The great smallmouth battle of 2019, also known as the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Black Velvet, came down to a rookie Canadian pro who has spent his life plying the pristine waters of the storied fishery and a young Georgia pro who is experiencing a breakout season.
Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Canada, was the favorite leading up to this event because of his history on the St. Lawrence. Micah Frazier of Newnan, Ga., wasn’t on the radar of anglers who may finish in the top half of the field. As the scales settled in Waddington, N.Y., these two prolific pros held their breath alongside thousands of fans waiting to see which of these anglers would wear the crown.
And by just 14 ounces, Frazier toppled the overwhelming favorite. The Georgia pro’s massive 25-pound, 9-ounce limit on Day 4 vaulted him from 10th place to Elite Series champion, completing a four-day total of 87-4.
“I had no idea I had that much weight,” Frazier admitted. “I’m terrible at judging smallmouth. Still, I felt like I had an outside shot at winning as long as the leaders didn’t crush them.”
Frazier caught bass all day long. His culls were countless, and the big fish kept on biting his bait. That bait, the only one he used all four days of the event, was a prototype Yum Ned Dinger fished on 1/4- or 1/8-ounce mushroom jigheads. “I don’t think the bait is out yet, but it mimics a goby better than anything I’ve seen. It has a hollow section in the tail that makes it stand up and it bubbles a little when you shake it.”
Frazier’s pattern was simple. The Georgia pro focused on areas 18 to 40 feet deep, keeping his line perfectly vertical under the boat while drifting with the current. “I’d seen some light sand spots and there were a lot of mussels and shells there,” he said.
Frazier’s win puts an exclamation mark on a breakout season. The soft-spoken pro has been fishing the Elite Series since 2016, but this year has captured two third-place finishes (Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest on Lake Fork and the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Hartwell) along with his win on the St. Lawrence.
“This year has been so special. The atmosphere on the Elite Series now is just incredible. All the guys are positive and I have never had so much fun fishing as I have had this year. B.A.S.S. and Bassmaster fans are just awesome.”
Johnston, who led the first three days of the event and was the hands-down favorite to win, struggled most of the day, but landed two key fish in the last 30 minutes to put him back in contention. “My main area ran out of big fish. I knew I was going to have to grind today,” the Canadian pro said.
His grinding produced a solid 20-pound, 1-ounce limit. But, it fell just slightly short of overcoming the final-day heroics of Frazier. Johnston finished in second place with 86-6. “It’s tough, you know. I had an entire country cheering for me this week. It’s been surreal. I wanted it for all these awesome fans more than anything and I left it all out there.”
Johnston sight-fished for the majority of his weight over the past four days. He was fishing a shallow flat that featured rock veins and grass. “I threw a handmade hair jig a lot, and caught some on it. But mainly, I’d see fish follow it and then throw back with a Senko or tube to catch them.”
Alabama pro Scott Canterbury was hoping to survive the northern swing of the Elite Series, and ended up exceeding that expectation after he weighed in 21-5 on the final day for a four-day total of 84-8 and the third-place spot.
“I am so blessed to have had such an incredible week,” the veteran pro admits. “I have never fished this body of water before and came here not really knowing what to expect. So, I identified a few areas with some bigger-than-average bass and just slowed way down and fished. I just went fishing.”
His fishing focused on water down to 45 feet, drifting a Berkley Flat Worm on a drop-shot rig around rocky seams. “I’d be dragging the bait with the current, feel my weight hit some rocks, and typically that’s where the bigger fish would bite.”
Canterbury’s third-place showing at the St. Lawrence puts him in first place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with only three events remaining. He was awarded $1,000 for taking the lead. Indiana’s Bill Lowen moved up to second place in the AOY race with an 11th-place effort, and Florida’s Drew Cook slid to third.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass award and $1,500 went to Steve Kennedy for the 6-2 giant he landed on Day 1.
Canterbury earned $3,000 in Toyota Bonus Bucks for being the highest placing angler to drive a Toyota, while Keith Combs earned an extra $2,000 for being the second highest-placing pro to drive a Toyota.