Escanaba, Mich. -- He was the last angler in the take-off line this morning, but Jim Johnson passed up everyone this afternoon during the weigh-in of the BASS Federation Nation Northern Divisional at Bays de Noc.
The two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier took over the lead of this smallmouth slugfest by weighing in five brown bass totaling 20 pounds, 7 ounces. G.W. Ekroth, of Gregory, S.D., is second with 20-1 and the next seven challengers each weighed in 19 pounds or more.
The 39-year-old Johnson relied on the same pattern he discovered in practice despite a change in the weather.
"I would really like some sunshine to get the big bag," said Johnson, a River Roads Bassmaster club member who has fished in nine divisionals and won one in his home state of Wisconsin. "The sun's just a trigger mechanism that is making the bite go."
A pattern he frequently employs while fishing the Great Lakes is helping Johnson catch suspended smallmouth.
"I fished about five spots today," said the Trane Air Conditioning Company lab technician. "The pattern I want to do is a run-and-gun pattern but it wasn't conducive to it today. I caught 20 pounds pretty early and got a couple of extras right at the end of the day."
Johnson missed last year's divisional here, but he had no trouble getting acclimated to the area. "I have had a lot of experience with water about 50 miles south of here that has similar structure and similar patterns," he said.
Individual and team honors are at stake in this event that pits competitors from eight states. A berth to amateur bass fishing's ultimate event, the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship, awaits the top finisher of each of the 12-man state teams.
Their daily weights are also combined for their team's score with the eight Federation Nations competing for divisional bragging rights and the grand prize of a Skeeter bass boat/Yamaha outboard rig valued at $41,000.
Topping the team standings with 190 pounds, 4 ounces is Wisconsin while Ohio holds the runner-up spot with174-14. Tournament leader Johnson also leads his squad and the other state leaders include Ekroth, South Dakota; Dave Hedge, Indiana; Brian Mailot and Brad Wall (tied), Ohio; Dale Richardson, Minnesota; Eric Bond, Michigan; Dan Parker, Iowa; and Vaughn Capasso, Ill.
This three-day event concludes Friday when the Northern Divisional state champions and the top team of the tournament will be crowned.
Daily launches and weigh-ins are being held at Escanaba Harbor. Weigh-ins begin at 2:30 p.m. CT each day.