Saturday, August 17, 2019

2019 Bassmaster Elite St. Lawrence River Day 3: Chris Johnston Slim Lead Over Zaldain.

Johnston in position to become first Canadian Elite Champion.
By James Hall

Johnston ready to gamble for first Elite win.
(Photo: BASS)
The leaderboard is getting interesting at the 2019 Berkley Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet, as Canadian Chris Johnston maintained the top spot after three days of competition. His 19-pound, 1-ounce limit gave him an impressive three-day total of 66-5. However, his lead is miniscule.

“I had a really tough day,” Johnston admitted. “I started in the same place I have started the past two days. I immediately lost a 5 1/2 pounder. That hurt. I caught only one keeper, a 3-pounder, over the next hour. The cloud cover made it impossible to see the fish, so I couldn’t work them like I needed to. So, I left and went to new water.”

Although most anglers wouldn’t call catching over 19 pounds a tough day, Johnston’s limits have been shrinking since Day 1. He weighed in the event’s largest limit on Day 1 (24-7), and 22-13 on Day 2.

“I was afraid my fish would run out. I have a tough decision to make tonight. I may trash everything I’ve been doing and head toward Lake Ontario. I practiced up there and know that the winning limit can be caught there. I just have to decide whether it’s worth the gamble,” said Johnston.

 If the gamble pays off, Johnston would be the first Canadian angler in history to win an Elite Series event.

A scant 6 ounces distant sits Texas-based pro Chris Zaldain. His monster Day 3 limit of 23-12 gives him 65-15 heading into Championship Sunday.

“I couldn’t hardly sleep last night because I was looking forward to this morning. The wind, the clouds … everything set up perfectly for the area I’m fishing,” he said.

However, his morning started off slowly. “I fished my first three primary spots and didn’t get a bite. However, I made a key adjustment by sliding out just a little deeper and caught the 5-11 and 5-15 on back-to back drops.” Zaldain said the problem was not catching the fish, but finding them.

“I only caught 8 or 9 keepers today,” the veteran Elite pro said. “However, when I marked them on my Humminbird, I could get them to eat.” And Zaldain said he marked plenty of other big fish, which should make tomorrow’s Championship weigh-in something special to watch, assuming he makes it back.

He is fishing near Lake Ontario, which is an hour and 15 minutes away from launch. He ran out of gas the first day trying to get back and had to hitch a ride with another competitor. “Yes, I will be stopping for gas tomorrow,” he promised.

Much like Johnston, New Jersey pro Greg DiPalma’s limits have been shrinking since Day 1. Still, the Elite Series standout boated 19-0 for a three-day total of 64-1 to take the third-place spot. “I fished the exact same stuff I fished yesterday with the exact same baits, but the bite simply got tougher,” he said.

DiPalma has been switching between a jig and a Carolina rig to dupe St. Lawrence smallmouth. “I switched to the Carolina rig because I was losing too many fish on the jig. But today, the fish would bite the C-rig and spit the bait out really fast. It was strange. So, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to make some adjustments. I have been wanting to go largemouth fishing since yesterday, so I’m thinking about targeting the green fish tomorrow.”

Although the St. Lawrence River is fishing tougher than it did last year, the fishery is proving it deserves the No. 1 ranking Bassmaster Magazine awarded it earlier this year. Of the 35 pros fishing Semi-Final Saturday, 21 weighed in more than 18 pounds and three limits exceeded the 23-pound mark. Although Zaldain brought in two fish nearly reaching the 6-pound mark, it was Florida pro Drew Benton who walked away with the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day with a smallmouth weighing 6 pounds even.

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