Chris Johnston had a so-so year on the FLW Tour, finishing the season in 59th place and only making one top 10 – at the Potomac River in the season finale. From there, he headed up north to Lake Champlain to kick off the Costa FLW Series Northern Division season. It turned out to be a dandy, as the Canadian pro racked up a pair of top-10 showings and earned his second Strike King Angler of the Year title in the Northern Division – his first since his rookie year in 2009.
A long time coming
Johnston earned his first Northern Division Angler of the Year title in 2009, his rookie season, which he started at 19 years old. Since then, he’s earned five more top-six AOY finishes, including a pair of runner-up finishes. He finished second to Joe Wood in 2013 and to his brother Cory in 2016. In the meantime, Cory has racked up three Angler of the Year titles and two Costa FLW Series wins. Though the brothers split their winnings and work as a team, it seems like it’s been Chris’ turn to come out on top for a while now.
“It’s very gratifying. It’s not about the money for winning the Costa AOY. It’s more about the prestige of doing it and being consistent up north,” says Chris. “I’ve had two seconds since my rookie year, so it’s nice to get back on top. The second day at the 1000 Islands turned me around. I wasn’t concentrated on AOY then. I wanted to win that event.”
Chris’ second season on Tour wasn’t spectacular, but the unusual lack of success drove him.
“Coming into the Costa events I was a little frustrated with my past couple tournaments on Tour,” says the Canadian pro. “I had some of the worst finishes of my career, and I got to come back up north and take some of my frustration out on those fish. It definitely drove me a bit more after those bad finishes.”
Chris has done about everything with FLW besides win. His drought hasn’t hit Cody Meyer levels yet, but there’s no doubt that getting a W is a major goal. He came close this season, finishing less than a pound behind winner Matt Becker at 1000 Islands.
“I didn’t really take the time to figure out how big they were,” says Chris of the 26-pound bag he caught on day two at the 1000 Islands. “I thought I had maybe 22 pounds. Once Ron Lappin put them on the scales I thought I might actually have a chance at it. And if I didn’t have company on day three then I might have won.
“I’ve had a couple seconds at the 1000 Islands and one at Champlain,” says Chris. “I’ve been so close, and I can’t seal the deal on one of these Costas.”
The next stop for Chris is Kentucky Lake for the Costa FLW Series Championship in November. The last time the championship was on Kentucky was in 2011, and both Johnstons did decent, with Chris earning a check and Cory leading the whole shebang before falling hard on day two. Now, as a more rounded Tour pro, Chris should be better prepared, and he has some additional motivation to qualify for the Cup as he prepares for his third season on the FLW Tour.
“I’m looking forward to getting down to Kentucky,” he says. “I think it’s going to be a bit tougher tournament, and I’ll want to get back for deer season, but that would be an awesome one to win. Getting a berth for the Forrest Wood Cup takes a lot of pressure off for next season. Then I could maybe gamble a little more and go for a win instead of fishing for points.”
Johnston started the Costa FLW Series Northern Division season fast with a pair of top-10 finishes and hung on at the Potomac to seal up AOY.
Lake Champlain, June 22-24
The Costa FLW Series hit Champlain when a ton of smallmouths were on beds and a few largemouths were as well. Johnston took advantage, running around the north end of the big lake to chalk up three 17-pound bags and finish fourth, which was good for a $12,000 payday. He basically fished Ron Nelson’s winning pattern and was just short one or two kickers.
For his weight, Johnston plucked spawning smallmouths off the bed with a drop-shot, and flipped and tossed a Yamamoto Senko for largemouths. He caught ’em steady every day, despite having a somewhat limited practice due to hurrying up from fishing day four of the Tour event the week before on the Potomac.
Top 10 patterns from Champlain
1000 Islands, July 27-29
Johnston nearly derailed his AOY hopes on day one at the 1000 Islands. With big bags of smallmouths hitting the scale all around him, he meekly weighed in 16-2. He made up for it in a big way on day two, weighing the largest bag of the tournament with 26-7.
Every day, Johnston made the run out into Lake Ontario and plied a drop-shot with a Jackall Crosstail Shad to load the boat with offshore smallmouths. Had he not shared the winning spot with Matt Becker on the final day, there’s no telling what would have happened. Regardless, 26-7 followed up by 23-0 made for two epic days of smallmouth fishing, and Johnston took over the AOY lead with a third-place tournament finish.
Top 10 patterns from the 1000 Islands
Potomac River, August 24-26
The Potomac was rough on most everyone in the AOY hunt, Johnston included, and it turned out that a fish or two across the season could have made the difference for several contenders. When it came down to it, despite a top-10 performance, Travis Manson just couldn’t overcome the lead that Johnston had built and finished runner-up by seven points.
“At the Potomac I only had two days of practice, and it was extremely tough,” says Johnston. “I knew I wasn’t going to do well. So on day one I went to a community spot and got four bites, and then I went to a spot I like to flip a jig and caught one, and it ended up being the biggest one I caught all day.
“There were 40 boats on my starting spot on day two,” adds Johnston, who only landed three keepers on the day. “It was a struggle to get those three. I caught one in the first five minutes, and I lost a good one, and that was it there. After that I couldn’t get any more bites and just started running around to everything I knew.”
It was just enough – two small keepers the rest of the day prevented a catastrophic fall in the standings. Johnston finished 38th.
Prizes and standings
For winning the 2017 Costa FLW Series Northern Division Strike King Angler of the Year award, Chris Johnston earned a $2,000 prize package that includes paid deposits for the 2018 season. The top 40 pros and 40 co-anglers in the division standings qualified for the Costa FLW Series Championship.
The top 10 anglers in the standings, including AOY points earned:
1. Chris Johnston – Peterborough, Ontario – 708
2. Travis Manson – Conshohocken, Pa. – 701
3. Tom Lavictoire Jr. – West Rutland, Vt. – 698
4. Joe Wood – Westport, Mass. – 688
5. Matt Becker – Finleyville, Pa. – 686
6. Cory Johnston – Cavan, Ontario – 683
7. Ron Nelson – Berrien Springs, Mich. – 657
8 Bill Chapman – Salt Rock, W.Va. – 657
9. Bob Izumi – Milton, Ontario – 654
10. Dylan Hays – Sheridan, Ark. – 654