TROUT CREEK, Mont. — While everyone else was heading toward the popular flats of Noxon Reservoir at launch each day, Tim Johnston was going in the completely opposite direction upriver. It proved to be key to his win at the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation Western Divisional.
“No one was there,” said Johnston. “There was less pressure.”
He was simply cranking a bank during his practice days, but he found something there that was special — the proverbial “magic tree.”
“I caught 10 or 11 of my fish there during the tournament,” he said, “and I weighed in eight of those. The rest came from other trees just like it on other parts of the lake.”
The main one was a fallen tree off a bank with current going by, and the current held the fish. When he would leave his main tree, he would work other trees for at least 20 minutes before deserting them. He also threw a ChatterBait into grassy areas that were spawning flats.
That said, he probably fished less time than any other competitor. All his limits came in the first two hours of competition each day, and he would cull up later in the day if he felt like he was in a good spot.
He flipped a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog (green pumpkin) into the trees for his best bites. Johnston was using a Dobyns 795 flipping stick and Abu Garcia Revo Premier reel with 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene fluorocarbon line.
Some of his other fish came on a 3/8-ounce white Z-Man ChatterBait with a 3-inch Keitech swimbait as a trailer.
Johnston’s winning weight of 39 pounds qualified him for the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship, Nov. 6-8, on Louisiana’s Ouachita River. He qualified last year, too, and went on to compete in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
“Going to the championship or to the Classic doesn’t make you any better,” said Johnston, “but it does give you a confidence and a competitiveness that you didn’t have before. It’s helped me have some expectations and work a little harder.”
Johnston gives a lot of credit to his boat partner for Day 3, Keegan Graves of Idaho. The pair both qualified for the championship last year and shared a cabin for the whole week they were there. Today, that friendship resulted in Graves encouraging Johnston to lead the way all day.
“He just let me have the boat because he knew I had a chance to win,” said Johnston. “There’s no way I would have won today if that didn’t happen.”
Johnston, who will represent Montana at the championship, will be joined by the following state winners: Steve Lund, Arizona; Ron Welch, California; Scott Sheldon, Colorado; Jason Hickey, Idaho; Kevin Wiggins, Nevada; Earl Conway, New Mexico; Cody King, Oregon; Mike Lavallee, Utah; Clint Johanson, Washington; and Bill Golightly, Wyoming.
In the competition between the states, Idaho beat the host team, Montana. Idaho’s cumulative weight was 304 pounds, 2 ounces, and Montana’s was just a touch behind at 303 pounds, 3 ounces.
Harrison Bertsch, Idaho’s team captain, said the competitiveness among the team members helped the team be successful.
“Our guys work hard and put in the time,” said Bertsch. “That’s how we eked out a win.”
On the high school side, though, it was the home team that brought home the trophy. Tyler Evans and Dylan Josey of Montana brought in a two-day weight of 16-14. The teammates were coached by Montana B.A.S.S. Nation member Shane Baertsch.
“They were both really great,” said Baertsch, “and a joy to spend the time on the water with.”
Dejon Lewis of California won the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament for his 5-8 largemouth he caught on Day 2. Johnston, in addition to taking home the overall divisional trophy, won the Livingston Lures Leader Award for leading on the second day.
The next divisional in which anglers will earn berths into the championship is the B.A.S.S. Nation Central Divisional, June 4-6, on Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula. Stay tuned to Bassmaster.com for updates.