A northern band of brothers

Early in my Bassmaster Elite Series career I clicked with Seth Feider, and his friendship and support have helped me survive the past two years on tour. But this year things got even better with the addition of three new members of our traveling circus. We had to go across the border to find them, but the addition of Chris Johnston, Cory Johnston and Jeff Gustafson to our housing situation made the tour a lot more fun and a lot more productive.

I believe that all of us benefited from the arrangement. Heading into Tenkiller Lake, Cory, Chris and Seth are in fifth, seventh and eighth place respectively in the AOY race, and Gussy is inside the Classic cut at 32nd. They’ve all had chances to win, too, and while it didn’t quite happen no one is going to be surprised when it does.

My results this year may not have been as impressive, but I know that their presence and their words have helped me get through some tough times and get better. Each of them individually came to me and gave me a pep talk when I was down.

For a long time, Seth and I were a duo, but the three Canadians blended in seamlessly. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re all from the North, but we have a lot of similarities. We drink our coffee and beer the same way. We all seem to think about things in a similar fashion. The group gelled quickly, and we all figured out each others’ quirks in a hurry. For example, Chris and I have to be the last ones to hit the throne before blasting off every day, and everyone knows it.

I truly believe that they’re four of the best fishermen in the world, but none of them have an ounce of cockiness or a bit of self-absorption. They’re all generous to a fault. That’s not to say we share too much information – Chris and Cory have had a system for years, and they’ll likely maintain it forever – but their personalities and their belief in me keep me motivated and keep me on track.

I’ve been amazed at how well they read the fish from the very start of practice and then adjust as conditions change. Part of it is experience, part of it is hard work and part is a God-given gift, but their openness and generosity have helped me to pick up a lot just by watching. I’m trying to be a sponge, absorbing everything I can. Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing floaties on my arms trying to edge towards the deep end, and they’re all swimming laps.

I can’t divulge all of their secrets and quirks, but I’ll tell you a few: Cory is the pit bull of the group. He’ll bite your head off if you do something stupid, especially his brother. Feider has the same attitude, but he says it a little differently. Chris is super-chill, the nicest dude you’ll ever meet — until Cory attacks him. And Gussy ... well, he’s the Snow Leopard. He’d give anything to help his friends, his family and his guide clients experience success. If he had three of the only baits they were biting left, he’d give you two of them. When we bring Dave Mercer, a fellow northerner, to our group dinners, things get even wilder in a hurry.

It’s been a trying season for me, and I have a lot of work to do in the offseason to get my head right and to prepare for 2020. It’s nice to know that I won’t have to look for a support system. That part of my career is locked in place, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of brothers to go forward with.