UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

Cory Johnston’s Afternoon on St. Clair

Cory Johnston’s Afternoon on St. Clair

Despite having a reputation for being a smallmouth-catching machine and living only five hours from Lake St. Clair, Cory Johnston has only fished this pond a few times in his life. Both visits were for tournaments. The first was the 2012 FLW Tour Open where he finished eighth, and the second was a 2015 Bassmaster Open where he landed in fifth. Obviously, lack of experience doesn’t equate to lack of knowledge for how to catch bass on St. Clair.

After starting the season off great with a top 10 on Lake Okeechobee, the older Johnston brother has hit a bit of a lull, but he still sits 40th in the Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year standings.

This week, in the final event of the FLW Tour season, which is presented by Mercury, Johnston not only has a shot at earning a pretty solid payday, but also punching his ticket to the Forrest Wood Cup.

With so much on the line, we decided to jump in the Ranger with Johnston to see how he breaks down this massive fishery.

 

The day doesn’t get off to the quickest start for Johnston, who tried launching on the southern portion of the lake this morning, but had to switch his game plan due to some rough water and the fact his trolling motor wasn’t working.

He stopped by the service yard to get some work done and have his Power-Pole Drift Paddles installed, and he’s ready for action right around noon.

As we idle out from Lake St. Clair Metropark, Johnston calls his brother, Chris, to get a report on the day so far. Chris hasn’t had much action, and the two decide that Cory will cover some of the water near takeoff since he’s in the area.

“I want to keep checking some deep stuff on the lake, but if the sun stays out I might run up and look around up shallow, too,” says Cory of his plan of attack.

 

We make a short run to an offshore area where he immediately picks up a swimbait and begins launching it.

“I like to try to cover water pretty quick if I can, and that’s why a moving bait like a crankbait or swimbait works well,” Johnston says. “If you drifted across this whole lake you could catch bass everywhere. That’s why you need to cover water and find the sweet spots they are grouped up near.”

 

It doesn’t take long for Johnston to connect with some St. Clair bronze, and he makes quick work of wrestling it in the boat.

 

After tossing the fish back, Johnston grabs a drop-shot and fires out a cast.

“When I get bit on a moving bait I like to work around the area with a tube or drop-shot.”

He definitely keeps his rod choices simple. Two swimbaits, a tube and drop-shot are all that he has on the deck. Most of his tackle is still tied on from his top 10 in the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event on Lake Champlain just a few days ago.

 

He drifts quite a ways without another bite before coming across a massive slick of mayflies on the water. Johnston looks around and listens for fish busting the surface, but after a few minutes decides it’s time to head shallow while the sun is beating down.

 

We stop outside of the St. Clair River channel where Johnston busts out a topwater and begins covering water.

“I’m not looking for any on beds,” he says. “I just want to see if there are any up here cruising.”

Other than a few perch, nothing else is mesmerized by his topwater.

As he gets closer to the river channel, Johnston checks out a large ship that is heading downstream. This isn’t an uncommon sight around the Great Lakes at all, and, in fact, this is one of the smaller ships you’ll see, which is pretty wild.

Once the ship rolls by, it’s time to keep running up the river.

 

The next stop is a shallow flat with some pencil reeds, and Johnston digs out a jig to pitch around in them.

“I’ve actually seen some big largemouths in these reeds before,” he points out. “I don’t know if they’ll still be here because it’s been a while since I’ve been up here, but it’s worth a look.”

 

He starts flipping reeds and nearly instantly hooks up. As he battles the fish out of the cover Johnston notices that it’s a smallmouth – and a nice one at that.

“That’s like a 4-pounder,” he yells. “I didn’t really expect that, but there are so many smallmouths in this lake that you can catch them anywhere.”

He tosses the fish back and continues working around the flat with no nibbles, other than a few encounters with some northern pike.

“I don’t like how the water up here has a chalky tint to it. I think we need to head back out to the lake.”

 

Almost as soon as he runs back out to the lake and the trolling motor hits the water, Johnston marks a fish on his front graph. He grabs his drop-shot and immediately hooks a smallmouth.

“There’s some pretty good grass here. I bet there are more swimming around down there.”

 

Johnston grabs his tube rod and fires it downwind. About as soon as the bait hits the bottom he’s hooked up with a giant … catfish.

“That had me excited for a minute,” he laughs.

There is a brief wrestling match alongside the boat to get his bait back, and in no time the catfish is back free to do catfish stuff.

 

It’s time for a new tube thanks to Mr. Whiskers. There probably isn’t a better bait for smallmouths than the tube since it imitates everything a smallmouth loves to eat, from perch to gobies to crawfish.

Johnston has a stout selection of tubes and tube jigs, which you need not only because of the amount of fish you can catch, but also because of how many toothy critters also love to eat them.

While retying, Johnston decides he needs to make a move, and once the knot is tight he’s rolling.

 

The next stop is just a few hundred yards from the previous one. It’s an area that has had good grass in it before, and Johnston grabs a swimbait and goes to work. He drifts about 100 yards without a bite or any indication of good grass on his electronics, so it’s time to keep moving.

 

The wind is really starting to pick up as the afternoon wears on, and once he stops in a new area Johnston readies his Power-Pole Drift Paddles for action. After pulling a few pins and locking them in place, the Power-Poles are lowered into the water and it’s time to fish.

 

It doesn’t take long to tie into a fish, and it looks like a good one. Johnston knows pretty early on that it isn’t a bass, and as the fish races toward the boat we quickly learn it’s a drum.

St. Clair is loaded with all kinds of fish, and Johnston is on his way to being a multi-species master of the fishery.

 

Chris calls Cory, and the two chat about their day. So far neither has much to report, until Cory sets the hook mid-conversation.

No doubt this is a smallmouth as it comes flying out of the water next to the boat. Cory takes a seat on the passenger side and makes quick work of getting the chunky fish in the boat.

“That’s more of what we are looking for,” he says. “That’s got to be 4 1/2, maybe more.”

 

Johnston keeps drifting along, and after a few hundred yards he connects with another fat smallmouth.

Being the smallmouth guru he is, Johnston boat-flips the 4-pounder on spinning gear like it’s an everyday occurrence. It’s another piece of the puzzle, and Johnston likes what he sees.

“I want to run up and make another drift just a few hundred yards over and see if I get bit there. After that, we can head back in for the day.”

 

About halfway into the drift another smallmouth devours his tube. At first, Johnston thinks it’s a big drum, until the smallie tries to come up and jump in the rolling waves.

The fish puts on quite the show, jumping and wallowing around more as it gets closer to the boat. Like before, Johnston gets comfortable in the passenger seat and waits for the smallie to tire itself out.

“That’s got to be close to 5,” he says. He’s obviously excited.

Johnston lets the fish go and launches his tube out for the rest of the drift, which doesn’t yield anymore bites.

It’s closing in on 7 o’clock, and Johnston is thinking it’s time to haul me back to the ramp and call it a day, so we pack up shop and head in.

 

We load the boat up and strap everything down. Johnston is staying at a house an hour away, and has some driving to do. Overall, he’s pleased with the day and hopes to expand on some things for the final day of practice.

Johnston has a lot of excitement in store in his near future. Not only is he a favorite in this event and on the verge of making the Cup, but he’s expecting the birth of his first child any day now – possibly sometime during the tournament. There’s a lot on the line, but like always, he is cool-headed about it – just going with the flow where life and fishing take him.

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament  2018-06-28-lake-st-clair-metropark 

Nixon Ready for Fresh Start

Nixon Ready for Fresh Start

Except 2020 will be different for the General. He’ll miss the season opener on Sam Rayburn and stop No. 2 at the Harris Chain. In fact, he might not get to launch a boat for the 2020 Pro Circuit until stop No. 4 or 5 in April. READ MORE »

Review: VMC Tokyo Rig

Review: VMC Tokyo Rig

When the VMC Tokyo Rig first debuted at ICAST in 2018, a lot of folks didn’t know what to make of the weird-looking contraption. Some thought of it as a gimmick. I kind of felt that way at first until some industry friends told me about their success with it. It didn’t take long before I had a few in hand and was ready to take it for a spin. READ MORE »

Check-in Time: Kurt Mitchell

Check-in Time: Kurt Mitchell

From time to time, FLW checks in with its anglers to find out what they’ve been up to, what they’re listening to, who they’re following and where they’re heading while out on the tournament trail. This week, we caught up with Delaware pro Kurt Mitchell.  READ MORE »

Wall Back to Building Baits

Wall Back to Building Baits

The offseason for many professional anglers is a time to hang out with family and take a step away from a bass boat, while some even swap time on the water for time in a deer stand or duck blind. Not so for Jacob Wall, who just wrapped his first year as a professional angler. READ MORE »

How the Pros Spend Thanksgiving

How the Pros Spend Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy the company of family and friends – especially those we might not get to see that often. And, of course, it’s time to indulge in some delicious food while giving thanks for what we have in our lives. For professional anglers, the holiday is even more special because it lands during that small portion of the year when they’re not on the road and can spend a little extra time relaxing at home. READ MORE »

Cash in on the Florida Prespawn

Cash in on the Florida Prespawn

Growing up on Lake Okeechobee, Jared McMillan loves to flip for big fish when the opportunity presents itself, but he’ll be the first to tell you that mid-November can be one of the best times to be on the water. READ MORE »

Check-in Time: Bradford Beavers

Check-in Time: Bradford Beavers

From time to time, FLW checks in with its anglers to find out what they’ve been up to, what they’re listening to, who they’re following and where they’re heading while out on the tournament trail. This week, we caught up with South Carolina pro Bradford Beavers.  READ MORE »

Check-in Time: Jeremy Lawyer

Check-in Time: Jeremy Lawyer

From time to time, FLW checks in with its anglers to find out what they’ve been up to, what they’re listening to, who they’re following and where they’re heading while out on the tournament trail. This week, we caught up with Missouri pro Jeremy Lawyer.  READ MORE »

Cumberland Practice with Bryan New

Cumberland Practice with Bryan New

Bryan New has steadily been making a case to be considered one of the brightest rising stars of the sport. Five top 10s in T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) and Costa FLW Series events this year proves it, as does his inclusion in the Costa FLW Series Championship field. New gives an inside look at how he’s been tackling the puzzle that is the FLW Series Championship on what might prove to be an unusually stingy fishery. READ MORE »

Olson Scouts Cumberland

Olson Scouts Cumberland

At just 19 years old, Lane Olson is fishing in the Costa FLW Series Championship. Were he from Alabama or Texas or any number of other southern states known for their bass fishing, that wouldn’t be too surprising. But Olson is schlepping all the way to Kentucky from Oregon, where he finished second in the Western Division Angler of the Year standings, missing out on the top spot by just one point. READ MORE »

Fitzpatrick All the Way on Grand

Fitzpatrick All the Way on Grand

Roger Fitzpatrick has had quite a fall fishing season. He won the BFL Super Tournament on Lake of the Ozarks in September, then qualified for the All-American by winning the BFL Regional on Grand Lake in October. READ MORE »

Roaming Cumberland with Davidson

Roaming Cumberland with Davidson

Davidson, a West Virginia native, qualified for the Costa FLW Series Championship out of the Northern Division and has fished the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Mountain Division quite a bit. He’s spent a lot of time on Cumberland and nearby Dale Hollow in the cooler months. As such, he’s one of a handful that pundits are definitely keeping an eye on heading into the championship, and he was kind enough to let me tag along for part of the second practice day on the Kentucky reservoir. READ MORE »

2019 Costa FLW Series Championship Roster

2019 Costa FLW Series Championship Roster

The 2019 Costa FLW Series Championship brings together anglers from all over the world to compete for a top prize worth $100,000 on the pro side and $35,000 on the co-angler side. Qualifying from the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) All-American, the International Division and five standard FLW Series divisions, a total of 193 pros and 193 co-anglers will descend on Lake Cumberland for a fall showdown to wrap up the fishing season. READ MORE »

The Layout of Lake Cumberland

The Layout of Lake Cumberland

The ninth largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Cumberland is a perfect stage for the Costa FLW Series Championship. Home to all three bass species and over 1000 miles of shoreline, the lake can swallow up a big field with relative ease, and with the fall bite starting to pick up in earnest and the water level lower than usual, the fishing should be pretty good. READ MORE »

Previewing the Costa Championship

Previewing the Costa Championship

When 200 pros (and 200 co-anglers) descend on the southern Kentucky reservoir for the Costa FLW Series Championship, they’ll be facing conditions that might look nothing like what they’ll see as the official practice period opens this weekend. Forecasts call for ample rain over the weekend, and lake levels are likely to fluctuate as a result. READ MORE »

Morris Locks up Central Division AOY

Morris Locks up Central Division AOY

It’s not often an angler wins a Strike King Angler of the Year title in a Costa FLW Series division by chance, and while skill is what carried Jake Morris to his first Costa AOY title, chance definitely brought him to the opportunity. READ MORE »

Rampey Stays Red Hot on Hartwell

Rampey Stays Red Hot on Hartwell

After winning a T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) Super Tournament on Lake Hartwell a few weeks ago, Jayme Rampey of Liberty, S.C., was certainly one of the favorites heading into the BFL Regional on the same pond this past weekend. Lo and behold, he wouldn’t disappoint, and notched his 11th career BFL win – five of which have come on Hartwell – and won a Ranger Z518L with a 200-horsepower motor, plus $20,000 cash for his efforts. READ MORE »

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Eyes on the Weather at Lake of the Ozarks

Wrapping up the Costa FLW Series Central Division with an early fall stop at Lake of the Ozarks has become a tradition over the last few years. This year, the final stop of the season is presented by Evinrude and takes place Oct. 10-12, which should be good timing for a number of patterns to play. READ MORE »

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 4

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 4

The final five T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) Super Tournaments took place over the weekend, bringing BFL regular-season competition to a close. Regional tournaments will kick off Oct. 10, and by the end of the month the majority of the field for the 2020 All-American will be set.  READ MORE »

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Transition Time at Grand Lake

Grand Lake has been flooded for most of the summer, and, as a result, it hasn’t received as much fishing pressure as is typical for one of the premier fisheries in the region. Weights for the Costa FLW Series Southwestern Division finale, presented by T-H Marine, have the potential to be outstanding for this time of year, but it may all come down to what the weather decides to do leading up to the event. READ MORE »