Johnson Leads B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier Tournament at Arkansas River

April 3, 2024
B.A.S.S. News

Muskogee, Okla. —  Persevering an agonizingly slow start, Chris Johnson kept his head in the game until favorable conditions allowed him to sack up a five-bass limit of 19 pounds, 6 ounces to lead Day 1 of the B.A.S.S. Nation Qualifier tournament at the Arkansas River.

Hailing from Farmington, Ark., Johnson anchored his leading catch with a hulking largemouth that weighed 5-15. He heads into the second round with a lead of 1-5 over Jeff Clark of Van Buren, Ark.

“That big fish helped massively,” Johnson said. “That’s a total gift on this river. 

“I only caught five fish today. I had three others that were in the 3-pound class and one that was right at 15 inches.”

Johnson said he caught his big fish at noon. Prior to that he had a few missed bites; a frustration he attributes to the shivering, windy morning. Improving weather and river hydrology got things moving in the right direction.

“I think a lot of it had to do with the river began to rise midday and the sunshine — that made it happen,” Johnson said. “It was cold this morning; about 45 degrees at takeoff. All the fish came from noon on.”

Noting that he was targeting prespawn bass, Johnson said he struggled with the day’s blustery conditions.

“I really fought the wind all day long,” Johnson said. “I had to fish really, really slowly. I think these fish are trying to move up to spawn and it was hard to hold my boat in position to fish for them.”

Johnson said he fished a few miles upriver from takeoff and fished something he described as unique in that region of the river. He basically targeted main-river structure — classic prespawn staging spots in 1 to 3 1/2 feet of water — but his specific zone comprised something with distinct appeal.

Johnson said the area where he caught his bass is something of an anomaly, so he opted to keep the details guarded. Johnson said his big fish was his first catch. That bass, he said, brought a lightbulb moment.

“I got into a little area, and caught that big one and then three others pretty quickly,” he said. “It was just grinding all day, but once I got that bite, it clued me in on what I needed to be doing.

“I was catching them on a bait I like to use back home. The key was slow, methodical presentations.”

Johnson said his ideal Day 2 game plan would find him right back where he took the first-round lead. However, he realizes he may need to consider his options.

“I’m really concerned with pressure tomorrow,” Johnson said. “A lot of the anglers aren’t going to want to go to Kerr Reservoir tomorrow, especially if they didn’t do well there today.

“Unfortunately, this area of the river doesn’t have many spots like the one I’m fishing and it can’t handle much pressure. You can’t put three boats in there. That may be a major factor."

Clark is in second place with 18-1, and Hunter Litchfield of Macomb, Ill., is in third with 17-11. Johnson is in the lead for Big Bass with his 5-15. Kevin Turner of Sand Springs, Okla., leads the co-angler division with 11-12.  Mike Estrada of Belen, N.M., holds the Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4-14.


In the second qualifying event in the new B.A.S.S. Nation format, the Top 20 anglers will qualify for the 2024 Mercury B.A.S.S. Nation Championship , scheduled for Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Grove, Okla., Nov. 6-8.

Thursday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7 a.m. CT at Three Forks Harbor. The weigh-in will be held at the harbor at 3 p.m.