CATCHING UP WITH THE SNOW LEOPARD
EDITOR: Canadien Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson recently got to lift his first blue trophy into the air at the Tennessee River event in Knoxville, TN. According to Gussy, the beautiful blue trophy is a lot heavier than it looks. When he received it from tournament manager Lisa Talmadge , he wanted to immediately lift it over his head and scream with joy, but that was when he realized he first needed a really good grip on it. It took a minute to get it up over his head. Our Kevin Carwile recently caught up with Gussy and had the opportunity to share that and other thoughts Jeff had about his first Elite Series win.
iBass360: How did you get started in fishing, and how did you get started in tournaments?
Gussy: Luckily, we have some great open, team tournaments up around Lake of the Woods where I live. The Kenora Bass International is a big event that has been going on in my hometown of Kenora since 1988, so when I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the weigh-ins, but I just wanted to be fishing in the event. In 1993, I was ten years old, my dad signed us up for the tournament. It was my Christmas present that year, and I was pumped. Initially we just wanted to catch a bass to bring across the weigh-in stage, which we did. It took us a few years to become competitive, but from that first bass tournament fishing has been the big focus of my
life. At that time, there were a lot of big name anglers fishing the event - Al, Ron, Bill and James Lindner, Guido and Dion Hibdon, O.T. Fears, Terry Baksay, Bob Izumi- iit was a very competitive event and still is today. iBass360: How did you climb the ladder to the Elites? What additional challenges did you have to overcome being from Canada? Gussy: So, I started in the US in 2012, fishing the former FLW Tour Opens. It was a four tournament circuit that I fished and did pretty well, allowing me to qualify for the FLW Tour. I started fishing the Tour in 2013 and did that through 2018. After the migration of guys from BASS to MLF in 2018, I was fortunate to get an invite into the Elite Series, along with about ten other guys from FLW. I jumped at the opportunity and it's been a great move for me. I consider myself very fortunate every day.
As far as challenges coming from Canada, obviously there is the border that we have to cross each time. Usually it's not a problem, but it's something we have to deal with. Coming from a northern climate, you have to learn to fish different types of waters in the US and all that that entails. Overall though, it's still just bass fishing and I've got enough time into it now where I have a decent idea of what I need to be doing at each venue. I've learned things the hard way though, and I've had plenty of tough tournaments along the way. iBass360: What do you find to be the biggest challenges in fishing a tour like the Elites or the MLF Tackle Warehouse Circuit? Gussy: The biggest challenges in fishing the pro level tournament trails for a regular guy is finding sponsorship help to cover your expenses and take that pressure off. Since I started fishing, I've seen a bunch of great guys come and go - guys that have the skills to be successful - but they didn't get the help to take that pressure off from a financial aspect. If you have a few bad tournaments in a row you can dig a big hole quickly. Then you just lose the ability to have fun if you have that pressure of "I need to cash a check" to pay the next entry payment. I think that's the toughest thing for most people. I think most people that want to fish at this level obviously
have a lot of passion for the sport and time invested, so it's just a matter of being able to put in the time making the arrangements for all the resources that you need to be successful. iBass360: Your performance in Knoxville was incredible. Describe for us the pattern, presentation that got it done for you? Gussy: So, I got really lucky in Knoxville in being able to use a pattern that I've literally caught thousands of bass on my home lakes over the years- Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake. It's a technique that I call moping- named by the late legend Ron Lindner. It is basically the same thing as the Damiki Rig technique. It's hanging a soft plastic jerk shad on a jig above the fish and holding the bait still. The smallmouths see it, come up and hammer it. Watching the bait on your sonar is very important so you can see where it is in the water column. It also helps keep it above the fish. In Knoxville I couldn't see all of the fish I was catching, so it was all about keeping close to the bottom but not touching it. A lot of
times we see the fish so it's easier to keep the bait above the fish. That's about it. The bait was a 4" Z-Man Jerk ShadZ rigged on a 3/8 Smeltinator jig head on a G. Loomis 872 NRX rod, Shimano Exsence 3000 reel, with 10 lb Power Pro braid, and an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader. iBass360: What made you decide to stick with that approach all four days? Did you worry about running out of fish? Did you have other spots you thought would work with the same approach or was it an "all or nothing" thing? Gussy: I found these fish the last day of practice and didn't really know how good the spot was. I had a tough practice, and I caught a few smallmouths but didn't know if I would be able to catch any 18" keepers. I just started there hoping I might be able to catch a couple and then maybe mix in a few largemouths. I ended up catching a limit of 18" plus smallmouths in like 45 minutes the first morning, so it was pretty good. Even after day one I didn't know if I just got lucky or not but after I caught them again on day two, I realized that I had a pretty good program and that the fish were definitely there to win the tournament. I had no other options so that made it easy to stick to what I was doing. I also caught them pretty good every morning so I was getting my job done
relatively quick. Once I got a limit I wasn't really leaning on any of the spots where I knew I might be able to catch one. iBass360: If I'm not mistaken, you are the only one on the tour fishing a Lund- a brand we northerners associate with shield lakes and walleye fishing. Tell us about the boat you fish and why you love it. Gussy: So yes, I run a Lund 2075 Pro-V Bass boat. It's an aluminum bass boat and it's an amazing rig. I've got more storage than anybody else on the Elite Series and I've got the best ride in rough water, which is important because of all the big water we visit each year. It's got a huge deck, it's running in the 60's, and I've got it rigged out with all the best stuff from T-H Marine, Minn Kota and Humminbird, so it's a fishing machine. Love my boat.
iBass360: What advice can you give beginning tournament anglers about getting sponsors and help covering the costs of fishing events like the BASS Opens, the Bass Nation series or the MLF equivalents- Phoenix and Toyota series? Gussy: Man, it's definitely getting tougher and tougher to get good support from within the fishing industry because the budget for a lot of these companies is already gassed on the people that they are currently supporting. The best advice I can give to anglers that are making their way up and want to fish for a living is to fish A LOT- as much as you can. Fish as many different bodies of water as you can, go in bad weather, at tough times of year, etc. The more experience you have, the more ready you'll be to be successful because you'll have faced tough conditions and it just seems we hit tough conditions way more than good conditions out on tour. This is also true if you want to be a guide. The sponsorship stuff is important but the reality now is that you'll probably have to prove yourself before you get real attention from the bigger fishing companies. I hate that part of it for the younger, regular anglers, but that's the way it is today. Be a good person out there, don't be a weasel, and don't take advantage of people. If you want it badly enough, it'll happen.
iBass360: What other advice do you have for young people who might aspire to what you have achieved? Gussy: That's pretty much it. Fish, fish and fish, as much as you can. Fish, fish and fish, as much as you can. iBass360: Going forward, what are the fishing related goals and aspirations of Jeff Gustafson? Gussy: For me, I just never want to miss the Classic, so I need to achieve some level of consistency to qualify every year. You'll get chances to win from time to time and you just hope that you take advantage of those when they happen. I've been second a few times so it felt so good to finally get it done and get to lift that trophy. Hopefully it'll happen again sooner than later. iBass360: Last question, Dave Mercer loves to call you the Snow Leopard- what's that all about? Gussy: So the name came from him and Seth Feider, one of my best friends on tour, and one of
my travel buddies. Chris Groh, Seth and I were staying together a couple years ago at Lake Hartwell. We were watching a cool Nat. Geo show called Hostile Planet where they had a cool video segment showing a snow leopard taking down a goat on a mountain. I have a couple of cats at home that guys bug me about from time to time. We usually go to dinner with Mercer on Friday nights of our tournament weeks, and we were out for dinner talking about this cool video clip. Seth told Mercer, "we gotta call Gus the snow leopard". The next morning, Mercer called me that and it's stuck ever since. I feel lucky because Dave doesn't give everybody a nickname.
iBass360: Jeff, we really appreciate your time and insight. All the best this season on the Elites, and good luck at the Classic!