Meet the Elites: Chris Johnston

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James Overstreet

Some kids grew up idolizing mainstream athletes — Chris Johnston wasn’t one of them. As a young kid, he grew up around some of Canada’s best tournament fisherman like Bob Izumi, Rocky Crawford, Paul Climpson. In Chris’s eyes, all paled in comparison to his Dad, Lynn Johnston.

“I don’t think I fully realized or appreciated what it was like to have Lynn Johnston as my Dad,” he said. The elder Johnston, and partner Bob Gardner, were a formidable tournament force among a very talented tournament field in Ontario who fished the Chevy Mariner and GM Pro Bass when Chris was young.

“I was privileged to be able to go behind the scenes at the weigh-ins and get to know all the tournament greats because my dad was fishing against them. That ignited my passion for bass fishing,” he said.

As soon as he and his brother, fellow Elite angler Cory, were out of diapers they were pre-fishing with their Dad for his next tournament. By eight years old, they were already proficient with a casting reel.

Often, he’d pick one of the boys to fish a tournament with him when his partner couldn’t make it. Chris finally got the nod when he was 11 years old.

“I always wanted my dad to pick me, but so did Cory, who was older. This time, the only reason I got to fish with him was because Cory was grounded! My dad and I won the tournament, and $3,000 of which he gave a good portion to me. I was sure to remind my brother about it!” he said.

At 14 years old, he’d fished his first tournament without his dad and paired up with a friend. Once his brother Cory got his driver’s license, they fished every chance they could.

The duo has been a threat in any event they’ve entered for over 18 years of fishing together. Early on, they’d entered into a pact to fish team tournaments together but also share all info with each other during individual tournaments. They’d split the expenses, winnings, and sponsorship monies helping create a unique symbiosis that allows them to work seamlessly together never arguing with each other in the boat. Sure, they’ll give each other the gears over a missed fish, but they’re equally supportive. “After fishing together all these years, our minds are programmed the same.”

Growing up in a competitive family with his brother and dad, second place has never been an acceptable option. “I’m pretty intense. Be it hockey, baseball, or fishing. I want to win,” he said.

It’s important to understand that Johnston never foresaw fishing as a career.  He’d already sought out a full-time job to pay for a truck and boat after highschool and at 19 years old he fished his first FLW Costa event and began following the Bassmaster circuits as well.

From the first time he participated in a large-scale weigh-in, he was hooked on the tournament atmosphere, increased exposure, and the opportunity to make some serious money. Yet, he never saw it ever as a viable self-sustaining career path.

At 20 years old, while still playing competitive junior hockey, he took advantage of the teams’ offer to cover the cost of a 2-year general business degree at Sir Sanford Fleming College. Soon after, he made the Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional Hockey League. When it occurred to him he could make $500 a week or go home and hunt and fish instead, he packed his bags.

Competing in the US over the next several years while continuing to work back home seemed like a good fit. Despite doing well against many of the professional anglers, and watching them progress with their careers, he felt like he was spinning his wheels.

At 24 years old, Chris turned pro and fished the FLW Tour financed on his own dime. After a good year and an uptick in sponsor support where he wouldn’t have to worry about cashing a check in each tourney to survive, he decided to fish full-time.

When he tried to sell the idea to his parents, their reactions were mixed.

“My mom supported our fishing 100 percent but was never of the mindset you could make money going down to the States. My dad was the opposite and encouraged me to go with the mindset that if it didn’t work out, or I accumulated debt, I was young enough to work it off,” he said.

Due to enhanced sponsorships with Under Armor, Shimano, Ranger, and Evinrude, he had the financial backing to move forward. 

Bassmaster fans got their first glimpse of Johnston during the 2015 BASSFest event putting on a dropshot clinic in front of an Elite veteran while sharing a sweet spot on a ledge on Kentucky Lake. He finished 13thmissing the cut by an ounce but the fishing community took notice. Once he had the opportunity, he joined the 2019 Bassmaster Elite field.

Johnston believes this year’s schedule suits his strengths.

“I want to have a shot to win the AOY by the end of the year because it’s the most prestigious title. Anyone can win one tournament but to do well in nine tournaments and beat everyone consistently, I think that’s harder,” he said.

Since the birth of his son, Beckett, leaving home isn’t as easy. “I’m still committed to fishing and my career that supports my family. I know when I have to put my head down and get to it. But, when I’m home I spend as much time with them as I can,” he said.

His wife, son, and parents will travel to a few events this year and always make it down to support him when he’s doing well in a tourney. He’s never lost sight of the opportunities afforded to him by his father, so when he flies down to enjoy warmer temps and get some fishing in, Chris never hesitates. “He’ll sting way too many fish but it’s still our little vacation to get away and fish together.”