Chris Johnston will finish his season worrying only about what he can control.
The Peterborough, Ont., resident is aiming to cap the ’22 Bassmaster Elite Series campaign with a victory at the season-ending event on the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wisc.
Johnston still mathematically has a shot at the Angler of the Year title — and the US$100,000 bonus that goes with it — but readily admits a lot must go right for him this week to make that happen.
Johnston is currently third in the overall standings with 601 points. American Brandon Palaniuk leads with 647 points, 37 ahead of compatriot Brandon Lester.
To secure the overall crown, Johnston would have to finish significantly higher in the Mississippi event than both Palaniuk and Lester. Although not impossible, it means Johnston will need help to become the first Canadian to earn AOY honours.
“I’m just trying to fish this tournament to win, to be honest,” Johnston said via telephone this week. “It’s kind of out of my hands a bit because I am a little behind.
“If (Palaniuk) has a good tournament, I can’t catch him. If he has a bad tournament, which is unlikely but could happen, then there’s a chance. I’m not getting too excited about it, though.”
Elite Series competitors receive cash and points based upon their finishes in tournaments. The winners earn 100 points toward the overall standings, with second-place finishers getting 99 points and so on.
Even last-place finishers earn 10 points so long as they land a fish and aren’t either disqualified or withdraw.
Johnston is coming off a second-place finish Sunday in the Elite Series event on South Dakota’s Lake Oahe. Palaniuk was 66th while the two competitors who were behind him in the overall standings — second-place David Mullins and third-place John Cox — were 75th and 77th respectively.
That allowed Lester (who was 37th on Sunday) and Johnston to move into second and third, respectively, while Palaniuk’s overall lead went from 41 points to 37.
Palaniuk hasn’t traditionally done well on the Mississippi River. He has finished 59th (2012), 77th (2013) 34th (2016) and 55th (2018) in four events there.
Tournament action begins Friday, with the top-47 after Saturday’s weigh-in qualifying for the semifinal round Sunday. Then, the top-10 competitors advance to the event’s final day Monday.
Johnston’s brother, Cory, and Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., will also be competing. Cory Johnston, of Cavan Ont., is 12th overall (556 points) while Gustafson stands 16th (543).
Chris Johnston, who finished second overall behind American Seth Feider last year, has registered top-10 finishes in three of the last four events. It’s a nice recovery from a slow start to the season, which included finishing 63rd at Harris Chain in Leesburg, Fla., in February and 52nd at Santee Cooper Lakes in Clarendon County, S.C., in March.
“The first part of the season was actually very disappointing,” Johnston said. “That’s what bothers me the most . . . it wasn’t a good start to the season.”
Johnston said he was actually on fish at Harris Chain, but just couldn’t get them into the boat.
“In one day, I lost something like eight fish,” Johnston said. “I finished in the 60s when I could’ve been in the top-10.
“It does happen.”
It did again Sunday, with Johnston losing a fish he said might’ve made the final weigh-in “interesting.” American Austin Felix took the tournament crown, three pounds three ounces ahead of Johnston.
“It broke my line, which hardly ever happens,” he said. “But sometimes it does.
“They’re kind of out of your control.”
In the last two events, which were in Oahe and St. Lawrence River in Clayton, N.Y., Johnston has done what he does best — chase large smallmouth bass in big water. The Mississippi River has smallmouth as well as largemouth bass, but catching river-based fish calls for different tactics and approaches than for those in lakes. And then there’s also having to now rig up different rods and setups for largemouths.
“It’s just going to be finding the right areas,” Johnston said. “This fishery is pretty tough so you’ve got to put yourself in the right area, put your head down and go fishing.
“If you’re not in the right area you’re not going to do well.”
Following the tournament, the married father of two will return home to cap yet another busy year that began February in Florida. All Elite Series events are held in the U.S. (some in Tennessee and Texas) ) and Johnston drives to each one, his boat and gear in tow.
“I’ve got two young boys and by the end of the season you’re ready for a break,” Johnston said. “For me, it’s also hunting season (for mostly deer and some waterfowl) which is a hobby I enjoy.
“So it’s about spending time with family and recharging your batteries. Then by the time the season is ready to roll you’re ready to go again and get the itch.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.