Saving the best for last, Bassmaster Elite Series angler Cory Johnston turned in his biggest bag of the week, 27-06, and won the St. Lawrence River/1000 Islands Bassmaster Northern Open with a three-day total of 78-00.
Edging day-1 leader Cal Climpson by 13 ounces, Johnston won the top prize of $43,433. Hailing from Cavan, Ontario, Canada, he said local knowledge proved invaluable.
“It was a great week and I had a lot of fun,” Johnston said. “I have a lot of spots out on Lake Ontario. I only pre-fished for about two days out here; I just know this place so well, but it’s burnt me so many times.
“I caught a ton of fish and I caught a lot of big fish. It just goes to show you what an incredible fishery we have here, so we have to look after this place.”
The first two days, Johnston kept himself in the hunt with limits of 25-07 and 25-03 that put him in 5th and 2nd place, respectively. His final-round limit was the event’s second-heaviest, behind Climpson’s day-1 bag of 27-07.
Johnston’s win provided a much-needed dose of redemption after what looked to be a run at the victory ended with a 4th-place finish at mid-July’s Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River.
In the 2020 St. Lawrence Elite – won by his brother Chris ¬– Johnston suffered mechanical issues, which derailed what would likely have been a strong finish.
“It feels good to win one here,” Johnston said. “The U.S. side of this place has had my number. (Canadian waters were closed during both Elite events). It feels good to get the monkey off my back and I can’t wait to get back here for the Elite next year.”
With Canadian waters open this week, Johnston fished both sides of the river and Lake Ontario. Days 1 and 2 saw him starting in the river and working his way out to the lake. On Saturday, he committed to the latter and caught fish over various rock structure in 18 to 42 feet.
“I was about 20 miles out in the lake,” Johnston said. “I just had a milk run and I worked my way out. I started at the closest spot, worked my way out to the farthest spot and then came in. It’s pretty simple out here. I had the Garmin LiveScope going and just covering a lot of water.
“I spent my day in the lake today because the way the wind was blowing, I could stay sheltered a little bit. There was a point way up the lake and that sheltered me a little. There were still 6-footers, they just weren’t 8s.”
Johnston caught his fish on a dropshot with a 3/8-ounce weight and a 4-inch prototype worm he and Chris are designing for SPRO on a No. 2 Gamakatsu G-Finesse hook.
“I was using Power-Pole Drift Paddles and they slow you down so much when you’re out there in the big water in 6-foot waves,” Johnston said. “You can just drift with the wind, use the Garmin and cover a lot of water.”
Climpson, who also makes his home in Cavan, backed up his opening limit with 22-07 on day 2 and slipped to 3rd. Stepping on the gas for the final round, he added 27-05 for a tournament total of 77-03.
Focusing on rocky bottom and boulders in 20 to 30 feet, Climpson caught his bass on a dropshot with a 3/4-ounce weight. Each day he had to rotate through several baits, including Johnston’s prototype worm and a Berkley GULP! Fry.
“I was seeing a lot of my fish on Garmin LiveScope and regular 2D sonar,” Climpson said. “I caught my big one (6-08) at the end of the day. It swam right under the boat, I dropped on it and caught it.”
Adam Neu of Forestville, Wis., finished 3rd with 76-06. He placed 10th on day 1 with 23-15, improved to fifth with 25-02 and closed out his performance with his biggest limit — 27-05, which included a 6-08.
Neu spent his final day at the mouth of the river near Cape Vincent. Focusing on a broad area of rocky structure in about 20 feet, he caught his fish on tubes rigged on a 3/8-ounce head.
“I was using green pumpkin in the morning and amber in the afternoon,” Neu said. “You could definitely tell when they wanted that switch because you could make two or three passes and never have a bite, then pick up the amber and on the next pass you catch them.
“That amber tube caught me two big ones in 10 minutes. That really made my day.”
Andrew Upshaw of Hemphill, Texas, won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with a 6-13.
With all three Northern Opens now in the books, Jonathan Kelley of Old Forge, Pa., claimed the Northern Open points title with 549 points. Mike Iaconelli of Pitts Grove, N.J., placed 2nd with 549, followed by Alex Redwine of Blue Ash, Ohio with 549, J.T. Thompkins of Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 520 and Coop Gallant of Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, with 512. In the Bassmaster Opens, ties in divisional points standings are broken using the cumulative weight from the full-field days of all three tournaments.
Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., leads the overall Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 1,029 points.
Here are the final totals for the Top 10:
1. Cory Johnston: 78-00
2. Cal Climpson: 77-03
3. Adam Neu: 76-06
4. Coop Gallant: 73-06
5. Timmy Thompkins: 72-05
6. Gary Adkins: 72-05
7. Chris Johnston: 71-03
8. Dean Meckes: 65-08
9. Jonathan Kelley: 63-15
10. Brad Leuthner: 57-08