Big Smallmouth Will Again Take Center Stage At Bassmaster Elite On St. Lawrence River

CLAYTON, N.Y. — Despite a venue change that avails a completely different scenario, Canadian pro Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ontario, will be sticking with his original game plan during the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River Thursday through Sunday.

The stunning St. Lawrence River will host the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River July 23-26, 2020. Photo by B.A.S.S.

Initially scheduled to be held in Waddington, N.Y., COVID-19 considerations required tournament officials to move to Jefferson County, which is hosting the event in cooperation with the Village of Clayton and the 1000 Islands Clayton Chamber of Commerce.

Since 2017, the Bassmaster Elite Series has held events in Waddington where river fishing was the only option. With Clayton sitting at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, anglers will now have the option of fishing the U.S. side of Lake Ontario (all Canadian waters are off-limits for this event).

Still, Johnston said he’s not leaving the river.

“I really don’t think the lake will (play a significant role),” Johnston said. “From what I’ve experienced the last couple of years, there are giant fish in the river. With tournaments out of the Canadian side, it’s always three-quarters of the field that’s in the river catching them.

“The lake can be so good, but it can be really bad as well.”

Johnston mostly attributes the decline in Lake Ontario’s productivity to fishing pressure. Years of publicity have increased recreational traffic and caused behavioral shifts in the bass.

“As soon as the spawn’s done, they go deep; they don’t stick around shallow like they used to,” Johnston said. “Will (Lake Ontario) play a factor? Yes. Will there be guys out there checking it? Yes. Is it a really big gamble? Absolutely.”

Summer weather isn’t the year’s worst, but it doesn’t take a lot of wind to turn a Great Lake into a washing machine. Elite anglers are well-accustomed to safely operating in rough water, but time management becomes an issue as navigational speed decreases. Also, presentation accuracy suffers when riding the Ontario seesaw.

Even if favorable conditions prevail, it’s likely that the majority of the field will remain inside the St. Lawrence River. Why? This pristine waterway is absolutely loaded with big, aggressive smallmouth bass. Considering this year’s conditions, Johnston expects the fish to be fully settled into summer patterns.

“Last week, the water temperature on the lake was 72 degrees, so it’s well ahead of what it should be,” he said. “Last year, there were a few bedded fish still kicking around in the river, but this year’s totally different. The weather here has been exceptionally hot — in the 100s for the last couple of weeks, which is crazy hot for us.

“The fish know that and they’re going to be deep. It’s going to be a slugfest. There’s no doubt about it.”

In this smallmouth-dominated event, the usual river tactics like Ned rigs, dropshots, swimbaits and tubes should account for the majority of the fish. Depending on depth and current, anglers will be dragging baits along measured drifts or dropping on particular targets.

One wildcard to note — largemouth, big largemouth. Northern-strain largemouth don’t grow as big as the Florida-strain beasts of southern latitudes and good numbers of quality smallmouth are typically easier to find throughout the St. Lawrence fishery. That being said, the weigh-ins will likely see a handful of impressive green fish.

“If a guy spends the time to dial in the smallmouth and then goes and looks for one or two giant largemouth each day, there are huge largemouth in the St. Lawrence River and they’re virtually untouched.

“A guy can get a big bag of smallmouth — 22-23 pounds — and then go look for a 6- to 7-pound largemouth. They do exist, and they’re a lot more frequent than a lot of people think.”

Johnston said he believes it will take a three-day total of 64 pounds to make it to Championship Sunday, with the tournament winner needing about 88 pounds to earn the coveted blue trophy. Whatever the final numbers, he’s confident that this stellar fishery will provide anglers and B.A.S.S. fans a much-needed enthusiasm boost.

“I’m excited; anytime we get the northern swing, that’s in my wheelhouse,” Johnston said. “I’m excited not only for that, but to get it back going. It’s been a weird year, and I think we need to be out there on the water doing what we love to do.

“With ESPN2 covering the event and the following week on Lake Champlain, it’s going to be a great couple of weeks for the fans watching there and on Bassmaster Live.”

Under guidelines from the State of New York, no fans or spectators are allowed to attend events, but fans will still have multiple ways to catch live on-the-water action. Like always, the real-time action will be carried on Bassmaster LIVE at and ESPN3 beginning at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will also be broadcast on ESPN2. Check your local listings for details.

Multiple social distancing and safety measures will be used to comply with guidelines issued by the State of New York for professional sports competitions to help keep anglers and staff — as well as the local community — safe from the spread of COVID-19. Prior to the start of the tournament, all anglers, staff and venue personnel will undergo diagnostic testing. Additionally, a new partnership between B.A.S.S. and CrewMinders will allow all anglers and event staff to complete daily health screening via a simple online platform. The daily health questionnaire, delivered via a text link, allows everyone involved with the tournament to perform their safety screening before arriving at the fishery or venue. This helps reduce instances where anglers or staff would potentially be congregated for on-site screening.

Daily takeoffs for the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River are scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET at the Clayton Antique Boat Museum, with weigh-ins back at the museum at 3 p.m., which will be aired on A field of 86 anglers will be competing for a first-place prize of $100,000.

2020 SiteOne Bassmaster Elite At St. Lawrence River Title Sponsor: SiteOne

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Abu Garcia, Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Ranger Boats, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Yamaha

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Carhartt, Garmin, Huk Performance Fishing, Mossy Oak Fishing, Rapala

2020 Bassmaster Elite Series Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Huk

2020 SiteOne Bassmaster Elite At St. Lawrence River Local Hosts: Jefferson County, Village of Clayton, 1000 Islands Clayton Chamber of Commerce

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 515,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (, television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2 and The Pursuit Channel), radio show (Bassmaster Radio), social media programs and events. For more than 50 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens Series, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation Series, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Series presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors, Bassmaster Team Championship, new Huk Bassmaster B.A.S.S. Nation Kayak Series powered by TourneyX presented by Abu Garcia and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.

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