WADDINGTON — Two anglers made major moves at opposite ends of the weigh-in Saturday as the final 10 spots for today’s championship at the Bassmaster Elite Tournament on the St. Lawrence was decided.
And both created equal excitement as the weigh-in crowd noted a growth spurt.
As the first angler to mount the stage at Whittaker Park, Cory Johnston of Peterborough, Ontario, weighed in 23 pounds, 1 ounce of smallmouth bass caught mostly around the Chaumont Bay area to vault into first place with a three-day total 68-10.
In the concluding stage of the 45-angler weigh-in the final spot in the top 10 was secured by exuberant Illini Chris Groh, who emerged from under the radar in 27th place with a 24-2 bag that was just enough to secure the final spot for today’s fishoff with 60-13 over Brandon Cobb at 60-9.
“It is unreal, ‘I Love New York’ and I needed a 20-pound bag or more to get 10th place,” said Groh, known as “Train Wreck” on the Bassmaster Elite Tour.
“I just kept doing what I do. I rotated around six spots and I use big baits. Today I used big tube and I really popped it. The gobies will hit it first, the bass will bump it and then they grab it.”
Cory Johnston started a makeover of the leaderboard where Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., who led the first two days, slipped to fifth at 64-13 after logging a 16-15 bag Saturday.
“I am really excited. I had my bag by noon and came in a little early because I wanted to save a few fish for tomorrow. I know I left three good finish out there at one spot for tomorrow,” said Cory Johnston, who is looking to become the third Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Tournament.
“I will run to the lake again and a lot will depend on the weather. It will be easier to catch them if I can see them. Today I used a drop shot fishing areas of rocks, sand and weed. I used the flogger a lot. It allowed me see how the fish were reacting to the bait. ”
Justin Atkins of Alabama used a 23-10 bag to take over second at 67-14, Cory Johnston’s brother, Chris, the defending tournament campion, used a 19-6 bag to move into third place. Texan Clark Wendlandt took over fourth at 65-9 after weighing at 20-10 on Saturday.
“I just love this crowd in Waddington and I plan to try some new stuff tomorrow,” Chris Johnston said.
“I plan to go out deep and who knows maybe I can catch 25 or 26 pounds.”
Rounding out the top 10 were: Brandon Palaniuk of Idaho who led the day with a “called shot” bag of 24-4 to take fifth at 64-7; self-proclaimed “smallmouth bass whisperer” Taku Ito (64-0), who anchored a 23-3 bag with the day’s lunker of 6-0; David Mullins of Tennessee at 62-2 and Minnesota pro Austin Felix at 61-4 stood eighth and ninth, respectively.
Today’s weigh-in is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.
“I knew I could get a big bag today. I love this place and I still believe that there are places out there for a 27-28 pound bag,” said Palaniuk, who won the first Elite Tournament at Waddington six years ago.
“I made my usual run today and used a drop shot most of the time,” Palaniuk said
Ito continued his big bass history and sheepishly said that the secret was talking to the fish to the delight of the crowd.
“I ask the smallmouth what they want to eat and they answer a super secret Japanese bait,” Ito said, as laughter roared across Whittaker Park.”
n NOTES: Another major tour award was decided Saturday as Josh Stracner of Alabama completed march from fifth place in the standings to win the Rookie of Year trophy.
“It is a dream come to true to be up on this stage and I really didn’t think about the rookie of the year very much because I was in fifth place not too long ago,” Stracner said.
CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY TOP 10
1. Cory Johnston 68-10, Justin Atkins 67-14, Chris Johnston 65-11, Clark Wendlandt 65-9, Bernie Schultz 64-13, Brandon Palaniuk 64-7, Taku Ito 64-0, David Mullins 62-2, Austin Felix 61-4, Chris Groh 60-13.