FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Chris Johnston put an exclamation mark on a record-setting weekend for Canada's three competitors at the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic.
Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., finished eighth in the Elite Series' premier event at Lake Ray Roberts. It's the best result for a Canadian in the tournament, eclipsing the previous mark of 31st registered in 2016 by Ottawa's Charles Sim.
Johnston's performance highlighted a stellar event for Canadians as his brother, Cory, of Cavan, Ont., and Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., also made the tournament final, finishing 11th and 21st, respectively. This was the first time ever three Canucks had qualified for the final round of the three-day championship event.
While the Classic is the Elite Series' biggest and most prestigious event, it doesn't count in the '21 standings. At season's end, the top 39 competitors will qualify for the '22 Classic, which will be held at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
Chris Johnston had four fish weighing 10 pounds, nine ounces Sunday for a three-day total of 14 fish weighing 40 pounds, two ounces. Johnston finished 10 pounds, 13 ounces behind American Hank Cherry Jr., who became just the fourth competitor in the event's 51-year history to win the $300,000 winner's share in consecutive years.
Cory Johnston finished with a bang, weighing five fish for 15 pounds, five ounces – the third-highest total Sunday. Johnston entered the final day No. 22 overall but moved up 11 spots and finished with 13 fish for 37 pounds.
Gustafson made his move Saturday, going from No. 42 to 19th overall to qualify for the final – the top-25 competitors moved on – despite a rain delay of more than two hours. On Sunday, Gustafson brought in three fish weighing six pounds, 10 ounces, giving him 12 fish for 28 pounds, seven ounces overall.
Gustafson and the Johnstons made history last year when they all competed in this event, the first time three Canadians had ever done so. Sim and Hank Gibson of Keswick, Ont., (1990) are the only other competitors from Canada to have qualified for the Classic.
Japan’s Takahiro Omori (2004) is the event’s only non-American winner. Gustafson finished 31st last year while Chris Johnston was 34th and Cory Johnston was 47th.
The Elite Series season resumes on Lake Champlain in Waddington, N.Y., from July 8-11 before ending on the St. Lawrence River in Plattsburgh, N.Y., July 15-18. Both are quality smallmouth bass fisheries, a dominant species in Ontario that should give the Canadians an advantage.
Gustafson will have some work to do. Despite earning his first Elite Series win March 1 on the Tennessee River, he stands 45th in the overall standings but is just 18 points out of the 39th and final Classic qualifying spot.
Chris Johnston stands fourth while Cory Johnston is ninth. All three Canadians have fared well at the next two Elite Series events.
Chris Johnston became the first Canadian Elite Series winner at last year’s St. Lawrence tournament. Cory Johnston was seventh and finished ninth at Lake Champlain while Gustafson ended up 12th on the St. Lawrence and 15th at Lake Champlain.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2021.