The attention of the bass fishing universe is focused squarely on Lake Hartwell near Greenville, South Carolina, this week as 55 professional anglers – including 16 rookies – compete in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. As veteran Elite Series Pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson rigs rods, ties knots, and devises a plan to reach the pivotal final day of competition, he opened his playbooks to provide us with his best guesses about how this year’s Classic will unfold.
Hailing from the rocky shorelines of Ontario’s expansive Lake of the Woods, Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson is on a quest to become the first Canadian champion of the Bassmaster Classic. No stranger to hoisting heavy hardware, Gussy scored his first Bassmaster Elite Series victory on the Tennessee River in 2021 and is now preparing to compete in his third Classic. “I feel lucky and grateful to be back at the Bassmaster Classic,” reflects Gustafson, who is only Elite Series angler to have a “Loonie” – Canada’s one-dollar coin – permanently embedded within his boat’s carpeted deck. “It reminds me of home and all the people who helped me get where I am today – and there’s no doubt that it brings me good luck!”
“I’ve fished Hartwell a couple of times before,” notes Gustafson, “so I know what to expect. The water is cold, so this should be a pre-spawn event. In fact, I want it to stay cold — I’d be fine if my Lund Pro-V Bass boat was frozen to the trailer every morning. Cold weather and cold water will set up a strong offshore bite… and that’s my biggest strength. There has been some rain near the lake recently, and it’s forecasted to rain some more. That influx of water will warm up the backwaters and muddy them up, so I’m sure some competitors will be fishing shallow, dirty water, and no doubt, there will be some big fish caught that way. But I’m looking for consistency offshore; that’s the game I’m going to play.”
“I’m most comfortable with a spinning rod and finesse tackle in my hand,” reflects Gustafson, who regularly collects trophies and paychecks from clear, bass-infested waterways. “I’m lucky that I get to fish with some of the most sensitive spinning rods ever made: G. Loomis NRX+ rods. These rods give me an incredible tactile advantage when detecting bites and reading bottom composition. I pair NRX+ rods with Shimano’s new Stella FK reels, which are the smoothest, most powerful spinning reels you could ever imagine. Having used that Stella and NRX+ combination, it’s hard to imagine picking up anything else. I’ll spool up with 10-pound-test PowerPro and finish with a 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. As for baits, I’ll be cycling through some finesse fishing classics, like small swimbaits, dropshot rigs, and Ned rigs.”
“This derby is what we work for all year,” concludes Gustafson, “and I’m going to make the most out of every cast and every opportunity. Hopefully you’ll see me on stage with a big smile on Championship Sunday!”
Be sure to visit our table at the Shimano Macbeth Kick Off Party Thursday evening if you’re in Greenville for a chance to meet Gussy and Shimano Pro David Mullins.