Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson became the firs Canadian angler to win the Bassmaster Classic when he brought three days worth of smallmouth to the scales that totaled 42 pounds, 7 ounces and beat out his nearest competitor by just 1 pound, 8 ounces to win the $300,000 prize and coveted Bassmaster Classic Trophy. And he did it his way.
Gustafson has become synonymous with what southern anglers call the Damiki rig. But before it had the name the Damiki rig, it was called Moping up north on Canadian waters. In fact we did an article with Gussy more than a decade ago about his smelt on a jighead technique they liked to call minnow rigging, or moping. They have been mimicking dying smelt in Canada every fall for decades on a jig and minnow rig that is nothing more than a 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jighead and 4-5 inch soft jerkbait.
Gustafson has perfected the use of the rig and targeting fish directly with a combination of his Humminbird Mega Side Imaging, Mega 360 and Mega Live. His combination of choice in both of his victories on this section of the Tennessee River near Knoxville has been a 4-inch Z-Man Jerk ShadZ in the smelt color on a Bass Tactics Smeltinator Swimbait head. He fished the rig on a G. Loomis NRX+ 872 rod — a 7-foot, 3-inch medium action rig — with a Shimano Stella 3000 spooled with 10-pound PowerPro and a 10-pound Shimano Mastiff fluorocarbon leader.
Gussy was able to find a great concentration the first day, and within an hour, he had done all of his damage with a limit of smallmouths that weighed 18 pounds, 8 ounces. Then the second day it was a little more of a grind but he worked through short smallmouth to get five good smallmouth that weighed 17 pounds 3 ounces to take a fairly large lead into the final round of more than 6 pounds.
The final day however proved to be brutally tough for the smallmouth bite. It was as if the smallmouth that had not been targeted much were getting more educated by the day. The final day, Gussy was throwing at dozens of smallmouth but was only able to coax two of them to bite. Those two fish were enough for him to narrowly surpass Bryan Schmidt’s final total weight by 1 pound, 8 ounces.
“I started having bad thoughts like I wasn’t going to get it done, but I stuck with it and thankfully those two fish bit and it was enough,” Gussy said. “Knoxville has been very good to me. This is my Stanley Cup. I’m not sure how we’re going to do it yet, but we’ll figure out a way to drink a toast out of this trophy with my good friends and support circle that is here with me this week.”
“I have used the same bait both times I’ve won here doing the same thing. That Z-Man Jerk ShadZ in smelt color is what I caught all my fish on this week. I knew in practice I could win with it.
“Spot-Lock is one of the greatest things ever invented,” he said. “Every time I’d catch a fish before I’d even put it in the livewell, I’d hit Spot-Lock because, a lot of times, there were other fish following it. So, Spot-Lock kept me on them.”
“When I won the Elite event here a couple years ago, I relied heavily on MEGA 360 Imaging and Humminbird 2D Sonar,” added Gustafson. ”Adding MEGA Live this week, I could still pick out rocks and other hard bottom areas on 360, but I could be much more efficient with my bait presentation and quickly learn how the fish were behaving – getting them to bite in real time.
“Those first couple days, it looked easier than it was to get those suspended fish to bite,” he added. “Between catching short fish and the fish not committing to the bait, it was tough to catch five bass a day. It got tougher and tougher each day, and you could see how the pressure affected them on the final day.”
Many people said it couldn’t be won on just smallmouth when Gustafson won here a few years ago. And many thought the largemouth would be moving in at this Classic, and it wouldn’t be won on smallmouth this year. But it turns out it played right into Gustafson’s strengths. Many believe Gussy is the best when it comes to picking off isolated smallmouth out deep like this and he proved it once again this week.
Congrats to our friend and your new 2023 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Jeff Gustafson!
Photos courtesy of B.A.S.S. / Humminbird