This interview was originally published on July 17, 2014. ‘Gussy’ is halfway through another season on the FLW tour. Keep track of his progress on www.flwfishing.com
Ask anyone around these parts to name the top local bass angler and the name Jeff Gustafson will be mentioned more often than not. The Keewatin, Ontario product has been a mainstay on the local bass circuit since he was a teenager and has turned his passion for fishing into a career. Gustafson, aka ‘Gussy’, took his talents down south to try his hand at a couple of FLW open events in 2012 and had immediate success. He has been fishing as an FLW touring pro on the top bass circuit on the continent for the last two seasons. A strong second half to the 2014 FLW season had Gustafson surging up the Forest Wood Cup standings where he finished in 64th place among some of the best bass anglers in the world. Unfortunately for sunset country competitors, his momentum is just getting stronger as he and partner Chris Savage won the recent Shoal Lake Bass Classic over a strong field of the region’s best teams. I spoke with Jeff to get his thoughts on upcoming events and life as a pro.
What are your thoughts on being the consensus number one ranked bass angler in our MB/NWO region? I say this because almost everyone I talk to says so along with your obvious status as the only local major touring pro. Winning Fort Frances and Bassin’ last summer, and now winning Shoal most definitely puts you at the top for now from a local event standpoint.
I don’t know about the number one ranked bass angler in our region, there are a lot of good guys that have been fishing in these events for a long time and there are a lot of good young guys that are getting good fast. I will say that I try to be competitive in each tournament that I fish and I show up prepared.
We know that you enjoy fishing many of the events every year on the local bass tourney circuit and even some walleye events. We differ from the FLW in that our tourneys here and in the northern states are two-man teams. How do you determine who your partners for these events are? Is it the same partner for various events every year?
I fish with some great partners who are very complimentary to me in their styles…At Bassin’ For Bucks, my partner there, Mike Reid is a very patient guy who can fish a lot slower than me. He knows that part of the lake as well as any body and he is a hell of good angler. Chris Savage can throw a topwater bait all day, knowing that he is going to get a couple of shots at big fish. He doesn’t have to be getting all the action. These guys are on the same page as me as far as fishing for FIVE OF THE RIGHT FISH in these tournaments. Many times, that means fishing for largemouths, or shallow smallmouths, etc. I’m lucky in that I fish with some of my best friends in these tournaments around here and in most of them I’ve had the same partners for ten plus years. Teams have to be compatible in that you can work together to make it happen on tournament days. Sometimes one angler has to stick with one technique to try and put a big fish or two in the boat even though the other guy is catching a bunch more fish. I’m good enough friends with my partners that we can have disagreements, yet still make things work out in the end. Team tournaments are definitely fun to fish.
Do you get a lot of requests from others wanting to fish events with you?
For tournaments where I need a partner, my wife is the first in line to go if she wants. We have fished quite a few tournaments together over the past few years and have even won a couple. We have fun and she can catch fish just fine. With some of the schedule changes this year we missed out on fishing a couple of the ones we’ve done together the past couple of years so we’re on the lookout for one we can get into at somepoint.
Your thoughts on the upcoming Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship and the Kenora Bass International. Who do you think will challenge this year aside from your team?
The FFCBC and KBI are the two premier events in our region and they have the toughest field. Both are extremely hard to win because you need to have a good area and a good pattern going on somewhat. Nobody is getting lucky and winning one of these tournaments, you have to put your time in and find some special little things to have a shot at winning over the course of three days. That being said, a place like Rainy Lake has a tremendous population of big four pound plus smallmouths and they are notorious for just showing up in places and they will bite anything you throw at them. You never know what’s going to happen there. I’ll say one thing, there will be some big weights brought in there, like there is every year. As for contenders at these tournaments, there are a bunch.
How do the top local bass sticks compare to anglers that you have met and competed against in your travels across North America? Do we have guys here that could plug into an event on say the FLW, BASS or PAA and be competitive?
Our tournaments are as competitive as anywhere. There are a bunch of anglers from our area who could be competitive fishing the US circuits. Obviously the fishing is different down south and I’ve learned that the hard way a bunch of times already, but a lot of the guys around here have the skill set to do it. Unfortunately, it’s a huge commitment to travel and fish at that level. Obviously a person has to have the financial support to go and do it, then there is the life on the road, away from your family. It’s a big sacrifice in many ways but it’s also very fun to compete against the best anglers in the World. We have some very good anglers from our part of the World, no question.
We saw you on an episode of Circuitbreaker which featured ex-pat Canadian pro Casey Martin. Do you see yourself ever making a move down south to live full-time like Casey did?
I don’t see myself moving down there, I like Lake of the Woods too much and I love where I live. The way the schedule is, fishing through the winter and spring is actually not too bad.
How many other Canadians are there on the FLW tour (pro or co-angler) and how are the other pros towards you?
Right now I’m the only Canadian angler fishing the FLW Tour. There are a few co-anglers that are from Southern Ontario fishing as well. Most of the guys are really cool, JT Kenney, Brett Hite, Bryan Thrift, Casey Martin, Randall Tharp, Jim Tutt, Jacob Wheeler, Chad Grigsby – those are all guys who have been nice to me and they are awesome anglers. Jim Moynagh from Minnesota is a good buddy as well and has given me some good direction along the way.
Where do you stay when you are down in the states?
One of the biggest hurdles for me is the travel for sure. I fly back and forth between events and usually leave my boat in Birmingham, Alabama at my friend Blake Nick’s place. He is a fellow pro angler who I stay with for most of the tournaments. We met a couple years ago and became good friends, so that’s been good. This year I also stayed with another northern guy from Wisconsin, Matt Stefan and the three of us had a lot of fun. Matt had a great season and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup. We had some other guys stay with us along the way as well. Matt usually finds houses for us to rent. When I first started I was getting hotel rooms everywhere. The houses are a lot cheaper if you have a few guys and you eat a lot better…and the camaraderie is good as well.
After a slow start to the 2014 FLW season you were able to cash cheques at the rest of the events. What are your feelings going into next season down south?
The slow start was a bummer for sure but I learned a long time ago that once it’s over, it’s over. I was disappointed but nobody is going to feel sorry for you, especially the other anglers, so you get your stuff together and get back at it. The season ended pretty good so I’m chompin’ at the bit to get back at it. The schedule for 2015 is going to be released on Thursday so once that’s out the planning for next year will begin. I’ve been learning a little bit everywhere we go so hopefully by next year I can start putting some of my past experiences to good use.
Give us the play by play on the 10lb largemouth you caught on Pickwick. It was all the talk in local circles when news came out.
That fish was one of the highlights of my fishing, for sure! I just pulled up to a point and started catching a bunch of fish. Most of them were smaller, 1 and 2 pounders then I’d get the odd 3+. I think I had caught three 1.5′s in three casts and threw back up to the same place with my football jig and caught that monster. It was pretty awesome, I was shaking big time after I dropped it in the livewell.
You have a lot of fans rooting for you not just in MB/NWO but from all over Canada. Do you feel any added pressure that you are representing your country or hometown area?
For sure, there is pressure because of all the support that I get from “up north”. It’s good though, it absolutely makes me feel good on days when I do good and on the days that aren’t so good. I really want to represent our area well because I’m proud of where I’m from so that’s where the pressure is, but I know that good or bad, I have some good support from home. I don’t always get the chance to respond to all the messages from everybody because the week of those tournaments are very consuming but I can tell you that I get them all and appreciate them!
What do you do in your downtime or off-season if you even have one?
There isn’t a lot of downtime for me. Being self-employed I have to keep something on the go all the time if I want to pay the bills so I do a lot of writing and photography, the TV show Fishing with Gussy and there are always little projects that I can do to keep my sponsors happy. I have been doing some guiding for whitetail deer over the past several years and that’s been a good business for me but the past couple rough winters have nearly wiped out our deer population so I’ll probably have to take a bit of a break from that for a couple years. I definitely try to do more things with my awesome wife when I’m on some down time as well because I’m gone a lot and she is left to look after our house, yard, and everything else during all seasons of the year.
What rig are you running this year and what electronics do you have on your boat?
My boat is a Lund 2010 Predator. It’s a great fishing boat with a huge deck, tons of storage and it’s solid in big water. For Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, it’s almost as perfect of a boat as you can get. I use Humminbird electronics on it, Minn Kota Fortrex and Talons, it’s a real fishing machine!
Do you use this boat at all of your events even down south?
I fish this boat on the FLW Tour and I certainly get some looks because there are not a lot of aluminum boats in these events. Everyone runs a bass boat. The cool thing is that because my boat is a little different I have met way more people than I would have if I was in a bass boat like everybody else.
Who are your sponsors this season that you want to thank?
There are so many people who make it possible for me to get to live my dream and pretty much fish for a living – I could not do it without all the help. Krugerfarms.com, Lund Boats, Dr. Pepper, International Comfort Products, Shimano, Northland Fishing Tackle, Minn Kota, Humminbird, SPY, Optima Batteries, Power Pro, G. Loomis, Jackall Lures, Frabill, Plano, Ontario’s Sunset Country, Skirts Plus – all of these people are major supporters of my cause.
Any other ‘shout-outs’ to people who support you?
My family is always there to drive me to Winnipeg to catch a flight, or pick me up. My wife drops a lot of things that are important in her life to go somewhere with me and she is always very motivating. And I have a bunch of fishing friends who always call and want the report on the fishing, it’s good to hear from everybody when I’m down south fishing by myself.