By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor's note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, a new First Cast feature story will not appear until Tuesday, Sept. 7.)
If the recent St. Lawrence River Northern Toyota Series event had consisted of three one-day tournaments instead of a single three-day event, Chris Johnston would've won two of them.
The Bassmaster Elite Series stalwart from the nearby Canadian province of Ontario dominated the derby with a three-day total of 77-15. He weighed the heaviest bag on two of the three days, returning from Lake Ontario to the launch in Massena, N.Y. with bags that registered 25-07, 25-02 and 27-06. He outdistanced the runner-up, his brother and fellow Elite Series competitor Cory Johnston, by more than 6 pounds.
He caught 10 of his weigh-in fish from the big lake, which was a 110-mile, one-way trip from Massena. The other five came from a spot on the river.
Lots to Choose From
Johnston said he had approximately 10 areas that were holding the right size of fish (4 1/2 pounds and up) but the time practice had concluded. Due to the extensive travel time required, he never made it to some of those during the tournament.
His river locale was fairly close to the ramp and surrendered three fish that he weighed on day 1 and two more on day 2.
"I'd start there and when it'd shut down, I'd go to the lake," he said. "There wasn't a ton of fish there, but they were all big ones. "After day 2 I knew it was dying, so on day 3 I just went straight to the lake.
"We got lucky because the wind wasn't bad and that allowed us to make that run. With bad wind you can't do that every day."
He described the river spot as a place with a clean, sandy bottom and some scattered rock. Despite his vast experience on the venue, he hadn't fished there previously.
On the lake, his fish came from deep, isolated rock piles in the 25- to 40-foot range.
He caught 12 of his weigh-in fish on a dropshot rig and the other three on a tube. His dropshot bait was a prototype worm produced by SPRO that doesn't yet have a name.
"I have very limited numbers of them – I've probably got 10 bags for next week (when he'll fish the same locations in the 1000 Islands Bassmaster Northern Open that launches from Clayton, N.Y.). "The nice thing is you can catch multiple fish on the same bait, so hopefully I've got enough to get me through."
He boated 12 keeper-size smallmouth on day 1, eight on day 2 and 15 or so on day 3. His biggest fish for the event was a 5-15 on the final day. He lost one on the tube that he's certain was over 6 pounds.
"If I marked fish on the 2D sonar or (Garmin) LiveScope and I could get the bait in front of them, there was about an 80-percent chance they were going to eat it," he said.
> Dropshot gear: 7'1" medium-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite rod, Daiwa Certate LT 2500 spinning reel, 10-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon (leader), 3/8-ounce weight, size 2 Gamakatsu TGW Drop Shot Hook, prototype SPRO worm.
> Johnston said his practice for the 1000 Islands Northern Open will be limited due to his wife being out of town for a wedding. "I'll be fishing some memories, but I don't mind that. Having a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old on the boat with me wouldn't go well."
> He finished a distant 61 points behind Angler of the Year Seth Feider in the Elite Series Angler of the Year race. "I wasn't too hurt by it," he said. "If I'd lost by a point or two, that would've been a lot more painful, I think."