BASS PRESS RELEASE
MOBRIDGE, S.D. — Chris Johnston’s primary spot on Lake Oahe doesn’t look particularly special, but it holds big smallmouth that have lifted him to the lead at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Oahe with a two-day total of 37 pounds, 12 ounces.
Entering Day 2 in seventh place with 18-15, the Otonabee, Ontario, native caught 18-13 Friday and holds a 7-ounce lead over second-place Austin Felix and a 10-ounce lead over third-place Patrick Walters.
“I’m thrilled with it,” Johnston said. “I caught them all right where I caught them yesterday. I had them by about 9:30. There’s not a lot of fish there and I wasn’t seeing many left. But after I caught them yesterday morning, I didn’t see any fish. So, some new ones moved up today and I was able to catch them.”
While the north wind raced across Lake Oahe the entirety of the day, creating rough and wavy conditions, the 2021 St. Lawrence River Elite champion caught a limit quickly using mostly the new Spro CJ Smasher as well as a couple of other baits. A key adjustment, however, led to two big bites late in the morning.
“I am (Garmin) LiveScoping around and today they actually pushed out deeper on me,” Johnston said. “I had three good ones and I wasn’t seeing any more, so I pushed out deeper and caught two more big ones and left it after that.”
There isn’t anything remarkable about his primary area. While there is a hard bottom and access to deep water, Johnston said there is nothing that really sets it apart from anything else on the lake other than the quality it seems to hold.
He added that he has been the only angler in the area.
“If I get bit there, they are big ones,” he said. “In practice, I caught two 4s there and every fish seems to be 3-plus pounds. There are just better quality fish in this one little area.”
With a limit filled and the wind battering much of the lake, Johnston began his journey back to check-in three hours early. Winds are predicted to calm down significantly and shift to the east on Semifinal Saturday, which will allow him to move more freely around Lake Oahe.
“I don’t think the fishing is going to be any better with the calm weather, but I can hit more spots,” Johnston explained. “Today I left almost three hours early to come back. I didn’t know how rough it was going to be. I figured I had a decent weight and there was no point in pushing it and beating my boat up. It will give me a lot more fishing time.”
As boat 80 on Day 1, Felix was discouraged to find several competitors on his best spot first thing in the morning, forcing him to scramble to collect the 14-2 limit that put him in 34th. But with a much more favorable boat number Friday, Felix vaulted up the leaderboard with the VMC Monster Bag thus far, a 23-3 sack of smallmouth that has him in second place with a two-day mark of 37-5.
“Honestly I could just get on something. With the wind the way it was the last two days, you can’t fish that much and the fish are on pretty obvious stuff. The spot I started on today had four boats on it (yesterday) so I kept driving,” he said. “Today, I got on it and my first drop was a 2 3/4, my second drop was a 5 1/2 and then it slowed down a little.
“Lee (Livesay) pulled in and we took our time and grinded it out. We each probably caught 10 or 15 off of that hole.”
Felix’s bag today resembled more of what he thought Lake Oahe would be like when he finished his pre-practice last August.
“I had over 25 one day and over 26 another day,” Felix said. “There were giants everywhere. It wasn’t like you would catch six fish. You would catch a 5-pounder and 10 bass would follow it to the boat and sit under the boat, and you could catch all 10 of them if you wanted to.”
Walters held steady in third place with 37-2, adding 16-13 to his Day 1 bag of 20-5. He said he caught a quality smallmouth early on, but had to grind out the rest of his bites.
“It was probably 10:30 when I had three fish and by 11:30 I had five,” Walters said. “There are some good fish in the area. I thought 15 per day after three days would put you in the Top 10. I got lucky and got some really good bites the last two days.
“What I have seen is also better than what I thought. If you get a good day, I think I can catch more than what I caught the first day.”
With calmer conditions ahead, Walters said Lake Oahe could show what it is really made of the rest of the tournament.
“I think it can show out if I can get to my destination and fish for them,” he said. “I am catching them panning (forward-facing sonar) and catching them out deep — and with that water today, it makes it hard to fish. If you can get down there in an efficient amount of time and move around, you can catch them.”
Rathdrum, Idaho, native Brandon Palaniuk remains atop the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 647 points, but missed the cut with a 66th-place finish. Johnston has moved to second with his strong performance thus far with 602 points and Fayetteville, Tenn., native Brandon Lester is third with 600.
The field will be cut to the Top 47 anglers for Semifinal Saturday, and the Top 10 will compete on Championship Sunday for a first-place prize of $100,000.
Bassmaster LIVE Coverage of Day 3 will begin on FS1 at 7 a.m. CT and run through noon before transitioning to Bassmaster.com from noon to 2 p.m. The weigh-in will begin at the Walleye Up Statue around 3 p.m. on Bassmaster.com.