Can smallmouth win the Classic?


Bassmaster Marshal

Cory Johnston holds up a spot keeper on Lanier Lake.

I'm from Ontario, as you may know, and I really love smallmouth fishing.

Whether it's our inland lakes in the province, or Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain or the St. Lawrence River, I have a true passion for smallmouth fishing. That's why I'm really excited to watch the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods this week.

Although I haven't spent a whole lot of time fishing Ft. Loudoun or Tellico, I do know from the fishing that I have done in Tennessee that the fish should be starting to pull up this week. So I think guys will be fishing the banks a lot, looking for staging fish, because I don't predict the spawning fish will be in play yet. It's a bit early for that, but that's why I think the smallmouth are going to be a player for sure – they usually spawn before the largemouth, and might be grouped up nicely.

I say that, but it's also true that northern largemouth are a different breed than then ones down south. Obviously I have a lot more experience with northern largemouth, but knowing what I know, prespawn bass generally group up no matter where you are in the country. And if a guy can get on a group of staging smallmouth, I definitely think it can be won with all smallmouth – especially if that guy finds the right hump or bar where they're staging or about to stage. 

The only problem is the smallmouth need to be 18 inches to keep. That's a 3-pound fish at least, so a limit of smallmouth is going to be a minimum of 15 to 16 pounds, and you'd have to do that all three days. Knowing that, it's probably more likely that smallmouth might help win this Classic, rather than win it outright. Either way, it's going to be great to watch.

This is my second

I've only attended one Classic – last year at Lake Hartwell. I've been to multiple Forrest Wood Cups before going to that Classic, and I was surprised right from the get-go.

As soon as I walked into the door for the Bassmaster Classic Expo presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods – seeing all the people and all the booths – it was obvious that everyone in the fishing industry is at the Bassmaster Classic. It's an amazing atmosphere, and everyone's approachable. The fans get to meet the pros, and the pros get to meet the fans and shake their hands. I got to see it first from a fan's point of view, and it was a pretty awesome thing to see.

And I'd love to meet as many fans as I can this week, so be sure to look for me in my sponsor booths, and we can talk. I'll be spending time in the following booths: Power-Pole, Ranger, Evinrude, Garmin and Shimano.

Wanting to fish a Bassmaster Classic has definitely been a bucket-list thing since we've been kids – my brother Chris and I. But now that we're going to fish a Bassmaster Classic someday, the quest to get there is sort of on the back burner, and now the goal is: 'I want to win a Bassmaster Classic."

Back in the day when we were kids in Canada, we were able to watch the Classic on ESPN. And we'd always wake up on Saturday morning and watch Bassmaster coverage. Now it's kind of surreal to be in the middle of it all. Come tournament Saturday mornings, we're not watching the Elite Series on TV anymore – we're going out on Day 3 to fish. It's real life. It's awesome.

Lanier lowdown: Not what I wanted

To shift gears for a moment, I wanted to update everyone on what happened at Lanier. I finished 49th, which was a disappointment. I wasn't real pleased with it, that's for sure. But I'm 23rd in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which is still respectable, and we have a lot more events to come. It's not a bad start, but I really don't want to miss another cut for the rest of the year.

I was fishing three different patterns at Lanier. I was doing some jerkbaiting in the morning on some shallow rocks and stuff, then moving out deeper to fish humps. Then I fished a dock pattern the rest of the day. I was primarily targeting spotted bass.

I found that the fish were a little more active on the rocks in the mornings, which is why I fished them first. But we had a few calm days, and once it gets slick-calm, I have a tough time catching them on a jerkbait. After the sun got up, I'd move to the deep brushpiles on humps with a Jackall Rhythm Wave swimbait, and then eventually to the docks with a neko rig.

I only caught one 4-pounder, and was only another 4-pounder away from making the cut. That's how tight the weights were.

As soon as the Classic finishes up we're headed to Lake Hartwell, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm hoping that we'll have a lot of spawning fish there, so we'll be able to look at them. The lake has a lot of ditches and long, tapering points, plus docks, bank grass – a little bit of everything. It's a fun lake to fish.