The third event of the Bass Pro Tour season – Stage Three on Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake in March – was BPT rookie Clabion Johns’ third event on the circuit. Johns fished his way into the Knockout Round (his first) and eventually finished 14th in the event, collecting 67 Angler of the Year points and a $10,000 check.
It was an encouraging performance for the Georgia-based Mercury pro after a tough start to the season (he finished 80th at Stage One and 73rd at Stage Two). Johns had been undeterred after those two events, though, and fished Stage Three with the mindset that he was due to break through. He now hopes to carry that momentum into Lake of the Ozarks for Bass Boat Technologies Stage Four Presented by Bass Cat.
Starting as a Phoenix Boats BFL angler, Johns fished multiple divisions within several hours from his home in Social Circle, Georgia, to qualify for as many regionals as possible. That led to two All-American qualifications (including a third-place showing in 2016). He then stepped it up to a full schedule of the Toyota Series Southeastern Division in 2020, where he ranked in fifth place in the points standings to qualify for the 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit.
All he did that rookie year was finish seventh in the Angler of the Year Race, win Rookie of the Year and earn a berth to the Bass Pro Tour.
Johns is fishing both the BPT and Pro Circuit in 2022, and is a perfect example of climbing the MLF tournament ladder to make it to the top of the sport. Along the way, he’s learned his strengths and fishes his style, no matter where he goes.
Johns is self-admittedly a throwback. He has just one graph at the console and another at the bow; his trolling motor is cable-driven and doesn’t have any GPS anchoring. And forward-facing sonar? He doesn’t have that either.
All of this is by choice.
“My whole mission is to stay shallow and fish my strengths,” Johns said. “I don’t go deep anymore – I’ve done that my whole life and don’t enjoy it anymore. Everyone is stuck on forward-facing sonar and in my opinion, it’s making the deep stuff too crowded. I’d rather fish based on my instincts and stay shallow.”
Johns admits that just because he doesn’t like deep water doesn’t mean he won’t head offshore.
“I love being away from the bank fishing offshore grass with a frog,” he said. “I’ll also line up my boat on Lake Seminole in 15 feet of water and punch grass that tops out at 8 feet of water.”
Also unique to Johns is his aversion to spinning tackle and how the front deck of his boat looks at all times. Each side of the boat has a stack of 10 rods, with 20 different rods ready to go at all times.
“Everyone comments about my rods and how many I have up there, but they all have a purpose to me,” he said. “If I see one stretch of grass, I’ll pick up the right size pitching setup, or if a fish blows up on something while I’m punching, I can reach down and grab a walking topwater bait. It makes me more efficient to have everything right there. I don’t even own a spinning rod.”
After his quick rise to the Bass Pro Tour, Johns started 2022 off with three subpar events to kick off the year. He began with an 87th on Sam Rayburn for the Pro Circuit and then failed to catch a scorable bass during Stage One on the Bass Pro Tour in Louisiana. Stage Two on Lake Fork wasn’t much better, but he believes things weren’t going his way in all three events, from getting beat to his starting area on Rayburn to facing harsh conditions in Louisiana.
Johns is confident in his abilities and likes the rest of the schedule for both tours.
The morning of his group’s first day of fishing at Smith Lake, Johns made a comment to some of the MLF writers foreshadowing his first Knockout Round appearance on Smith Lake.
“I can’t suck forever,” he laughed and then proceeded to end the day in fifth place.
Johns knows his strengths and he’s planning on playing to them at Lake of the Ozarks: power fishing his Big Bear Rods. Baitcast models, of course.