He’s had a front-row seat to two Canadians securing Bassmasters Elite Series victories, but Dave Mercer feels it’s only a matter of time before the circuit’s third Canuck does so.
Last month, Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., won his first career Elite Series event, going wire-to-wire to secure the US$100,000 winner’s cheque on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tenn. Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., was the Series’ first Canadian champion, winning in July 2020 in Clayton, N.Y., on the St. Lawrence River.
Still chasing that elusive first Series win is Johnston’s older brother, Cory. But Mercer, a resident of Port Perry, Ont., in his 11th year as MC on the circuit, predicts that will happen soon enough.
“I’d be as bold to say I wouldn’t be shocked to see it this season,” Mercer said in a telephone interview. “Winning is very rare in our sport.
“The best to ever do it, Kevin Van Dam, had a 28-year career and won 25 times. Cory’s come so close in the past that I’d bet a lot of money he’ll win one this year and if not, it will be next.”
Cory Johnston, of Cavan, Ont., is in his third Bassmasters Elite season and has reached 11 tournament finals and counting. He’s finished second once and third three times and at one point last year made three consecutive final-day appearances.
However, until that first win comes, Johnston can expect to get the gears from Mercer at tournament weigh-ins.
“I used to introduce Chris as the only Canadian ever to win,” Mercer said. “So now Cory will be, ‘the only Canadian not to win an Elite Series event.’
“Yeah, that’s a little cold but that’s our relationship.”
The third ‘21 Bassmasters Elite Series event goes March 18-21 on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala.
Mercer, 46, comes by his fishing acumen honestly. A former tournament angler, he’s the long-time host — often with a comical twist — of “Dave Mercer’s Facts of Fishing” television show and also writes a blog, operates a podcast with partner Luke Dunkin and produces a fishing news segment.
The show, podcast and news segments can all be seen on YouTube.
After years of being the Elite Series’ lone Canadian, the outgoing and gregarious Mercer is happy to be able to share the stage with three compatriots.
“Just having them on tour is really cool,” he said. “For years I was the only Canadian so to have those three, I’ve underestimated how homey it would feel, how comforting, especially with all of this stuff (during the pandemic).
“I’ve known them all since they were teenagers. To watch them develop and finally make it to the top tier in the sport and have success is awesome.”
However, Mercer said the three are different.
“Jeff is half the reason why people think Canadians are so nice,” he said. “He’s the Canadian you’d expect to run into from the movies.
“The Johnston brothers are super competitive, kind of phenoms, but they’re both different. You have Cory, who’s a little mouthier, aggressive while Chris is quieter and meeker. I keep telling the Americans, ‘You’re lucky we only brought three. Imagine if we brought 10 Canadians down there. You guys would hardly win.’”
Mercer believes there more anglers in Canada are talented enough to compete on the Elite Series if given the chance.
“It’s so incredibly difficult (to qualify) but I believe we have 10,” Mercer said. “What’s really exciting to me is when I’m up there yelling ridiculous stuff into the microphone as they’re accomplishing ridiculous stuff on the scales, I’m always thinking in the back of my head, ‘How many kids are watching right now?’
“When I was a kid watching, there were no Canadians but it was still my dream to be a part of that one day. If there are three now … how many Canadian kids are watching right now saying, ‘Wait a second. This is real, I can do it.’”
Especially given how Gustafson registered his victory. He not only worked just one spot throughout the four-day event — anglers often run to multiple areas — but all 20 fish Gustafson weighed were smallmouth bass, which are considered a rarity in that fishery. Yet he still won by over seven pounds.
“What made what Jeff did so special is he did it on one of the most inconsistent fisheries, one that’s famous for here today, gone tomorrow,” Mercer said. “The scuttlebutt all week, the dock talk, was at some point it would peeter out and Jeff knew he was playing a dangerous game but that’s also what made the success so exciting.
“It’s kind of like the guy who doesn’t stop for gas in NASCAR and you wonder if he’ll make it to the end. Not only did Jeff make it, there was nobody in sight when he did.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press