Seaguar Connects Bassmaster Elite Pros with Victory
The Bassmaster Elite circuit visited two powerhouse northern fisheries, the St. Lawrence River and then Lake Champlain, during a remarkable two-week march across New York state this July. Competitors battled strong winds and heavy seas in pursuit of monster smallmouth and elusive largemouth, with the goal of hoisting impressive blue trophies and enormous cardboard checks over their heads. In the end, Seaguar pros completed a clean sweep of these two events: Chris Johnston at the St. Lawrence and Brandon Palaniuk on Lake Champlain. For each angler, the key connection to victory was the Seaguar line and leader that anchored their presentations.
Chris Johnston is a picture of consistency on the Bassmaster tournament trail. Since joining the Elite circuit in 2019, Johnston has competed in 15 events – and cashed 15 paychecks. When the Elite pros visited the St. Lawrence River during his rookie season, Johnson set the pace for the first three days, leading the field until falling just short on championship Sunday. Ever since that second-place finish, Johnston has been highly motivated to earn a St. Lawrence victory – and he didn’t have to wait long.
Eleven months later, Johnson was in another St. Lawrence shootout – but this time around, he found himself in the second-place position for the first three days of the event. While some anglers found success with largemouth in marinas, Johnson focused exclusively on Lake Ontario smallies, stating that, “I never even had the notion to go largemouth fishing. There are giant smallies out there, and I was going to sink or swim with them.” Johnston’s strategy bore fruit in the 2020 St. Lawrence River event, earning him his first Elite Series championship and a spot in the history books as the first Canadian angler to win a Bassmaster Elite event.
Johnston collected his nearly 100 lbs of Great Lakes bronze using a drop shot rig around deep, isolated rockpiles in 20 to 40 feet of water. He spooled up with 15 lb test Seaguar Smackdown – an eight-strand braided line with a tight weave for an exceptionally round profile and ultra-thin diameter – in the high-visibility, Flash Green color pattern. Johnston recalled that, “in a lot of cases, I saw my hi-vis Smackdown hop or even go somewhat limp before I felt the bite – that early indication that a smallmouth was on the line helped me put more fish in the boat, especially when the bite got tough.”
Then, Johnston used an FG knot to add a 12-foot leader of Seaguar Tatsu, a premium, double structure fluorocarbon with unparalleled abrasion resistance and knot strength. “When the lake was really rocking,” reflected Johnston, “I would use 8 lb test Tatsu, but when the wind calmed and the lake went flat, I dropped down to 6 lb test to keep the bites coming.” Johnston continued, “the biggest difference-maker for me was the exceptional strength-to-diameter ratio of Tatsu. It gave me the confidence to throw super-thin 6 lb test around giant boulders, and know that it would withstand the abuse of the toad smallies living there; remember, my average smallmouth over 4 days of competition weighed almost 5 lbs.”
Fast forward one week, and the Elite field found itself three hours to the east, chasing fame and fortune on Lake Champlain, which sits on the border separating New York from Vermont. This would be a different tournament from the St. Lawrence event in many ways: largemouth can play a bigger role here than they do on the smallmouth-centric Great Lakes, and this inland lake is supported by a much more diverse forage base. Indeed, while St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario bass grow to enormous proportions on a steady diet of gobies, Lake Champlain bass have never seen a single one of these invasive baitfish; rather, these bass feast on perch and alewives. Anglers must adapt to this different forage base in order to meet with sustained success on Lake Champlain.
Veteran Elite Series Angler Brandon Palaniuk rose to this upstate New York challenge. This Seaguar pro is certainly no stranger to Lake Champlain, notching a third-place finish when he last visited the lake with the Elite Series in 2018. “This is a really tough place to win,” noted the nine-time Bassmaster Classic competitor and 2017 Bassmaster Anger of the Year, “because, quite simply, the fish don’t grow as big here as they do on a place like Lake Ontario. As a result, the weights are always tight, and little details can make a big difference.” This time around, attention to those details earned Palaniuk his fourth Bassmaster championship and his first on sprawling Lake Champlain.
Palaniuk’s key presentation on Champlain is going to sound familiar, given that his bag was comprised almost entirely of smallmouth. Indeed, much like Chris Johnston’s recipe for victory at the St. Lawrence River, Palaniuk spent a lot of time presenting a drop shot on deep water rockpiles using 15 lb test Seguar Smackdown in Flash Green, linked to an 8 lb test Seaguar Tatsu leader.
What were some of the changes Palaniuk made when fishing on Champlain? First, because of the lake’s ultra-clear water, Palaniuk used an even longer 100% fluorocarbon leader – 15 feet long – to maximize the stealthy nature of his drop shot rig. Second, he never strayed from 8 lb test Tatsu to combat the lake’s infestation of zebra mussels. “I’ve won a lot of money over the years thanks to Tatsu, and the extreme abrasion resistance and durability of that line gave me the confidence to throw my drop shot rig right into those deep rockpiles, where the big ones live. Tatsu was a big difference-maker for me.”