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This Sault angler cut his teeth on the Goulais River

In this edition of Fishing in the North, David Reid chats with Sault Ste. Marie's Steven Johnston
2020-04-30 Steven Johnston
Steven Johnston. Photo supplied

The subject of this week's Northern Ontario Walleye Trail angler profile started fishing the trail in 2013 after his friend, and now partner, approached him to fish the trail with him.

He enjoyed the commonality shared between anglers after competing in the first tournament so much that he decided he would continue honing his skills by competing against some of the best walleye anglers in the region.

I would like to introduce this week's NOWT pro angler, Steven Johnston.

Q: Where were you born?

A: I was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.  

Q: Who played a role in getting you started in fishing?

A: There are a few people in my life I can thank for this addiction. But I would have to say it’s a family affair. Literally, everyone in our family fished whether they liked it or not. It’s just what we did.

Q: As a youth, where did you fish, and for what?

A: There wasn’t a dock or anchored boat I didn’t fish under along the banks of the Goulais River or from one of my family member's small boats in the Pine Island area. Mostly bass and pike kept me busy, but I welcomed anything to bite my line. I was very fortunate to come from a large family, and the ones who lived on the water were my favourites! Many of the creeks around got my attention as well, whether a group of us rode our bikes or were able to convince our parents to drive us. Always good for a few small trout.

Q: What age did you start fishing?

A: I started fishing from the age I could hold a rod. I went on many family outings while I was still too young to fish.

Q: How did you get into walleye tournament fishing, and why?

A: I started fishing walleye tournaments thanks to my partner now, Jake Pepin. He had the opportunity to compete with Mark Lytham and his cousin Nick Huckson in a few NOWT events. After competing in those tournaments, he was hooked.

Knowing my fishing addiction, it wasn’t tough for him to convince me this is what we need to be doing. I have now been fishing in the NOWT since 2013. I fish these tournaments mostly because of the friendships I have made along the way. It’s always a great time seeing everyone and catching up.

I also have a competitive side, and fishing against the quality of anglers in the NOWT is still a challenge and keeps me working harder to better my skills and compete.

Q: What was your most memorial fishing experience and why?

A: One of the most memorable fishing experiences for me has to be from Dubreuilville 2019, and our best finish to date.

Jake and I had a great day, one finishing in the top 5. We had a solid program in place and one that we love in the spring on the Dubre system. Sunday was terrible, sunny, and flat calm. We ran our spots with little success and hoping for some wind to kick up. Around 11 a.m., that happened. 

Thinking back to what we have learned over the years and the advice we have received, we kept grinding. It wasn’t long before we had a decent bag of fish. With only about a half-hour left to fish, we were looking for our second over to try and win our first tournament. We were both diligently workIng a piece of shore line and watching the clock. With about 10 minutes of fishing left, I felt what I was looking for. Jake slid the net under a beautiful 25” walleye, and we were off to the check-in! Never sure what to expect in a talented field of anglers, we were hoping for the best. It turns out we were beaten by the best.  Danny Hein and DJ Germain edged us out 23.23 lbs, and we took 2nd with 23.10 pounds.

Q: List any anglers that helped you learn more about fishing over the years.

A: Coming from the Sault, there is a long list of excellent fishermen who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a boat with or bouncing information off during hard times on the water. A few that come to mind and that has definitely had an influence on me over the years are Joe Guilliani, Shane Turcotte, Jason Doyon, Nick Huckson, and of course, my tourney partner Jake Pepin.

Also, many of the vets in the NOWT who have always encouraged us when needed by sharing tips on a pattern that was working or just to keep grinding until we got results. Thanks to Jamie Robinson, Terry Bernath, Perry Caverson, Denis Martin, and Jody Villeneuve.

Q: List sponsors and tournament finishes.

A: Mark Pepin Trucking – Jake's father, and one of our biggest supporters. THANK YOU! 

Junction Tackle Company – Kris Bain was always making sure we always well stocked with laser-sharp jigs and the best harnesses. THANK YOU!

NOWT finishes: one 2nd in Dubreuilville, two 3rds in Dubreuilville, one 4th in Sagamok, 8th in Kap River, 8 top 20 finishes.

Q: Biggest fishing supports over the years?

A: My biggest supporters are my family. They are always waiting to hear how my day went good or bad and full of encouragement. My wife Angela has, by far, been my biggest fan. I can’t thank her enough for all of the support she has given over the years. And allowing me to do what I genuinely love. She always sends us away with a cooler full of home-cooked meals and willing to help where she can.

Q: What are some of your favourite fish you like to fish for, and why?

A: My favourite fish is walleye. Some of the memories of spring walleye trips north with groups of family and friends have helped to mold me into the person I am today. One hundred fish days that you never want to end. Shore lunches or fish in the 30” class keep me coming back for more! 

Even though walleye is my favourite species, I do spend a lot of time chasing others. Winter brook trout with a few good friends “ones you can trust,” take up the better part of my winter! Some days spent breaking trail all day to fish for a few hours at the end of a day only come up empty-handed. However, there have been times when a real trophy has made it topside that made the day worth all the efforts. Living in the Sault, we are blessed with a diverse fishery, many stocked lakes, and miles of roads to access them. I will rarely turn down a fishing trip of any kind.

Q: What is your favourite fishing technique for walleye?

A: My favourite technique for walleye is pitching shoreline with jigs or reaction baits. When you’re tired of casting, keep casting!

I also enjoy bottom bouncing harnesses or fineness rigs. Love to mark fish and try and get them to bite.

On the big water trolling planer boards, covering stretches of weed beds or rock piles makes for a fun day.

Q: Why do you fish walleye tournaments?

A: I fish walleye tournaments because I enjoy the social aspect and meeting new people. I also love to test my abilities against the best around. Fishing a circuit like the NOWT has and will continue to make me a better angler. Each year I look forward to all of the events and try to fish as many as possible.

Q: Why did you agree to have your bio done?

A: I agreed to have my angler bio done because I enjoyed reading all of the others you have put together. Well done, David! Also, every angler has a story. I find them all interesting and wanted to share mine as well.

Q: Any tips you would give to a new walleye angler looking at fishing the NOWT?

A: As a new angler, all I can say is get out there, do it and have fun doing it. The rest will all come with time. There will be many other reasons your day on the water or week away fishing will be unique. I learn something new nearly every time I’m on the water. And the best way to hone your skills is to try different techniques and figure out what you are confident using. Nothing more satisfying than putting a solid program together. Don’t be intimidated by the pros. They all started where you are!

Q: What would be some of your most significant accomplishments over the years of fishing?

A: I was fortunate to be part of the board for Algoma Fish and Game Club for a few years. Here I was able to help put together and continue some significant events in the Sault. Rob Laframbrois had a very successful children’s perch derby that he found to be too much work on his own. Our club was able to assist Rob and ensure its success going forward today. I also took on the role of tournament director for a few local walleye tournaments here in the Sault. And also guided in another fish and game club event, and take veteran fishing where members of the club donated their boats and all gear to thank our vets for a free days fishing!

I want to thank Steven for taking the time to have his profile done.

Remember this season while launching your boat or fishing on one of the many back lakes to continue practicing social distancing. We need everyone to continue doing their part, not just a few, so we can enjoy our passion.