Daily Limit: Johnston’s win celebrated from afar

Scott Martin was relieved that Cory Johnston's Opens win put him in the Classic.

Whew! What a relief.

Some mental anguish ended for two Bassmaster Elite Series pros after the Basspro.com Northern Open at 1000 Islands. Cory Johnston will no longer have to hear how he’s the only Canadian Elite without a B.A.S.S. win, and Scott Martin’s stressful quest to qualify for the Classic thankfully ended quickly.

“I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, but it sinks in more every day,” said Martin, who moved from first-man out with Johnston’s victory Saturday. “Stressed out beyond belief. If it was going to happen, with my luck, it would be the last tournament of the year.”

Martin prayed he wouldn’t have to bite his nails through three more Opens, which offer win-and-in Classic berths for those who fish all three events in that division. Although five of the 10 Championship Saturday anglers could have thwarted Martin’s hopes, he liked his chances with Johnston and younger brother, Chris, fishing their home waters.

“It’s was good odds. I knew that Cory would give me a shot, and Cal Climpson would,” Martin said. “On Day 2, the guy leading (Coop Gallant) would have knocked me out. There was a quite a few that would after the first two days.”

Even though he was serving as captain for his daughter in a high school bass tournament on the St. Johns River, Martin kept tabs from the boat. He was optimistic when Cory built a third bag topping 25 pounds and the closest to deflate his hopes needed about 29 pounds, possible but not likely.

“I called my wife at 1 p.m. and I said, ‘I don’t want to say too much, but it’s looking good,’” said Martin, who still worried that at any second an angler’s BassTrakk would update and sink his hopes.

Not long after the weigh-in, he got official word from B.A.S.S. angler liaison Steve Bowman that he was in. B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin, who’s retiring at the end of this month, sent a congratulatory message moments later. Martin then videoed himself informing his daughter, who was full of excitement in a “really neat, organic moment.”

As promised, Martin contacted Johnston to congratulate and offer him thanks. He also said he’d reward the angler who got him in the Classic with dinner, drinks and a fishing trip. Johnston said he’d surely enjoy a saltwater excursion down near Martin’s Florida home.

“If they come down we’ll go out on the big boat for tuna and dolphin (mahi-mahi), which will be kind of fun,” Martin said. “Bring some lures out, get a big dolphin to blow up on a top water might be cool for them.”

Martin, host of long-running show The Scott Martin Challenge, and his crew are salty for certain. Two years ago they were four shy of setting the world record for most Atlantic sailfish in a day with 76 releases.

While the Johnston trip will be all fun, Martin’s mission to win a Classic will turn serious soon enough. He’ll take his first shot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Classic on Lake Hartwell March 4-6. Martin placed fifth on Hartwell in the 2020 Open while qualifying for the Elites.  

“I’ve been to Hartwell a bunch, so I’m really excited. I at least understand the lake’s layout,” he said. “I’ll go in December before it’s too cold and idle around and try to find some things. There’s stress of going to my first Bassmaster Classic, but going to a new lake would be extra stress. Going to Hartwell, which is like an old friend, is a sense of comfort.”

His father, Roland, who holds the B.A.S.S. record with nine Angler of the Year titles, qualified for 25 Classics but never won. Scott, who won an FLW AOY as well as its championship Forrest Wood Cup, has the lofty goal of winning a Classic for the family.

“I’ve probably been to more Classics than most people in it this year,” Scott said. “I’ve been to 35 of them, but this will be the first one I’m competing in.”

Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., now moves as the first man out of making the Classic. There are three more Opens in which a non-qualifying angler or a double qualifier could get him to his first championship.

Cory Johnston wasn’t ready to reveal his winning bait at 1000 Islands.

Johnstons keeping secrets

The Johnstons have dominated bass competitions on fisheries near their Canada homes. Chris won the 2019 Elite on the St. Lawrence to break the ice for that country. Jeff Gustafson made Canada two for three with his win in the Tennessee River Elite in February.

Cory has been close to winning several events, especially the St. Lawrence where he held the lead heading into Championship Sunday last July. It would have been disheartening to not close out again after holding the lead on the final day. 

Cory silenced the voices a bit with his 1000 Islands Open title, which came after busting the event’s second-largest bag of 27-6 on Championship Saturday to total 78-0.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “It feels good to get the monkey off my back. It wasn’t a blue one, but it was pretty sweet nonetheless. I can’t wait to get back here for the Elite next year. It’d be nice to bring one of those (Elite) trophies home.”

Secrecy abounded for the Johnstons, who didn’t want their spots or bait divulged. Cory requested Bassmaster LIVE’s maps just show a big Canadian flag in the middle of Ontario for the final day, as he hopes to ply his areas again in the 2022 Elite there.

Neither Cory nor Chris showed the soft plastic bait they’ve been working on, but they said it would come out soon.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this new drop-shot bait we’ve been designing, working with Spro,” Cory said. “This thing is a killer. We went through everything that we like in a bait and combined it into one. We’ve caught a ton of bass on it the last month, testing it. The last two tournaments on 1000 Islands, we’ve won on this bait.”

With his Elite invitation secure, Jonathan Kelley took his foot off the gas.

Three-way tie in points

Jonathan Kelley was leading the Northern Open in Angler of the Year points heading into the season’s final day, but he took it easy since he had accomplished his mission of qualifying for the Elites.

“I knew I didn’t have to win, but I knew I had to show out the best I can,” said Kelley, 25, of Old Forge, Pa.

With his best work on the first two days, a relaxed Kelley fell five places to ninth on the final day at 1000 Islands. It dropped him into a three-way tie in the Northern Open point standings with decorated pro Mike Iaconelli and Alex Redwine, a 22-year-old from Blue Ash, Ohio. Kelley still finished first in the division since he had more total weight on full field days.

Kelley was pretty proud of his season, and he optimistically had started an Elite fund before the season. He does masonry work for his father’s construction company and took more snow plow jobs over the winter. Now there’s work to add some sponsors.

His college days at Coastal Carolina helped him learn tidal fisheries, which led to an eighth-place in the first Northern Open on the James River. He said he didn’t change up in time and had a slip-up with a 37th on Oneida.

“I had too good of a practice. I was fishing for smallies, and the weather got bad. Committed to five bites and it didn’t work out,” said Kelley, who made a big move to largemouth on Day 2 to salvage his event. “Big regret I didn’t switch sooner.”

With his Elite spot secure, Kelley’s family and some friends joined him — his dad was fishing a BFL down the St. Lawrence in Massena — for a celebration dinner.

Redwine held off 19-year-old JT Thompkins for the third and final Elite invitation. Redwine said he’s long dreamed of becoming an Elite.

Iaconelli, who’s won in every B.A.S.S. circuit from kayak to Classic to AOY, said he will make his decision to accept a return invitation to the Elite just before the November deadline. A Daily Limit on what Ike is weighing is in the works.