Chris and Cory Johnston stormed onto the Bassmaster Elite Series stage in 2019. The brothers made an impressive debut that year on the St. Lawrence River, with Chris finishing second and Cory eighth. In the recent Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at the St Lawrence River, the duo doubled up again, this time flip-flopping with Cory finishing second and Chris sixth.
Johnston has been a familiar name on Championship Sundays ever since their debut. But these two do things a little differently from the rest of their competition. The brothers operate their professional fishing careers collectively, as a family business.
When one brother cashes a check, both get paid. When it’s time to foot the bill for a boat expense, both brothers bear the burden. And it seems to be working quite well for them, with more blessing than burden so far.
“That’s the way we’ve done it since I was 11,” commented Chris, the younger of the two brothers by four years. “We just kind of paid for our entry fees and pooled all the money together for our expenses and kept it in one pot.”
Cory added, “It’s been like that forever, since the first time we won money fishing. We stay together, travel together, all the expenses come out of one account. Seems to work pretty well for us.”
Chris commented, “Kind of strange, but we’re still doing it today.”
The thing about strange is that it’s a relative term. So strange can be a good thing sometimes. For instance, it’s pretty strange for two brothers to be able to make it all the way to the pinnacle of competitive bass fishing, the Bassmaster Elite Series. This has only happened a few times, and the Johnston brothers are the first international anglers ever to accomplish this feat, hailing from Canada.
Both brothers agree that operating as a unit has had a lot to do with their early success, as well as fishing with their father growing up, a well decorated angler on the Canadian bass fishing scene.
“We basically grew up in a bass boat,” said Cory. “Dad (Lynn Johnston) was good enough to take us practicing for a lot of big tournaments so we got to learn a lot at a very young age. And that definitely helped us grow.”
As for the brothers running their professional fishing careers as a joint enterprise, there are of course several pros and space for a few cons to rear their heads as well. One of the main benefits, being able to practice and process water far faster than either could alone.
“It helps because we share all our information,” said Cory. “If Chris goes to an area of the lake in practice and says there’s no fish there, then there’s no fish there. And I don’t have to worry about it.”
Finding someone that you have that level of confidence in is very rare. An angler might come across one, maybe two relationships like that in his lifetime. For the brothers, this built-in bond is invaluable.
“We’re both essentially the same person when it comes to fishing,” said Cory. “So it helps when I know how he’s going to fish and where he’s going to fish. It would be no different if it was me. So it definitely helps, for sure.”
Though having two heads is certainly better than one on the fishing side of things, having two mouths to feed could add a little pressure. Especially considering the two brothers have other mouths depending on their performances as well. Each has a family of his own to think about and provide for, and that has the potential to add a whole other layer of issues when running a family business like this. But this family is a close knit one.
“We are a very close family,” Chris said. “We live 10 minutes apart. We just pay a salary to each other. It’s working out so far. We haven’t had too many issues.”
Instead of added pressure, the brothers see it as added motivation. Though, Cory admits it’s hard to be any more motivated than the two already are. They’re very competitive by nature, and that’s part of why they’re so successful. But having your brother out there definitely adds a little shot of something to the competitive mix.
“We’re always giving each other a hard time,” said Chris. “We’re trying to get a rise out of each other, and someone’s always got bragging rights. It makes it a little more competitive, and you want to win just a little bit more.”
Right now, Cory has the bragging rights after edging out Chris in the last St Lawrence Elite. But Chris made sure to get his jab in when he could, making the remark from stage on Championship Sunday that it was about time Cory started pulling his weight again.
The brothers have proven that blood is thicker than water. Not sure what the official name of their fishing company is, but that could be a good one: Blood Thicker Than Water. If they need a slogan, maybe, “Johnston and Johnston, a Family Fishing Company.” Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.
All worn out metaphors and overreaching jokes aside, Cory and Chris have found a system that works well for them, allowing both brothers to live out their dreams while also providing hard-earned livelihoods for their families. Team Johnston is a powerhouse on the Bassmaster Elite Series and an honorable reminder of the value of building a strong family and leaving a legacy.