Johnston springs into lead on Day 2 of Bassmaster Elite Series event at St. Johns River

PALATKA, Fla. — Cory Johnston knew he was playing a high-stakes game, but the Canadian pro believed the potential payoff justified his day’s commitment.

Cashing in on his gamble, Johnston sacked up a five-bass limit of 27 pounds, 8 ounces to lead Day 2 of the MAXAM Tire Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River.

After placing second on Day 1 with 23-3, Johnston now has a two-day mark of 50-11. The only competitor to break 20 pounds the first two days, Johnston heads into Semifinal Saturday with a lead of 11-9 over North Carolina’s Matt Arey.

Repeating his Day 1 strategy of targeting bed fish in Salt Springs, which runs off the northwest side of Lake George, Johnston described the requisite plodding pace.

“It takes a lot of patience; it’s not like it’s fast and furious,” he said. “You fish all day and it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward things.

“I went probably three hours midday without catching a fish. It was a lot of looking at them and trying to see which fish are going to bite. Sometimes, you waste an hour on one and it never even bites.”

Well-schooled in the ways of bed fish, Johnston said he expected nothing less. Several fish pushed him to the limit of exasperation, but persistence proved to be his best tool.

“Every fish is different, you just have to see what they’re doing and see if you can get them to react,” he said. “Some you can get close to, some you can’t. They’re super finicky in that clear water and they’re not easy to catch.”

Fortunately, his biggest fish — a 7-10 that bit around 8:40 a.m. — was fired up and ready to bite. While neighboring fish often required multiple presentations, this bass made the day’s highlight reel.

“Nothing I love more than a one-flipper,” Johnston said. “I don’t usually get too excited, but that one got me excited.”

Noting that he caught his bass by flipping a variety of plastics, Johnston said he’s hoping Day 3 brings a complexion similar to the second day’s warm, calm conditions.

“We’ll see how it goes; weather dictates a lot of what I’m going to do,” he said. “If we get weather that isn’t conducive to what I want to do, I’m gonna have to switch it up and do something totally different. I’m just hoping I can get one more day out of it.

"I was shocked that this place held up. I thought after yesterday, it was done. Hopefully a couple more stay locked on and we can go back and do it again tomorrow.

Arey started strong with a fourth-place Day 1 limit that weighed 21-0. Adding 18-2 lifted him two spots with a total weight of 39-2.

Beginning his day by flipping main-river pads, Arey caught a small limit and then relocated to Salt Springs where he flipped soft plastics and culled four of his fish. Arey said he was thankful his second stage delivered because his first stop was leaner than he’d expected.

“I only had about 6 pounds when I went into Salt Springs,” he said. “Yesterday, I had about 10-11 when I went in there. I did lose a couple fish this morning and one was about a 2 1/2-pounder.”

Arey said he’s encouraged with the Salt Springs potential.

“I need to catch 25 to 30 pounds and I’ve seen it swimming around in there,” he said. “They’re not locked down and you can’t catch them right now, but who knows what’s in store for tomorrow.”

Bob Downey of Detroit Lakes, Minn., is in third place with 38-12. Posting a respectable limit of 16-1, Downey placed 28th on Day 1. Adding 22-1 Friday, he raced 25 spots up the standings.

Mixing up his tactics, Downey said he spent most of his time winding reaction baits. He opted to keep the details thin, but he said picking up the pace served him well.

“Yesterday, I went through this area kind of methodically and had a couple nip at my work,” Downey said. “I started winding through there and it turned out that’s what they wanted."

Bracing his limit with a pair of kickers — a 7-0 and a 7-10 — Downey said he was thankful for the numerical advantage.

“My other three were 2 1/4- to 2 3/4-pounds and just two giants today,” he said. “Yesterday, I had three good ones and two rats. Today, I had a better average.”

John Cox of DeBary, Fla., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 8-0.

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year points standings with 371 points. Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., is in second with 357, followed by Chris Johnston of Otonabee, Canada, with 343, Tyler Williams of Belgrade, Maine, with 338, and Cory Johnston with 335.

The Top 50 remaining anglers will take off at 7 a.m. ET Saturday from Palatka City Dock & Boat Ramp. The weigh-in will be held back at the ramp at 3 p.m., with only the Top 10 advancing to Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.

Follow all the Semifinal Saturday action on FS1 from 7:30-10:30 a.m. and on Bassmaster.com from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. ET. On Championship Sunday, watch live coverage on FS1from 8 a.m. – 1:30- p.m. and on Bassmaster.com from 1:30 p.m.-3 p.m.

BassBass fishingElitesFeaturedFlipping/pitchingLargemouth bassOther-b.a.s.s

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