The ink is still drying on Canadian Jeff ‘Gussy’ Gustafson’s name in bass fishing record books. Gussy just won the 53rd Bassmaster Classic on Fort Loudon/Tellico in Knoxville, Tennessee, amassing 42 pounds, 7 ounces of smallmouth across three days of fishing.
The fishing on Fort Loudon and Tellico Lakes was excruciatingly slow, but the grind made for an interesting Classic as persistent shallow water specialists tried to chase down the consistent Gussy out deep. In the end, Jeff Gustafson became the first Canadian to hoist the Ray Scott Bassmaster Classic trophy. With his win, he also became the tenth angler to ever win wire-to-wire in Bassmaster history, according to Bassmaster’s Ronnie Moore. On top of that, he’s now led seven straight days of competition on Fort Loudon/Tellico in Knoxville.
We sat down with Gussy to discuss his victory and gain some insight into how he was able to dominate in a field of the best bass anglers in the world.
What does it feel like to become the first Canadian to ever hoist the Ray Scott Bassmaster Classic trophy?
This is my Stanley Cup. I’ve had a lot of support from everybody back home, and fishing with Chris and Cory Johnston over the last few years has been an amazing opportunity. There are a lot of people that love bass fishing back home, so being able to prove that somebody from Canada could compete with the best guys in the world and win is a hard feeling to describe.
After a dominant first two days, what were you thinking as you came back to weigh-ins with only two fish on the final day?
Honestly, I didn’t think I even had a chance at winning. My cameraman Bryan cut the camera after a few minutes into the boat ride back, and I screamed a few times. I was mad and disappointed. When we got back, Bryan checked BassTrak and simply said, “You’re going to have a chance.”
In your opinion, what made your bite turn off on the final day?
The wind was non-existent and the sun was beating down. It was just flat calm most of the day, and those smallmouth were already pretty finicky. On the first day, I caught all five of them in one spot. When I checked there on day two, there weren’t nearly as many but I still caught three good ones. On the third day, with it being flat, calm, and sunny, they didn’t want to bite anything I put in front of them. There were also a lot of boats spectating, and I’m sure everyone’s sonars were turned on, so all of that extra noise and commotion probably hurt my bite as well.
While waiting to weigh-in, did anybody give you an idea of how close the weights would be on the final day?
After checking BassTrak, I had an idea that it would be tight, but these guys all like to sandbag a little. So you really never know what they have. The attendants kept us separated so we wouldn’t talk to each other, which was smart and made it more exciting on stage, but also kept me in the dark for a few hours. It felt like I was alone on an island.
What makes your Damiki rig technique so special? Other anglers tried it in practice and during the tournament, but nobody else caught fish like you did.
Based on my finish in 2021, I knew the other anglers would at least be checking those areas around the canal. In practice, I pulled in there and it was loaded with locals and competitors, so I decided to idle around nearby and see if I could find a school or two. After an hour or so, my graph just lit up. I was excited, this spot ran for about 50 yards and had as many smallmouth as you could jam onto a point. I remember thinking there was no way the other guys won’t find this, but when I showed up on the first day of the tournament, I had it to myself. That’s when I knew I really had a shot to win. What it came down to was simply finding a school that wasn’t getting pressured and putting my bait in front of them.
Can you describe how you were using your live imaging sonar to catch these fish?
The key to fishing the Damiki rig is to keep the bait above the fish. This makes them feed up, which is how cold water smallmouth typically target baitfish this time of year. It’s very similar to ice fishing, and my Humminbird Mega Live allows me to keep my eye on the bait and watch the smallmouth come up off of the bottom to check it out. That lets me move my bait or twitch it to convince them to strike. It would be nearly impossible to catch those fish like I was without my Mega Live.
In your mind, what separates Elite Series anglers?
A: Elite anglers break down the water so quickly. They’re able to just hit the water and find biting fish. A lot of it comes down to time on the water. We know what to do based on weather conditions and water conditions because we’ve fished in all of it. I don’t typically do a lot of research for our tournaments, I like to just show up, put the trolling motor down, and go fishing. If I think it looks good, I’ll fish it. I just keep doing that until I find a biting fish or two and begin to piece the puzzle together.
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What was your most memorable moment of the classic, aside from hoisting the trophy?
The takeoff on day three. There were so many people down there including my friends and family and there were Canadian flags hanging off of the bridges. It was just incredible to experience.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a younger angler who dreams of winning the Bassmaster Classic?
The best advice I could give is to just fish, fish, fish. Fish different bodies of water, don’t just fish lakes where you know you can catch bass—that won’t help you learn. If you want it bad enough and you love it enough, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen.