June 23rd, 2024

Canadian Cory Johnston looking forward to a break in ’23 Elite Series season

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 27, 2023.

Canadian Cory Johnston is shown in a handout photo. It wasn't a win but it was still a welcomed result for Johnston. The resident of Cavan, Ont., was eighth Sunday in the Elite Series event on Georgia's Lake Seminole, a week after finishing 91st in the circuit's opening event of the season on Florida's Lake Okeechobee. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

The first break of the season comes at an opportune time for Cory Johnston.

The professional fisherman from Cavan, Ont., finished eighth in the Elite Series event at Lake Seminole on Sunday. The week before, Johnston was a disappointing 91st in the Series-opening competition on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

And after six weeks on the road and three tournaments, Johnston returns home for a couple of weeks before heading out again, this time for the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River on March 24-26 in Knoxville.

“I’m ready for a bit of a break,” Johnston said. “That first tournament (Okeechobee) wasn’t anywhere close to what I wanted or expected but it is what it is.

“I just went into this one wanting a top-10 to get back on pace for the (Angler of The Year) race. I put myself behind the 8-ball but it can definitely still be done.”

Johnston weighed a five-fish limit of 16 pounds, one ounce on Sunday, giving him a 20-fish total of 69 pounds, one ounce. He was the lone Canadian to make the final round as Johnston’s brother, Chris, of Peterborough, Ont., finished 17th (48 pounds, 12 ounces) while Cooper Gallant, of Bowmanville, Ont., was 46th (38 pounds, four ounces) and Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., was 55th (27 pounds, 10 ounces).

The Johnstons were tied for 16th spot after Friday’s second round. Cory Johnston’s finish gave him bragging rights – for now.

“That’s important,” he said.

Johnston’s season actually began with a fifth-place finish in a Major League Fishing – another pro circuit – event on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla., on Feb. 3. Johnston was in Florida getting work done to his boat and decided at the last minute to enter.

Johnston chalked up his Lake Okeechobee result simply to bad fishing luck.

“I just didn’t catch any big fish at all,” he said. “It’s frustrating because I was around them.

“I fished around everyone who made the top-10, even locals around me were catching six-pounders and I never had a big bite. It was not meant to be that week.”

Up next for the Canadians will be the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic, the Elite Series’ premier event. It will be the fourth appearance for the Johnstons and Gustafson but the first for Gallant.

Last year, Chris Johnston finished fifth – the best Classic result by a Canadian – while Cory Johnston was tied for 26th and Gustafson was 41st. In 2021, Chris Johnston took eighth, three spots ahead of his brother while Gustafson was 21st.

Cory Johnston doesn’t believe Sunday’s result provides any momentum heading into the Classic.

“Everyone says momentum is a big thing but I fish every tournament to try and win,” he said. “I don’t really know any other way to do it.

“Obviously I haven’t been able to do that yet but I’ve had a number of top-10s and if you keep making top-10s one of these times it will happen.”

Chris Johnston and Gustafson are the lone Canadians to register Elite Series wins but Cory Johnston captured the ’21 Bassmaster Open at 1000 Islands in Clayton, N.Y. Johnston has 17 career top-10 Series’ finishes.

The Tennessee River will boast smallmouth bass – a species the Canadian anglers traditionally do well chasing. But Johnston isn’t taking any solace in that.

“Those smallmouth are nothing even remotely close to northern smallmouth,” he said. “They don’t act the same, they don’t do anything the same.

“They’re very nomadic, they move a lot, they’re harder to pattern. We don’t really have an advantage going there.”

Still, much is expected of the Canadians at the Classic.

Gustafson is tied with American Brandon Lester as the 4-1 second pick of the event behind Brandon Palaniuk of the U.S. (3-1). In February 2021, Gustafson went wire-to-wire for his Elite Series win on the Tennessee River.

Chris Johnston is listed at 5-1 odds while Cory Johnston is an 8-1 pick. Gallant is at 75-1, not surprising given this will be his first Classic appearance.

Predictably, Cory Johnston isn’t giving those prognostications much thought.

“Zero, actually,” he said. “With that place, anyone can go out and find a stretch of bank and have a 20-pound day and then the next day catch five pounds.

“It will be an interesting Classic, for sure. It will be one that anybody who’s fishing can win.”

Johnston won’t begin thinking about how to attack the Tennessee River until just before he leaves for Knoxville. However, that doesn’t diminish the significance he puts on the Classic.

“It’s the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” he said. “It’s what every person wants to fish, it’s what every kid dreams of going to and winning, it’s pretty special.

“Growing up just like everyone else, I wanted to fish the Bassmaster Classic. To be able to be there four straight years and have a chance to live out a dream is pretty incredible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.

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