Live now : Lake Erie Super Tournament - FLW Live Coverage

Cool under pressure

Cool under pressure
Alister Johnson holds up the fish that sealed his first-place finish. The bass weighed over 8 pounds.

The EverStart Invitational Challenge was more than just a tournament win for nuclear technician Alister Johnson; it was a fairy tale

For many folks, hitting the age of 40 can be one of the most unwelcome birthdays of all because it officially signals the onslaught of middle age. For pro angler Alister Johnson, who reached 40 last year, it has certainly been the definitive turning point of his life - but in the most positive way.

Johnson put together his best-ever week of tournament fishing and won the 2000 EverStart Invitational Challenge at Cypress Gardens, Fla., in November. The win capped off a good tournament year for the ambitious angler from Cottondale, Fla. With the victory, he rocketed up the EverStart Eastern standings to 17th place and gained entry into the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour as a professional for the first time. With the $25,000 Challenge cash prize, he also became the leading money winner in the Eastern Division.

"This has been the most fantastic year of my life," Johnson explains. "I've now made the finals in two (EverStart) tournaments, my job's great and I'm marrying a girl from Texas this December."

For Johnson - a former frustrated Florida farmer turned, of all things, nuclear reactor technician - winning the Challenge took years of sticking it out, not just on the tournament trail, but in life.

And, like any success story, it also took just a little bit of luck.

Fuel mover

Johnson grew up fishing the swamps and stumps of the Apalachicola National Forest in the Florida panhandle. When he was little, his father, Jackie, would drop him off for the day and let him roam the banks with his pole in hand while Dad went out in the boat.

By the time he was 11, it was clear that Johnson's urge to fish with the big boys was strong. In one incident, Jackie Johnson woke up in the middle of the night to find his son practicing his casts from the deck of his boat - which was sitting in the garage.

"Boy, did I get in trouble for that," Alister says. "But I grew up fishing. Farming and fishing is all we did."

An idyllic life, to be sure, but hard times were ahead for the farmer-fisherman. In the '80s Johnson's farm went under. He lost his livelihood and nearly lost his hope.

"Yeah, it was tough on me," he says.

But then fortune struck one night when he met a man at a Poker game - of all things - who offered him a job sweeping floors at the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant in Dothan, Ala. Johnson embraced his new job. For 15 years, he worked his way up in the nuclear industry, enrolling in technical classes and eventually became certified as a licensed fuel mover. His current job as a supervising reactor technician includes the task of manually shuffling radioactive 12-foot-long fuel rods of Uranium 238 within the reactor, and it more than prepares him for the pressure of tournament fishing.

"It can be dangerous, especially if someone doesn't do his job properly," he says. "Still, with all the precautions, it's pretty hard for anything bad to happen."

Making it work

About eight years ago, the farmer-turned-fuel-mover decided "to get serious about this (fishing) thing." He bought himself a new boat and started competing in local tournaments. Then, in 1997, he began his pro career, fishing in one Red Man tournament and in two events as a co-angler on the fledgling FLW Tour.

In 1998, he made the final round as a professional in his first EverStart Series event - which was, in fact, the first EverStart tourney ever - held not far from home at Lake Okeechobee, Fla. Focusing on one productive eelgrass bed, he felt good about his chance to win. But unfortunately for him, on the last day, several boats came through the area and muddied the water he was fishing. He struggled after that and finished seventh.

Not surprisingly, it's under situations like this where the nuclear technician seems to hold his cool. In fact, he points to the tournament as a huge confidence builder.

"That's fishing," he says. "You've got to take it as it comes. I actually just missed beating out David Eng (who finished in sixth place), who is one of Okeechobee's finest fishermen. It was awesome to come out of there in seventh place."

He started the 2000 season well, placing 25th on Lake Okeechobee. But then duty called. Johnson's responsibilities as a reactor technician took him all over the country, putting him on the road for most of year and causing him to forego a lot of fishing. His travel schedule was so hectic, in fact - servicing nuclear plants from California to Vermont - that it might seem remarkable he made it to the Challenge.

"I've worked jobs where I'd get off, drive 14 hours straight, pre-fish for one day, fish the tournament, drive home, then turn around and go back to work," he explains. "I've gone 35 hours with no sleep. Sure, it's a drain, but I decided I'm going to make it work."

And work it did.

2000 EverStart Invitational Challenge

Johnson approached the 2000 EverStart Invitational Challenge, held on the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes at Cypress Gardens, like a man on a mission. Armed with valuable lake information culled from his friend Jerry Tice of Chipley, Fla., who won the co-angler title at the 1999 Ranger Millennium M1 tournament at Cypress Gardens, he grabbed his father and set out for a week of pre-fishing.

"He's always got a lot of advice to settle me down," Johnson says of fishing with his dad.

When Johnson - as well as the rest of the field - arrived, he found the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes to be somewhat temperamental. Changing weather conditions, crowded waterways and the loss of hydrilla habitat on the lakes meant tricky fishing for the tournament field. He worried that he might not find any bass, but early on he found fish schooling among the grass in lakes Eloise and Winterset. Then he had some success on lakes Lulu and Shipp.

"I was going to use a wacky worm, but the fish started moving due to the (fishing) pressure," Johnson says. "I told my dad, `I gotta go deep.' So I got out the Carolina rig."

On the last day of practice, he found fish on a 200-yard stretch on Cannon Lake. So that's where he decided to start fishing on the first day of competition.

Opening round: A co-angler's advice

The first day was a wash. Early in the morning, Johnson landed a 3-pound bass, but by afternoon the fish had gone deep, leaving him high and dry. He weighed in 3 pounds, 13 ounces of fish and finished in 65th place on day one.

The fishing picked up on day two, however, and so did his luck. He returned to Cannon Lake and caught "a row of dinks," as he put it. At about noon, he pulled up his trolling motor, put on his flotation vest and prepared to leave. He wanted to go to Lake Lulu, where some of day one's top-five finishers, like Darrel Robertson of Jay, Okla., were mining the big ones.

"I asked my partner (co-angler Tommy Hatfield of Kissimmee, Fla.), `Do you think I ought to go to Lulu?'" Johnson explains. "He told me, `No way, you already caught two 3-pounders from this spot.'"

Johnson put down the trolling motor and proceeded to catch a full five-fish stringer, hooking them all within 20 yards on the same drop in Cannon Lake. His weight, 13 pounds, 5 ounces - including one crucial 3-pound bass on his last cast of the day - gave him a two-day total of 17-2, launching him from 65th place to eighth and sending him into the semifinal round.

Johnson says, if not for Hatfield, he would never have made it past the opening round.

"You know, these guys on the back of the boat might not be fishing on the pro side," he says gratefully, "but some of them are really good."

Semifinal round: Stuck in a canal

Anglers woke up to a wind change and a cold front in Central Florida on Friday, day three. Johnson decided to stay with the Carolina rig to test how the front had affected his fish on Cannon Lake. When he arrived there with his partner for the day, Kay Barton of Tuskahoma, Okla., they found there weren't any fish to test.

"The bait had moved out into open water and were suspended," Johnson explains. "I decided to leave and spend the rest of the day cranking and Carolina-rigging on Lulu."

The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes are connected by a series of tight, often shallow, canals that necessitate slow and careful navigation. On one canal, Johnson raised the trim on the back motor to make it through; however, when he went to lower the trim again, the motor was stuck in the up position.

Johnson was frustrated. He knew what was wrong with the motor. It was a minor problem requiring only a screwdriver to fix, but he had left his tools behind.

At the end of his rope, he turned to Barton - the only female to make the co-angler finals - and asked if she might have a screwdriver. Once again, lady luck was on his side.

"She said, `Why, yes. As a matter of fact, I do,'" he says. "Then she pulled an entire screwdriver set out of her purse."

Rejuvenated, Johnson made the quick repair and hustled to Lake Lulu. There, he threw his Carolina rig and crankbait, managing to muster three keepers for 6 pounds. The weight, however, was enough to move him up into fourth place.

He had made the final round.

Final round: Freight train

The cold front was baffling everyone. As the baitfish moved into deeper water, the entire field was forced to follow them and work that much harder to find the suspended bass.

But Johnson learned a valuable lesson on day three.

"That afternoon I figured something out," he says. "One thing I know about Florida fish: They do not bite in a cold front. I don't know if there are any other fish as affected by a cold front as in central and south Florida."

So he adjusted. On Friday night, he rifled through six boxes of gear and dug up a Zoom trickworm with a chartreuse trailer that had worked for him before in a cold weather tournament at Kerr Lake, S.C. This was a lure he had confidence in.

"I put good hooks on it with triple grips," he recalls. "And I told Dad, `I'm going to win this tournament.' There wasn't any doubt in my mind."

Johnson's confidence was high going into the final day. He had faith in the spot he was working on Lake Lulu. The plan was to move up and down a 50-yard stretch where the hydrilla met the shell beds. There he would use a crankbait trolling with the wind and a Carolina rig - armed with his trickworm - into the wind.

He would not be disappointed.

"The first fish freight-trained my bait," he says. "There wasn't even 10 feet of line out when it hit. From that point on, I caught one fish per hour."

As it turned out, that first fish weighed 8 pounds. And that was the difference. He won the Challenge decisively, beating runner-up Jim Short of Ocean Pines, Md., by nearly 7 pounds.

For Johnson, winning the Challenge was a dream come true. It was vindication after years of trying to make it on tour - and in life.

He says, "As far as my confidence level, I didn't ask myself, `Can I win one?' I always asked myself, `When will I win one?' I've fished all these years to get to this point. I mean, to go from 65th to eighth to fourth to winning the tournament, that's almost a fairy tale in this business. It has opened the door financially and qualified me for the FLW."

Living a dream

The story isn't over for Johnson. This year, he plans to cut back on work so he can fish in all six Wal-Mart FLW Tour events as well as eight EverStart Series tournaments in the Eastern and Northern divisions. Relaxing his duties in the nuclear industry means a significant cut in pay and job security, but that doesn't worry him a bit.

"I'm giving it all up for a dream," he says. "I'm devoting every day to this. I'm going to take the ethic I use at work and put it into fishing."

And he's not going to do it alone. To top off an already satisfying year, Johnson married his fiancee, Rose Fountain, in a New Year's Eve ceremony. Then he planned to head directly back to familiar territory, Lake Okeechobee, to fish in his first FLW tournament as a professional this January.

It's been a happy 40th birthday indeed.

Tags: jeff-schroeder  article 

Gleasons Don’t Want Party to End

Gleasons Don’t Want Party to End

Darold Gleason has been a part of the fishing industry for over a decade. He’s a legendary guide on Toledo Bend and a field staff staple for Toyota Bonus Bucks, Carhartt, and Yamaha Power Pay, as well as a talented regional competitor and one of the good dudes of the sport. So, when Gleason qualified for the FLW Pro Circuit at the end of 2019, he and his wife, Randi, knew what they were getting into. And they were all-in.  READ MORE »

Nelson Clinches AOY

Nelson Clinches AOY

Winning the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Angler of the Year title is no mean feat, but Ron Nelson made it look easy this year. Finishing 11th or better in the first three events at Sam Rayburn, the Harris Chain and Lake Martin, the Michigan pro kept it rolling in the second phase of the season when the Super Tournaments started. At Chickamauga he made the cut and finished 41st, then finished 12th at the Mississippi River and locked up the title by making the top 50 (currently in 18th place) at Lake Erie. For his win, Nelson will get his 2021 Pro Circuit entry fees paid, as well as a nice piece of hardware for his mantle. READ MORE »

Bertrand Starts Strong on Erie

Bertrand Starts Strong on Erie

Day one of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Erie started off fairly rough and made the run to St. Clair long and grinding. As a result, many anglers who focused on Lake Erie did very well on day one, and Josh Bertrand was chief among them, weighing 22 pounds, 6 ounces of feisty Erie smallmouths to take the day-one lead. Behind him, six other pros weighed more than 20 pounds, and with calmer weather in the forecast on day two, things could really shake up. READ MORE »

Matt Lee’s Smallmouth Keys: Bright Braid, Smelly Baits

Matt Lee’s Smallmouth Keys: Bright Braid, Smelly Baits

MLF pro Matt Lee may have cut his teeth fishing for largemouth and spotted bass south of the Mason-Dixon line, but the Alabama native has proven his smallmouth chops time and again throughout his professional career. Lee looks forward to the yearly northern swing, when tournament trails head north to famed bronze-bass fisheries. READ MORE »

FLW Live Schedule for Lake Erie

FLW Live Schedule for Lake Erie

The final event of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season takes place this week on Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio. Not only will this event showcase some of the best smallmouth fishing in the country and hand out a $125,000 payday to the winner, but it will also crown Angler of the Year, Rookie of the Year and set the field for the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE presented by Toyota. READ MORE »

ROY Update: Mississippi River

ROY Update: Mississippi River

The most recent Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament presented by OPTIMA Batteries at the Mississippi River was a pivotal one for the season-long points races. On the Angler of the Year side of things, Ron Nelson widened his lead tremendously. In the Polaris Rookie of the Year race, Kyle Hall roared from third place into first. READ MORE »

TITLE Bubble Watch

TITLE Bubble Watch

There’s a lot at stake in the final Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Erie. Aside from someone taking home the $125,000 top prize, Angler of the Year and Polaris Rookie of the Year will be crowned. But there is another important thing to be settled on Erie: finalizing the field for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota on Sturgeon Bay. The top 50 anglers in the points will qualify, and while some are already just about locked in, others will need to fish down to the wire. READ MORE »

AOY Update: Mississippi River

AOY Update: Mississippi River

Ron Nelson has led the way in the Angler of the Year race in the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit since the very early going. Now, with just one event left, he’s opened up a fairly massive gap between himself and the rest of the field. READ MORE »

Breaking Down Poche’s Disqualification

Breaking Down Poche’s Disqualification

Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Rule No. 12 regarding Boat and Horsepower Regulation recently came under scrutiny after Major League Fishing pro Keith Poche’s day one weight was disqualified at the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit at the Mississippi River presented by OPTIMA Batteries. READ MORE »

FLW Live Schedule for the Mississippi River

FLW Live Schedule for the Mississippi River

With just two events left in the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season, it’s time to turn attention to the northern part of the country. Presented by OPTIMA Batteries, the Pro Circuit Super Tournament on the Mississippi River out of Stoddard, Wis., will not only crown a winner with a $125,000 payday but also shape the Angler of the Year race. READ MORE »

Alvin Shaw Withdraws from Remaining Super Tournaments

Alvin Shaw Withdraws from Remaining Super Tournaments

Citing emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder, pro Alvin Shaw announced today that he is withdrawing from the remaining two 2020 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit events. Shaw, a 16-year FLW pro, has 15 top-10 finishes and two career victories in FLW competition. READ MORE »

MLF Analyst Marty Stone Joins "FLW Live"

MLF Analyst Marty Stone Joins "FLW Live"

FLW, the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, and Major League Fishing (MLF) announced the addition of veteran MLF NOW! analyst Marty Stone to the FLW Live broadcast team. READ MORE »

2nd Place Earns MDJ Bonus Bucks

2nd Place Earns MDJ Bonus Bucks

Major League Fishing pro Mark Daniels Jr. took home $3,000 of Toyota Bonus Bucks thanks to his second-place finish in the final Bass Pro Tour event of the 2020 season. “MDJ” had an extremely close, back-and-forth battle with eventual winner Justin Lucas on Sturgeon Bay before finishing the Championship Round as the runner-up. READ MORE »

Northern Division Returns to Sandusky

Northern Division Returns to Sandusky

FLW, the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, announced today that the organization will shift its Aug. 18-20 Toyota Series Northern Division event from Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh, New York, to Lake Erie and Sandusky, Ohio. The move was made in response to New York’s expanded travel restrictions associated with the coronavirus pandemic. READ MORE »

Under the Cap: Look Inside Justin Lucas’ Truck

Under the Cap: Look Inside Justin Lucas’ Truck

Although he makes his living fishing on the front deck of his Phoenix boat, MLF pro Justin Lucas spends as much (or more!) time in between competition rounds and Bass Pro Tour events working out of a four-wheeled tackle garage that includes an A.R.E. Z Series truck cap. READ MORE »

BFL Winning Patterns – July 18-19

BFL Winning Patterns – July 18-19

The weekend of July 18 featured eight Phoenix Bass Fishing League presented by T-H Marine events spread across six different divisions. With a pair of double-headers mixed in, it was an action-packed weekend on the water. READ MORE »

Assessing the ROY Race

Assessing the ROY Race

With the final two events of the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit regular season slated for the Mississippi River and Sandusky Bay, on Lake Erie, there’s really no candidate that is perfectly suited for both. Because of that, the final two events set up well to test true fishing talent, and it won’t be easy for someone to get on a roll to close it out. READ MORE »

Pro Circuit Events Move to Great Lakes

Pro Circuit Events Move to Great Lakes

FLW, the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, announced today that the final two Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit events of 2020 have been moved. The final Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament scheduled for Aug. 11-14 has been moved to Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio, while the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota, scheduled for Aug. 24-29, has been moved to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. READ MORE »

Lake Martin TV Show Premieres Tonight

Lake Martin TV Show Premieres Tonight

The 2020 season of “FLW Fishing” features 13 two-hour episodes, showcasing competition during each of the six regular-season Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit events, plus all six days of the Tackle Warehouse FLW TITLE presented by Toyota, the Pro Circuit Championship. This week, the Pro Circuit event at Lake Martin is on tap.  READ MORE »

Cifuentes’ Chickamauga Mayfly Pattern

Cifuentes’ Chickamauga Mayfly Pattern

Adult mayflies only live for about 24 hours out of the water, but during that brief window, they can dramatically affect the prospects of catching a bunch of fish. At the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Chickamauga, Miles Burghoff based a lot of his success on schools of bass that were related to the mayfly hatch. Joey Cifuentes also keyed on the mayfly hatch, and his strategy provides a great playbook for responding to mayfly hatches in a variety of situations. READ MORE »