WADDINGTON — Instead of relying on modern fish-finding technology, Chris Johnston took a more basic approach on the opening day of the Bassmasters Elite Series at St. Lawrence River.
“When I was out for practice, I saw a bunch of big fish in shallow water. This is some of the clearest water I fish so I went with sight fishing. It was all visual. I’d throw my lure out near the bass and I could see if they were hitting it,” said Johnston, who hails from Peterborough, Ontario.
“I lost some fish early but then I caught one that was kind of on the sick side and that got things turned around for me. I knew I had a good day but I didn’t expect to be leading,” he added.
Johnston was the first angler to return to Whittaker Park and the first to take to the stage in front of another one of the large crowds that have become a tradition at the Waddington stop.
His total weight of 24 pounds, seven ounces, quickly set a standard that survived the next 74 competitors.
“I was fishing in six to eight feet of water. It took me about 45 minutes to get there once I was out on the water,” he said. “I plan on going back to the same spot tomorrow. Hopefully, some new fish have moved up to it.”
“If not,” he added, “I’ll be scrambling.”
The next four anglers in the standings after the first day boated 23 pounds or more of bass.
Scott Canterbury placed second at 23 pounds, eight ounces, Steve Kennedy third at 23 pounds, seven ounces, Greg DiPalma fourth with 23 pounds, six ounces, and Shane LeHew fifth at 23 pounds.
“The fishing here is out of this world,” said Canterbury, who hails from Odenville, Ala., and took over the series lead with his second-place showing Thursday. “That was fun today.”
On a day when the top 26 anglers each pulled in more than 20 pounds of bass, series newcomer Drew Cook of Midway, Fla., who entered the weekend sitting atop both the Angler of the Year and Rookie of the Year standings, settled for 45th place at 17 pounds, seven ounces.
“I had some missed opportunities today,” he said. “I backed myself into a corner, but I didn’t dig myself into a hole. I just need to come back and have a strong day tomorrow.”
All 75 anglers will once again launch from Whittaker Park today starting at 9 a.m. and are slated to return for the start of weigh-ins at 5 p.m.
After being placed in randomly determined flights for the opening day, the competitors will head out based on their place in the standings with the leaders slated to be the final group to be sent out and the last to return.
The top 35 finishers through the first two days continue fishing Saturday and only the top 10 earn a chance to compete Sunday for the first-place prize of $100,000.