Inside The Mind of World Champion Jeff Gustafson "Gussy"
Updated: Oct 29
March 26, 2023. A day that made fishing history on the Tennesse River when Canadian Jeff Gustafson, known by his nickname Gussy, became the first Canadian to ever win the Bassmaster Classic. For those that are new to the tournament fishing scene and from Canada I'll put it this way: The Bassmaster Classic is the Stanley Cup of Fishing. While the league and classic are a bass only fishing tournament this is the most prestigious fishing tournament series in the world! Until 2020 no Canadian had even been a part of this prestigious league known as "The Elite Series" but moving into the 2023 campaign there are now 4 looking to show they have what it takes (Gussy, Chris & Corey Johnston, Cooper Gallant).
We were fortunate enough to get a chance to message with Gussy following his big win and ask some unique questions we think will help you all get to know him a little better as well as give some key insights to how a world champion looks at fishing compared to the average angler. First thing is first, where did he come from and how did this journey get started?
"I just caught the fishing bug early so as I grew up, I just wanted to figure out how I could spend as much time as possible on the water. All through high school and university, I guided around home on Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, working at a number of fishing resorts, then eventually, on my own. I had my first trip with I was 14 and by 16 was guiding regularly. Probably wouldn't be able to start at that age today, but I was a keener and we always caught fish."
Being able to spend so much time on the water learning how fish behave, where to find them, and most importantly how to catch them obviously laid the foundation for a very successful fishing career, however being a good angler doesn't mean you will be the best guide. A good guide is all about getting others to catch fish and so they must be even more in tune with all the items mentioned above in order to communicate this to their client and get them catching fish! Making the jump from guiding (a relatively stable income and day to day job) to becoming a tournament professional (gambling that you will beat others for a bigger payout) is another huge shift. While guiding the focus is all about your clients. Their goals could be to catch lots of fish, catch one big fish, or catch multiple different species and you've got to reach them to earn a good reputation. Normally guides will know one or a few bodies of water really really well to make this achievable. Tournament fishing however has strict timelines, has a single target species, are hosted all over the Unites States, and are won by the heaviest sack of fish amongst all the anglers. A big change from guiding with a high price tag just to compete but the chance at big rewards. So, what was it that drew Gussy in?
"So for me, being a regular guy, I'm not sure I ever would have went south of the border without the help from a friend. I was fishing tournaments in the summer around home and was having some success. I had a friend from Minnesota who I had guided a few times, we got along good and he had the means to help me out with my entry fees to fish the FLW Tour when I started. I went for it and did well enough to hang in there and survive those first few years."
The competitive fishing world in the United States is much larger than the one in Canada. Despite the overall size being bigger the focus is almost entirely bass fishing. There are a few muskie and walleye series but these are closer to a few events than all of the bass tournament trails out there. Due to its popularity and limited opportunities (region specific) for targeting other species most anglers on the Elite series are strictly bass fisherman. In Canada we have the luxury of a multitude of sport fish due to our latitude and deep rocky lakes being able to support colder water species such as Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Salmon, Muskie, Northern Pike, Walleye (Yellow Pickerel), Sturgeon, & Burbot sometimes all in the same lake! Having this many options to target could reduce the amount to learn about a single species like bass by diverting your focus however when we asked Gussy about it this is what he had to say:
"Being a multi-species angler has helped me for sure, as far as just being competent with a variety of techniques, fishing different depths, using electronics, etc. I think a lot of my confidence with electronics comes from hours and hours staring at a flasher on the ice and watching how fish react to my baits, jigging, etc. I've just always spent a lot of time on the water and I think overall, it's made me comfortable in a lot of situations."
If you're seeking to become a professional angler there are really only 3 paths; tournament angler, fishing guide, or television show host. Each is completely different with its own sets of challenges. Gussy has been a part of two of these careers paths and has this to say when comparing the two:
"Tournament fishing and guiding are completely different. While guiding, we're usually just trying to catch numbers of fish. Tournament fishing, we're trying to catch big fish. There is a lot of difference in strategy there - baits we use, locations we target, and how quickly or long we fish a group of fish for to name a few. In tournament competition, I might be fishing to only get seven or eight bites a day, even though I might be able to get way more doing something else, I just want to target big fish. The other thing with tournament fishing, prefishing and fun fishing, is that around home, I NEVER fish places I know I can catch fish, until maybe tournament day. I'm always looking for new stuff, new ways to catch fish, learn new techniques, etc. With guiding, I think a lot of guides always just go and fish places they know really well. That's a fine approach, but you often don't learn a lot and you probably know what you are going to catch (species, size, quantity). I like the adventure of finding fish that have never seen a lure. Those are the ones that win tournaments."
Despite having all the skills necessary to compete against these anglers on the elite series going south across the border from Canada brings its own challenges. In much of Ontario for instance bass is not open until the end of June where as across the United States it is open all year for instance. On top of this moving further south extends the seasons; spring in northern Ontario might be a month or two from ice out until summer conditions where as in Texas spring might last 3 or 4 months. This means a lot less time fishing in a season up north but also the inability to learn bass behaviour during these periods. We wanted to know if this was a big hurdle for Gussy to overcome and how he adapted to these conditions:
"I think that makes it tough when you start out. If you are going to go for it and make the ride south, your season starts earlier and you're fishing earlier in the season. Obviously, not getting to fish year round is a set back when you start out, but in the north we do have a lot of variety in the types of waterways we have, ways we can catch bass, those things help us be versatile anglers, which you need to be to compete on the high level circuits."
So there you have it. A little insight into the mind of Bassmaster Classic Champion Jeff Gustafson. We would like to thank Gussy for taking the time to speak with us and for being such a great ambassador for canadian fishing. As you can tell from his answers above Jeff is nothing but a class act and is way too humble for what he has accomplished. We look forward to following along on his journey in this years elite series and wish him the best of luck! If you want to connect with Gussy you can follow him on social media at the links below:
To finish off this article we thought we would ask Gussy a few questions to help us all relate just a little more. Check out his answers below!
What is your favorite species of fish to target?
"Spotted bass, I like all bass fishing but I love spots. We don't have them up north but they act like smallmouths, they love deep water and they are often aggressive."
If you could only fish one body of water for the rest of your life where would it be?
"Lake of the Woods, where I live, because of the variety of species and all of the water we have to fish. Over a million acres and 14,000 islands!"
What was the first big fish you ever caught?
"A 43" lake trout when I was 15 years old."
We hope you find this article and his insights just as interesting as we do! From everyone here at New Wave Fishing Academy we would like to thank Jeff once again for taking the time to speak with us. Best of luck in 2023.
To see what it's like to spend a day on the water with New Wave Fishing Academy be sure to check us out on YouTube at the link below:
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