Gustafson first Canadian to win Bassmaster Classic

by Luigi De Rose | March 27, 2023
Jeff Gustafson Bassmaster Classic
Photo by James Overstreet

BASS Elite pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson offered a rather Canadian comparison after winning the Super Bowl of bass fishing.

“This is my Stanley Cup,” the Kenora resident and OOD contributor said on Sunday, March 26 after receiving the trophy for the weekend’s 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic held on Fort Loudoun Reservoir and Tellico Lake in east Tennessee.

With 12 smallmouth bass amounting to 42 pounds, 7 ounces, Gustafson won $307,000 US and edged Bryan Schmitt, who landed 15 bass adding up to 40 pounds, 14 ounces.

O Canada! You have a Bassmaster Classic champion! For the first time in history, Canada has a classic champion,” said an emotional Dave Mercer, BASS Emcee and fellow Canadian.

Bassmaster Classic weekend to win

Gussy took the lead after day one, with 18 pounds, 8 ounces. A day two haul of 17 pounds, 3 ounces gave him a five-pound cushion on second-place John Cox.

Championship Sunday was a struggle as the bass did not bite for the top 25 anglers. Gussy cycled through several key locations and finally landed his first keeper mid morning. His second keeper smallmouth and last fish came in the early afternoon.

“This was one of the hardest days of my life. Since 6 a.m. my heart has been pounding,” he said. “I must have saw 100 fish on my Mega Live (sonar) and only got two.”

At the outset, Gustafson said he needed 15 bass to win, but only needed 12. Many competitors dismissed smallmouth and vowed that the weather conditions, time of year, and added fishing pressure made the species irrelevant.

Tenacity paid off

Gustafson bucked convention, patrolling deep flats with his forward-facing Humminbird Mega Live and hovering a Smeltinator jighead paired with a Z-man Jerk ShadZ just above deep smallmouth — a technique known as moping. The Achilles heel to solely targeting smallmouth is the state’s minimum 18-inch size requirement. Gustafson had to release several 17 ⅞-inch bass on each day of competition.

The win is Gustafson’s second BASS victory on Fort Loudoun Reservoir and Tellico Lake. He has led each of the seven days of competition to date with the same bait and technique. His first victory came in 2021.

The Toyota-sponsored classic saw a record four Canadians competing. Peterborough brothers Cory and Chris Johnston and Bowmanville’s Cooper Gallant finished in 11th, 31st, and 52nd place, respectively.

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