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Texas Fish & Game 2008 Article:

ALMANAC: Industry Insider

By TF&G Staff

Published January 2008

Johnston FLW Angler of the Year

In what turned out to be a whirlwind finale to the tournament-fishing season for professional angler Stephen Johnston of Hemphill Texas, he has laid claim to the title of “Angler of the Year” for the FLW Texas Stren Series. While he had been in the lead for the points race all year, and holding the field at bay with a near 40-point lead going into the final regular season event, Johnston was not totally comfortable heading to Lake Texoma.

The previous weekend, he had competed on Lake Sam Rayburn in the Texas Tournament Trail Championship, another FLW event sponsored by Ranger Boats.

Being on one of his two home lakes, Johnston was expected to do well and took to the task at hand with an eye toward another Big Sam win.

“I had taken time off from my guide service and practiced really hard for the tournament,” said Johnston. “I felt really good going into it, and confident that my fish would hold up for the two-day event I figured that it would take 18 pounds per day to take it.”

Those calculations would have been right on the money, except for the fact that competitor David Curtis of Trinity, Texas, came in with an astounding 28 pounds on day one of the tournament to lead the field by 12 pounds—a lead that everyone agreed would be hard to catch. In the end, it was a race for second place, which Johnston did claim with his two-day total of 36 pounds, 6 ounces.

“I have to admit that I was disappointed in not winning the TTT Championship,” Johnston said. “I did what I set out to do, caught 18 pounds a day, and got a good check, but the win just wasn't mine. David deserved that win, and I can't say that things didn't go my way. I did everything I was supposed to do, he just did them better.”

After the weigh-in on Sunday afternoon, it was back home to Toledo Bend for Johnston, who then had to load up and head to Lake Texoma near Denison, Texas, where the final regular season tournament of the year would be held in the FLW Texas Stren Series.

“I was exhausted before it even began, and everyone knows that Texoma is not my favorite place to fish. It has not been kind to me over the years,” Johnston said.

Johnston said that he knew he needed to finish in thirtieth place or better to lock up the points lead, so that was the goal for this tournament—not a win, or even a check.

In the field behind him were a few key competitors, any of which had the skills to take the lead on Texoma. Of those, Russell Cecil of Willis, Texas, proved to be the most formidable. Cecil had been in fourth place in the points race going into the event, and is a threat on any lake. In fact, it was Russell who had claimed a win in the Toledo Bend Stren event earlier in the year, and he and Johnston had later discovered that they had been working the same fish. Johnston finished that event in fourth place.

The split between Johnston and Cecil going into the Texoma event was 36 points. Johnston knew that it was going to be tough.

The tournament, a three-day event that began on Wednesday with bad weather forecasted to culminate with near 20 mph winds, would require stamina, skill, and good luck. Johnston set out in his Ranger/Mercury rig and headed to his starting spot. The first task of the event was to catch one fish, which would cement his invitation to the Championship for the following month in Mobile. The second task was to catch enough to hold his top competitors at bay. Johnston brought in 8 pounds, 9 ounces. Cecil brought in 12 pounds, 4 ounces.

Day two played out much the same: Johnston 7 pounds, 11 ounces; Cecil 13 pounds, 4 ounces. Now the exhaustion was turning to stress.

“I knew that it was going to be close—really close,” said Johnston. “I had to catch a decent sack on Friday or it was over.”

Friday began, and as the weigh-in time approached, things looked grim.

“I only had three fish in the boat with six minutes to go before I was due in,” Johnston said. “I was making my last cast, and looked up as Russell passed by in his boat. He waved, I waved, and then I felt a twitch on my line. I set the hook and landed the final fish as he passed by. It was a dink, just a pound and a half, but it was a keeper.”

At the scales that afternoon, most onlookers thought the tale would end, but that was not to be. Johnston weighed in 6.05 to Cecil's 6.02 pounds, landing him in fortieth place to Cecil's eighth. The door was still open. Johnston would make the six-hour drive home that evening, Cecil would stay on to fish in the top 10 on Saturday, and the points race would be decided when that concluded.

Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., the Johnston clan gathered around the computer monitor in their living room to watch the live feed of the tournament weigh-in. They all knew that Russell had to finish fourth to tie for the lead, and third to take it. Johnston could only sit, watch, and wait.

As the weigh-in progressed, Cecil finally came to the scales and with three anglers left to weigh behind him, and was sitting in fourth place. The phone began to ring. Johnston sat still. The next angler weighed his fish. Not enough. The second angler weighed his fish. Not enough. The third angler weighed his fish. Russell was bumped to sixth place. A sigh of relief was released from Johnston—the first deep breath of the week, and, finally, a conclusion to the race that has been going on since February. Stephen Johnston of Hemphill had claimed the Angler of the Year title in the FLW Texas Stren Series.

“I can't believe it,” said Johnston. “To think that it would come down to this and be so close is unreal. Russell is a great angler and competitor, and a friend, so this was really an unbelievable ending. I am so happy to be in this position and looking forward to the Championship in Mobile—and then, of course, to starting all over next year!”

Johnston is owner of Johnston's Guide Service on Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, and has taken clients on bass, crappie, and duck hunting trips since 1989. He is sponsored by Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, MotorGuide trolling motors, All Star Rods, Pflueger Reels, Sebile Lures, Falcon Jigs, Lowrance Electronics, Navionics, Stanley Lures, and Maui Jim sunglasses. He is planning on fishing the Texas Stren Series again next year in addition to being a first time competitor in the FLW Tour events.

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