CLAYTON — Bassmaster made history in Clayton this past week, and a few anglers wouldn’t mind returning to the Thousand Islands in the years to come.
Across the tournament’s four days, anglers sang the praises of the St. Lawrence River and Clayton’s proximity to Lake Ontario. It was that ability to fish in the lake that helped Chris Johnston become the first Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament.
When asked if he would want the tournament to return to Clayton, runner-up Paul Mueller said, “is that a trick question?” followed by a laugh.
“Absolutely,” Mueller continued. “I would love to be able to fish the lake again and I think there are even times of the year where the lake would fish better than it did this time around. The lake is a phenomenal fishery, so is the river, but it’s cool to have the option. But as you also (saw) this week, guys did extremely well with largemouth, guys did well in the river.”
Mueller, a Connecticut native, had one of the more successful tournaments, placing first each of the first three days and catching the biggest smallmouth in Elite Series history at 7 pounds, 13 ounces — a catch that came out of Lake Ontario.
However, the anglers will have to wait until 2022 at the earliest to return to Clayton. According to Eric Lopez, the director of event operations at Bassmaster, BASS is contractually obligated to base next year’s Elite Series St. Lawrence tournament in Waddington. As for the event returning to Clayton after that? “There is definitely a possibility,” Lopez said.
“When you have an event of this size and, granted what you’ve seen here is a much more scaled down version, we’ve had no expo and no crowd,” Lopez said. “New York state supports us so well, we usually have tens of thousands of people come out. When the event’s done in any city, we sit down with city planners and ask what made sense, what didn’t make sense, what makes sense going forward for them and for us.”
Clark Wendlandt, a professional angler for 28 years, finished the tournament in eighth place with a total of 76-11. To him, the Thousand Islands is a special fishery.
“I would say, in all honesty, for me personally, this is my favorite place I’ve ever fished,” Wendlandt said. “I just love it here, I don’t know why. I fished my very first BASS event ever in 1992 out of Clayton and I’ve only fished two tournaments here out of Clayton, but I just really enjoy fishing here. It’s a neat place, it’s huge, it has clear water and big smallmouth, what more do you need than that?”
After his weigh-in, Johnston spoke on the stage about his experiences fishing the Thousand Islands. The Peterborough, Ontario, native grew up fishing some of the waters he competed in this weekend along with competing in eight or nine tournaments around Clayton.
With its proximity to Lake Ontario, the Bassmaster in Clayton offers anglers many options.
“I like Clayton, because it’s so neutral,” Johnston said. “You can go fish (the) river, it has a great fishery, you can go fish the lake, especially when Canada waters open, it’s kind of limitless to where you can go.”
Johnston also noted how the conditions on the lake for the majority of the tournament allowed for himself and others to take advantage of the massive bass. Had more days of the tournament been as windy as Sunday, a winner may have come out of the St. Lawrence River.
Lopez and the rest of BASS values the anglers’ input when it comes to deciding a take-off point for an event.
“Their input is definitely very important to us, but we’re the league and we want to make sure there is no favoritism,” Lopez said. “We have anglers from all over the country and some of them may have biases.”
The last Bassmaster pro tournament held in Clayton was in 1999.