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

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Gustafson’s last two fish clinched the Classic win for him (Photo: Seigo Sait/B.A.S.S)

GORD: The look on your face on day three, as you were heading back to the weigh-in with only two fish in the livewell, wasn’t good. What was going through your mind?

JEFF: Obviously, I wasn’t happy. I wanted to go out that day and catch five smallmouth again, and get the boat back to Knoxville as soon as I could. But I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. I fished hard. Riding back wasn’t a fun boat ride. I felt like I’d blown this amazing opportunity. Somebody’s always the hero on day three of the Classic, and I felt like it wasn’t going to be me. It was tough, but at the same time, I didn’t have any regrets. The last few hours that I fished, I thought, what can I do? What should I do? But it wasn’t like it was a ghost town and there was no fish around where I was spending my time. So, I didn’t have any regrets. But, yeah, I didn’t think that I did what I needed to do. I felt like if I had got three fish, then I’d have a pretty fair chance to win.

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GORD: Last question. You’re now the world bass-fishing champion. How does it feel?

JEFF: Winning that tournament is the biggest dream pro anglers have. Anyone who fishes bass tournaments and likes competitive fishing, that’s our big Super Bowl event. It’s just hard to believe. I mean, you’ve been around me since I was a little kid, so you know how much I love bass fishing and competitive fishing. It’s crazy. I know how hard it is to win, so that makes it special. I mean, this is the Stanley Cup for me. You get to do a lap in the arena and they make you feel pretty special. I’m very lucky to have been on that stage.

Gord Pyzer is Outdoor Canada’s long-time fishing editor.

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(Photo: Andy Crawford/B.A.S.S)

THE WINNING TACTIC

So, what exactly is moping, the tactic that helped Jeff Gustafson win the 2023 Bassmaster Classic? Named by legendary Minnesota angler Ron Lindner, moping is when you hang a soft-plastic jerk shad on a jig head two or three feet above the fish, causing them to swim up for it. You don’t work the bait, you just let it sit there, or “mope.” In the southern U.S., anglers call the set-up a Damiki rig. The key, Gustafon says, is to closely watch your sonar to see how the fish react. It’s also important to ensure the bait remains completely horizontal. For the record, Gustafson’s winning moping rig was a four-inch Scented Jerk Shadz from Z-Man, pinned to 3/8-ounce Canadian-made Smeltinator jig.

Watch Jeff Gustafson in action as he mopes: www.outdoorcanada.ca/moping.

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Jeff Gustafson (left) congratulates Jim McLaughlin on his award

THE CANADIAN CONTINGENT

Jeff Gustafson was not the only Canadian pro angler who made the highly competitive cut to compete in this year’s Bassmaster Classic, often referred to as the “Superbowl of Bass Fishing.” Peterborough, Ontario’s Chris Johnston finished in 11th place, a very respectable showing that earned him a purse of $15,000. He qualified via his performance in the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series, as did his brother, Cory, of Cavan, Ontario. He ended up in 31st place, garnering a cheque for $10,000. Also taking home $10,000 was Bowmanville, Ontario’s Cooper Gallant, who placed 52nd. He qualified by winning the 2022 St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open at Cherokee Lake, Tennessee.

Adding a further Canadian dimension to this year’s Classic in Knoxville, Tennessee, was the weigh-in ceremony’s energetic emcee, long-time Bassmaster tournament fixture and TV’s Facts of Fishing host Dave Mercer, of Oshawa, Ontario. As well, popular Ontario fishing personality “Big” Jim McLaughlin was honoured during the Classic’s sponsor reception party, when he was awarded the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame’s special Meritorious Service Award.

The first Canadian to receive the honour, McLaughlin himself has a storied history as a competitive bass angler, with 28 tournament wins to his credit, including two CFT Canadian Classic Championships. He also produces the free fishing publication Just Fishing, emcees fishing industry events and tournaments, and promotes sportfishing across Ontario, particularly among youth.

When the honour was first announced, the president of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame board of directors, John Mazurkiewicz, was effusive in his praise. “We can’t thank Big Jim enough for what he has done for bass fishing and the tournament scene throughout Ontario over the years,” he said. “It’s a pleasure recognizing him for what he does to celebrate, promote and preserve the sport of bass fishing.