Jeff Gustafson shares his Bassmaster Classic-winning secrets with his friend and mentor, Outdoor Canada’s Gord Pyzer


The champ in his early years

GORD: You had to be super-excited at that point, no?

JEFF: I called [my wife] Shelby—we check in once or twice a day—and I said, I think I just found something special. But the tournament’s not for five days and you just never know if the fish are still going to be there. But, okay, I have a chance now. And I just kept doing it and doing it, and about three or four hours later I found a second spot. It was very similar—a lot of fish, easy to catch, and big ones.


Then on Wednesday, the last day of practice, I just continued to do that. I didn’t find any big schools, but I caught a few fish. I found a couple of places with a little bit of rock that had maybe the potential to kick out a few fish. But that was it, I had just the two main spots. From Sunday to Friday, the whole week went by so fast and there were lots of fun events and activities. But I didn’t sleep that well on a couple of nights. I was excited for the tournament to start.

GORD: Then the Classic begins and you quickly discover the smallmouths have stayed on your first spot. That must have given you plenty of confidence.

JEFF: Within half an hour of arriving at the first place I’d found, I had five keeper smallmouths. It was a dream start to the Classic. That ended up being the biggest bag limit of the tournament. On the second day, I caught five of them again, but I had to use both of my main spots. I could also tell they were getting harder to catch, and I knew that the third day was going to be tough. I had other places where I could maybe catch one, and as it turned out, I didn’t take any keepers off any of those other spots. I really only had those two high-end places.


The other thing was that if it were a regular tournament, you don’t have as many spectators. But there were a lot of people out there watching. The first day, I didn’t have to go to the second spot. But on the second day, I had to go there. A lot of these spectators have good intentions—they just want to watch and cheer you on. But I have to leave at 1:30 to weigh in, so there was a lot of time for some of these guys wanting to go check the place out. That was the sensitive thing that I had. Once you catch a few of these fish out of the schools, it breaks them up. They smarten up and get a lot harder to catch. And so they were a lot harder to catch on the final day.