Johnston victorious with overwhelming performance in Bassmaster Elite Series event at St. Johns River

April 21, 2024

Johnston victorious with overwhelming performance in Bassmaster Elite Series event at St. Johns River


PALATKA, Fla. — Cory Johnston fished a full tournament.

But with all due respect to nine other talented and worthy Top 10 competitors, he could’ve slept in the final day and still won the MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

A four-day total of 93 pounds, 6 ounces gave the pro from Otonabee, Canada, a winning margin of 21-2 over Texan Brad Whatley. But Johnston’s Day 3 total — 73-13 — would have edged Whatley’s tournament total of 72-4 by 1-9.

“Everyone who fishes these tournaments dreams of winning one of these blue trophies,” said Johnston, who took home the $101,000 top prize. “I don’t know what to say; it was just one of those weeks that was absolutely incredible.

“People say, ‘When it’s your time, it’s your time.’ This week, I couldn’t do anything wrong.”

Johnston’s winning margin was the second largest in Elite history (behind Patrick Walters’ 29-10 record at Lake Fork in 2020). This is only the 15th time an Elite Series competitor has recorded a double-digit winning margin.

Johnston placed second on Day 1 with 23-3, took the lead with a second-round catch of 27-8, and held on to the top spot with a Semifinal Saturday limit of 23-2.

With Johnston carrying a 14-pound lead into the final round, a come-from-behind victory would have required either a stumble at the top, or heroics somewhere below.

Neither occurred and with Johnston turning in a Championship Sunday limit of 19-9, he strolled across the finish line to claim his first blue trophy. With a trio of second-place Elite finishes (Lake St. Clair 2020St. Lawrence River 2022 and 2023), Johnston said that finally closing an Elite win was hugely rewarding.

“It’s been five years (on the Elites) and I’ve been so close so many times,” Johnston said. “To finally get it done, I can’t even describe it.”

All week, Johnston targeted bed fish in Salt Springs, which runs off the northwest side of Lake George. Noting that he relied heavily on Garmin Perspective Mode and his Power-Pole Move trolling motor, Johnston said he caught those fish by flipping various worms and creature baits and drop shotting a finesse worm.

On Day 4, Johnston sensed his main pattern was dwindling, so he started his morning by flipping spatterdock (pads) on the main river. This produced a couple of his limit fish, including his biggest catch — a 7-12.

“I managed my fish well and made good decisions,” Johnston said. “Flipping pads today was probably the best decision, in my mind, that I could’ve made.”

Of all the Top 10 competitors, Whatley was the one with the highest probability of snatching victory from Johnston’s grasp. The pro from Bivins, Texas, mounted the event’s biggest comeback by boosting a disastrous 95th-place Day 1 bag of 8-9 with a second-round limit of 20 pounds and rising to 36th.

“I didn’t turn it around; the good Lord turned it around,” Whatley said. “My back was against the wall. I had a couple of bad events (Toledo Bend and Lake Fork), got a Top 10 at the Harris Chain and came out here swinging.”

When Whatley hit the “dirty 30” with a Semifinal Saturday limit of 31-4 — the event’s heaviest bag and Whatley’s best Elite Series catch — speculation over his show-stealing potential percolated. Ultimately, Whatley weighed a Day 4 bag that went 12-7.

All week, Whatley has focused on main-river spatterdock fields. Whatley said he caught his bass on an Epic Baits swim jig and another unnamed swim jig, both with craw trailers and a chrome/blue Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap.

“I love Florida,” Whatley said of his back-to-back Sunshine State Top 10 finishes. “If I ever move anywhere, it will be right here.”

Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., finished third with 7-16. His daily weights were 17-11, 18-12, 18-4 and 16-11.

Committing his event to Rodman Reservoir, south of Palatka, Foutz focused on chasing bass that were moving with bait schools. When the fish came up schooling, he’d catch them on a Zara Spook. For the ones he spied on forward-facing sonar, a jighead minnow presentation got the bites.

“I had (Rodman) to myself, which is surprising with these guys,” Foutz said. “Anytime you have something to yourself, it means one of two things: It’s something special or you’re not on them at all.

“I was around so many fish. They were swimming around in schools of 30 and 40. They got a little hard to catch the last two days. I just had two 30-minute flurries when I caught the bulk of my weight.”

Cory Johnston won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for Day 4 with his 7-12. Whatley won the $2,000 Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag Award.

Whatley also won the $2,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the tournament with his 8-7.

Wes Logan of Springville, Ala., won the $1,000 BassTrakk contingency award.

Florida pro Drew Benton also took home an additional $4,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, while Louisiana’s Greg Hackney earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Benton earned an additional $4,000 while Oklahoma’s Jason Christie claimed an additional $1,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., won $1,000 for once again finishing an event with the lead in the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. McKinney has 380 points, followed by Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., with 375, Canadian Chris Johnston with 342, Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, with 338 and Cory Johnston with 335.

McKinney also leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings.

This event was hosted by the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.


2024 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2024 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Bass Pro ShopsDakota Lithium, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Progressive Insurance, Ranger Boats, Rapala, Skeeter Boats, Yamaha
2024 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: AFTCO, Daiwa, Garmin, Lew’s, Lowrance, Marathon, Triton Boats, VMC


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2024 MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River 4/18-4/21
St. Johns River, Palatka  FL.
(PROFESSIONAL) Standings Day 4

Angler                   Hometown              No./lbs-oz  Pts   Total $$$

1.  Cory Johnston          Otonabee CANADA         20  93-06  103 $101,000.00
Day 1: 5   23-03     Day 2: 5   27-08     Day 3: 5   23-02     Day 4: 5   19-09
2.  Brad Whatley           Bivins, TX              17  72-04  102  $40,000.00
Day 1: 2   08-09     Day 2: 5   20-00     Day 3: 5   31-04     Day 4: 5   12-07
3.  Jacob Foutz            Charleston, TN          20  71-06  101  $30,000.00
Day 1: 5   17-11     Day 2: 5   18-12     Day 3: 5   18-04     Day 4: 5   16-11
4.  Drew Benton            Panama City, FL         20  70-11  100  $25,000.00
Day 1: 5   17-01     Day 2: 5   11-04     Day 3: 5   20-14     Day 4: 5   21-08
5.  Chris Johnston         Otonabee Ontario CANADA 20  70-00   99  $20,000.00
Day 1: 5   16-09     Day 2: 5   21-07     Day 3: 5   18-14     Day 4: 5   13-02
6.  Greg Hackney           Gonzales, LA            20  67-15   98  $19,000.00
Day 1: 5   19-05     Day 2: 5   16-13     Day 3: 5   15-09     Day 4: 5   16-04
7.  Jason Christie         Dry Creek, OK           20  66-09   97  $18,000.00
Day 1: 5   12-01     Day 2: 5   21-13     Day 3: 5   15-14     Day 4: 5   16-13
8.  Ray Hanselman Jr       Del Rio, TX             19  66-09   96  $17,000.00
Day 1: 5   17-06     Day 2: 5   19-10     Day 3: 4   13-00     Day 4: 5   16-09
9.  Matt Arey              Shelby, NC              20  64-13   95  $16,000.00
Day 1: 5   21-00     Day 2: 5   18-02     Day 3: 5   09-03     Day 4: 5   16-08
10. Logan Latuso           Gonzales, LA            20  63-15   94  $15,000.00
Day 1: 5   11-01     Day 2: 5   21-02     Day 3: 5   20-03     Day 4: 5   11-09

1   Jake Whitaker            Hendersonville, NC  07-15      $1,000.00
2   John Cox                 Debary, FL          08-00      $1,000.00
3   Brad Whatley             Bivins, TX          08-07      $1,000.00
4   Cory Johnston            Otonabee CANADA     07-12      $1,000.00

Brad Whatley             Bivins, TX          08-07      $2,000.00

Brad Whatley             Bivins, TX          31-04      $2,000.00

Day   #Limits    #Fish      Weight
1        99       506      1411-00
2       101       510      1336-09
3        42       235       644-07
4        10        50       161-00
252      1301      3553-00