-5 (5) -- 36-9 (10) -- 8-2 (5) -- 44-11 (15) -- $10,500

23. Joshua Weaver -- Macon, Ga -- 12-8 (5) -- 19-3 (5) -- 31-11 (10) -- 13-00 (5) -- 44-11 (15) -- $10,000

24. Jordan Osborne -- Longview, Tx -- 24-1 (5) -- 11-9 (5) -- 35-10 (10) -- 8-13 (5) -- 44-7 (15) -- $10,000

25. Matt Reed -- Madisonville, Tx -- 10-14 (5) -- 20-4 (5) -- 31-2 (10) -- 12-14 (5) -- 44-00 (15) -- $10,000

26. Johnny McCombs -- Morris, Al -- 14-0 (5) -- 17-4 (5) -- 31-4 (10) -- 11-12 (5) -- 43-0 (15) -- $10,000

27. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 14-2 (5) -- 18-2 (5) -- 32-4 (10) -- 10-8 (5) -- 42-12 (15) -- $10,000

28. Josh Douglas -- Isle, Mn -- 17-9 (5) -- 13-5 (5) -- 30-14 (10) -- 10-6 (5) -- 41-4 (15) -- $10,000

29. Greg Bohannan -- Bentonville, Ar -- 18-15 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 30-13 (10) -- 7-4 (5) -- 38-1 (15) -- $10,000

30. Harry Moore -- Valley, Al -- 22-8 (5) -- 10-13 (5) -- 33-5 (10) -- 2-2 (1) -- 35-7 (11) -- $10,000