Ontario’s Jeff Gustafson has just reeled in the biggest trophy in bass fishing – the Bassmaster Classic.
The annual Bassmaster Classic took place in Knoxville, Tennessee last week, and the event usually called the ‘SuperBowl of Bass Fishing’ did not disappoint the eager crowd.
“It’s kind of the top competitive [bass] fishing circuit in the U.S. And the [Bassmaster classic] is our sort of championship event,” Gustafson told NWONewsWatch when reached in Tennessee. “I qualified for it based on last year’s season.”
Gustafson, who hails from the Northern Ontario fishing hotbed of Kenora, was in the lead heading into the final day on Sunday. With the victory, he becomes the first Canadian to ever to win the Bassmaster Classic.
But according to him, a change in the behavior of the fish on the final day had him scrambling to his change gameplan.
At the televised final weigh-in, Gustafson said “I had an hour ride back to check-in, and it was horrible. I thought I’d blown it for sure. I thought there was no way I’d even be in the mix.”
In the digital era, fishing enthusiasts get an inside look at the action in real-time. In-boat cameras give viewers up-to-the-minute details from each boat, so while Gustafson was in the dark, viewers knew he had the lead throughout Sunday.
To add to the drama, Gustafson was the final competitor to weigh in. He brought in two bass totaling 12 lbs, 6 ounces.
“The first two days went as perfect as they could be. But I knew I didn’t have a lot of spots so I knew that [Sunday] was going to be a lot tougher.”
Those two bass brought his weekend total to 42 pounds, 7 ounces — more than enough to proclaim himself the victor. Even more impressive, he accomplished the feat while catching only 12 fish, while other competitors weighed in with as many as 15.
The Ray Scott Trophy was summarily in Gustafson’s hands, along with a hefty $300,000 USD cheque.
“That’s my Stanley Cup right there,” Gustafson said.
There was another bonus, too. For catching the largest weight limit on Day 1 with a massive 18.8 pound total, Gustafson brought home an additional $7000 US and the Rapala Monster Bag of the Week prize.
Photo- Jeff Gustafson
Despite being a Canadian with a long track record in northern waters, Gustafson also came into the 2023 Bassmaster Classic with plenty of experience on the Tennessee River. He won his first regular season Elite Series tournament there in 2021, using a technique known as “moping” where anglers hang a jig off the boat with almost no movement. Once a fish shows activity on the fishfinder, the angler begins a series of jigs over top of them.
Gustafson used a custom-made ‘Smeltinator’ jig crafted by his friend Bryan Gustafson from Fort Frances, Ontario, who was in the stands when his victory was announced.
Even the weigh-ins were a spectacle, with thousands of anglers on hand to watch the announcement.
“It’s big like an NHL arena,” Gustafson told NWONewsWatch. “Boats get pulled into the arena each day and there’ll be a pretty good crowd the first two days. On Sunday, the final day, the arena will be packed…with 15,000 people or more,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
After being declared the champion on the weigh-in stage, Gustafson gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of family.
“My dad and grandpa took me fishing when I was a little kid,” he said. “And you know, if no one takes kids fishing, they’re never going to go. So take your kids, your neighbour’s kids, your buddy’s kids, and dreams can come true.”
Gustafson was also joined on stage by his wife Shelby, and family and friends from Kenora who traveled to Knoxville for the event were in the crowd.
You can watch the weigh-in announcement in the video below: