They say that nice guys finish last, but that wasn’t true during four days of competition as part of the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tennessee.
OOD contributor and BASS Elite angler Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, of Keewatin, dominated the 100-angler Elite field to capture his first series trophy and a $100,000 US top prize.
The kind-hearted Gussy, took the lead on day one with a 17 pound, four ounce, five-bass limit of smallmouth and never looked back.
Fog delayed final day
Pulling off a wire-to-wire victory and achieving his lifelong dream of winning a top-tier American fishing tournament didn’t come without drama, however.
Championship Sunday was met with a 90-minute fog delay, which ate away at Gustafson’s prime bass-catching period and shortened the day. His final-day limit of 14 pounds, three ounces netted him a four-day total total of 63 pounds and a comfortable seven-pound margin of victory over Steve Kennedy of Alabama.
“It was a dream come true … Winning one of those blue trophies tops my list of accomplishments in fishing, for sure,” Gustafson told OOD. “It was emotional in that I have had so many people help me out along the way. So this is for all of them! It’s a good way to start to the season and I hope I can continue the momentum into the next event in Alabama.”
Smallmouth for the victory
The victory was improbable, as Gustafson’s four-day total of 20 bass included entirely smallmouth. Gambling on smallies was incredibly risky as according to tournament rules, they must measure a minimum of 18 inches in length, compared to 14 inches for largemouth or spotted bass. A limited number of smallmouth live in the Tennessee River and to land 20 over the legal length is arguable a feat unto itself.
Gustafson used a hometown technique called moping, a vertical presentation where the jig and fluke-style minnow bait hovers directly on top of the smallmouth in deep water. Gussy used a four-inch Z-Man Jerk ShadZ and a 3/8 ounce Smeltinator jighead.
Conditions tested anglers
Fishing conditions tested anglers’ perseverance. They were greeted with ice and snow early in practice and severe downpours and falling water levels by the end of the tournament, officials stated. Gustafson remained vigilant, mining a narrowing channel as his core area.
He is the second Canadian angler to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. The first was Chris Johnston of Peterborough, who claimed his first title on the St. Lawrence River in 2020.
Gustafson now sits in second place in the Angler of the Year standings.