By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Chris Johnston couldn't hold a final-day lead in last year's Bassmaster Elite Series event at the St. Lawrence River and watched Micah Frazier walk away with the trophy after he'd sat atop the standings through the first three rounds. On Sunday, he turned the same trick on Paul Mueller, overcoming a 2-03 deficit with a 22-12 bag mined from brutal conditions on Lake Ontario for his first win on the circuit and his second tour-level triumph.

Ironically, the Canadian prevailed in a derby in which the waters of his home country were off limits due to coronavirus restrictions. Some anticipated that weights would be down from prior years with only the New York side of the venue in play, but Johnston's 97-08 total for 4 days was the highest for any Elite Series event that's been staged there.

He pulled weigh-in fish from locales on both the river and the lake and easily exceeded the 20-pound threshold each day. He outdueled Mueller by almost 4 pounds on the final day as both battled the huge waves on wind-swept Ontario.

"I was just trying to stay consistent," he said. "I really tried to manage my fish and not lean on them too hard on days 1 and 2. Maybe some of those places would've replenished, but I was sure and I had to make sure I still had fish to catch."

Zones were Productive

Johnston described the general areas where his fish were located as "zones." He went into the tournament with about 10 of those – a few in the river and the others on the lake – and all but a couple surrendered weigh-in fish over the course of the event.

The fish were holding at depths that ranged from 20 to 50 feet and were oriented to various types of rocky cover, including rock piles and ledges. He estimated that 75 percent of the places he fished were ones that he had no history on – he'd uncovered them either during practice or in the tournament.

He alternated between a dropshot and a Ned rig and said his Garmin electronics were critical for pinpointing fish before they were aware of his presence. Most of the fish were on the spooky side, so he usually disdained a drifting presentation in favor of casting to them while they were still a ways off.

"If you could get the bait out to them before the boat got over the top of them, your bite percentage went way up," he said.

The selection of a starting spot on the lake on day 4 was crucial as the powerful southwest wind greatly limited mobility. His pick was a good one – he had a limit within the first hour and a half, including three in the 4-pound class.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Johnston caught quality fish from both the river and Lake Ontario.

He relocated to a spot about a mile away and picked up two more quality specimens. He made his final cull at his primary area with about 2 1/2 hours left in the day.

He made what he called a "rookie mistake" on day 4 when he allowed a 4 1/2-pounder to get his line wrapped up in his trolling motor. On the flip side, two big smallmouths he caught during the event did him a favor by literally jumping onto the deck of his boat.

"I've watched the Bassmasters my whole life and even 3 or 4 years ago I didn't think I'd ever be in this position," he said. "When I got invited to come over here and fish, I couldn't say yes quick enough.

"To win this on my home ground is just surreal. I can't even describe how cool it is."

Winning Gear Notes

> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-light Daiwa Tatula Elite Cody Meyer Signature Series Finesse rod, size 2500 Daiwa Ballistic spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (12' leader), size 2 Gamakatsu Aaron Martens G-Finesse hook, 3/8-ounce Woo Tungsten teardrop weight, Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flat Worm (green-pumpkin).

> Ned rig gear: 7'1" medium-action Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler Signature Series Dropshot rod, same reel and line, 3/8-ounce mushroom-type jighead, Z-Man Finesse TRD (green-pumpkin).


> Johnston achieved his first tour-level win in an FLW event at Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes in February 2018.