Late rally keeps Johnston atop Bassmaster Open field at St. Lawrence River

A frustrating start had Cory Johnston scratching his head, but the Bassmaster Elite Series veteran from Cavan, Ontario, put together a late-day rally that delivered what he needed to tally a two-day total of 49 pounds, 9 ounces at the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Open at the St. Lawrence River.

Johnston took the Day 1 lead by catching a limit of 26-14. His second-round catch went 22-11.

Adding another trophy to the one he earned the last time the Opens visited the St. Lawrence (2021) will require Johnston to hold off Vermont pro Jody White, who trailed the lead by 1-3 on Day 1. White heads into Championship Saturday 1-4 behind Johnston.

Day 1 saw Johnston running back and forth between the tournament’s western boundary near Lake Ontario and waters closer to takeoff. He repeated that routine on Day 2. But while the first day produced bass throughout his range, the second proved stingier.

“I tried that again today and it wasn’t working this morning,” Johnston said. “I ran all the way to the lake and fished a bunch of stuff where I thought I was going to be able to catch them pretty well and never had a bite.

“I just started working my way back down the river and got to a point where I was like, ‘I gotta catch 17 to 18 pounds so I’m fishing (Championship Saturday).’”

Reaching into his deep well of local knowledge, Johnston ran to a promising area and found the jackpot he was hoping for.

“I hit a ton of stuff, and I went back to what I like to do in the last hour and a half,” Johnston said. “I stopped on a spot and there were tons of them. I caught all of my fish in an hour, so I’m excited to go back out there tomorrow.”

Understandably guarded with details on his specific technique, Johnston said he is fishing a replicable pattern and using a mixture of reaction and finesse baits. His only regret was not getting on this pattern earlier.

“Location was key today because all I had time to fish was one little area,” Johnston said. “They’re on all of it, so I’m going to run a lot of (similar spots) tomorrow and see what happens.”

Nabbing all of his fish upriver close to Lake Ontario, Johnston stopped fishing at 1 o’clock and left in plenty of time for a safe return. The day’s windy conditions did not hinder him, but Johnston said the cloudy skies and occasional showers were less than preferable.

“Sun is ideal, but the conditions are the conditions, so you gotta go with it,” Johnston said. “When it’s cloudy, the fish don’t set up right when you’re fishing deep, they’re not off the bottom, so they’re not easy to see on (Garmin) LiveScope.

“Hopefully, we get a little sun tomorrow.”

Hailing from Shaftsbury, Vt., White turned in daily limits of 25-11 and 22-10, for a second-place total of 48-5.

Repeating what worked for him on Day 1, White ran upriver to the Clayton, N.Y., area. There, he fished many of the same spots he worked on Thursday but found his best results in one key area.

“I hit the same starting spot and that was pretty productive again and then I fished my way around,” White said. “Yesterday, my milk run didn’t work really well, so today I tried to run a new milk run and it also didn’t work well.

“I ended up weighing in one fish from somewhere other than my starting spot, which is not what you want. But I’m in the Top 10, so I’m just going to keep trying.”

White caught most of his fish on a ledge break. Using mainly a drop shot, his bites came in 30 to 50 feet.

Jamie Bruce of Kenora, Ontario, is in third with 47-13. Fishing upriver near the lake, Bruce turned in two days of consistent work, his limits weighed 23-5 and 24-8.

“I had no intentions of running there; I stayed near Waddington during practice, but after a couple of days of pre-fishing and seeing what I saw, I wasn’t loving it,” Bruce said. “I went to the lake and it looked a lot like where I’m from in Northwest Ontario and nostalgia was in the air.

“I only had half a day of practice in the area I’m fishing, so I’ve been expanding on it every day. I found another new spot this morning, and I was gassed up and on my way back (to Waddington) by 10 o’clock today.”

Bruce said he caught his fish on a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce Smeltinator Underspin and a Z-Man swimbait. Pinpoint accuracy, he said, was essential to attracting big bites.

Johnston is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with the 6-11 he caught on Day 1.

Perry See of Rochester, Minn., won the co-angler division with 25-6. Turning in daily weights of 13-9 and 11-13, See earned the top prize of $22,452.

Although See has plenty of experience catching smallmouth in his Mississippi River home waters, he initially struggled with the St. Lawrence’s deeper spots. Starting off with a drop shot, he was unproductive, but a key move quickly changed his fortunes.

“The drop shot didn’t pan out for me because, apparently, I wasn’t doing it right,” See said. “Then I went to my trusty Ned rig (1/6-ounce Z-Man ShroomZ head with a green pumpkin Z-Man Finesse TRD.). I threw it out and just let it hang and let the current take it.

“I got my first big one and that’s what I did the rest of the day.”

See actually caught one of his Day 2 keepers on a drop shot after he figured out that he needed to drift his drop shot in a natural presentation, rather than trying to impart action.

See earned free entries into the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens by winning the 2022 TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Non-Boater Championship.

See and Dylan Drephal of Black Creek, Wis., split the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers, each with a 5-12.

Co-angler Cade Bacon finished seventh and earned an additional $250 for being the highest-finishing registered co-angler in the St. Croix Rod Rewards program.

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. ET at Whitaker Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 2 p.m. Full coverage will be available on

The 2023 event is being hosted by the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Village of Waddington. It is part of a series of tournaments and is supported by a Market New York grant from I LOVE NY/New York State’s Division of Tourism through the Regional Economic Development Council initiative.