A quick glance before takeoff at a Walmart FLW Tour event will uncover that most of the competitors drive high-end fiberglass bass boats decked out to the max. One boat, however, is not like the others. In fact, you’d probably think the 20-foot, 2-inch aluminum boat is best suited to tackle the large bodies of water found up north – and you’d be right. The proud owner of that tin boat would be Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, who wrapped up his first full year on Tour just months ago.
Gussy hails from Keewatin, Ontario, which leads most people to ponder just how he even thought about bass fishing considering he lives in a region where walleyes are king. The fact of the matter is that Gussy lives to fish. He competed in his first tournament when he was just 10-years-old after receiving his entry as a Christmas present. And while he chases everything from crappies to lake trout, bass have always been his main passion.
While he has dominated the regional tournament scene in Ontario for years, it wasn’t until just a year ago he had the chance to test his skills in the 2012 FLW Tour Opens. Don Nelson, president and CEO of Kruger Farms, primary sponsor, approached Gussy offering him the opportunity to fish the four Opens. Gussy pounced on the chance and packed his gear up for the 37-hour drive to Lake Okeechobee. He captured a top-20 finish on the Big O in his first FLW event – on a lake he had been to once prior – and wound up 14th in the Open standings.
This year was Gussy’s first attempt at a full six-event FLW Tour season. Though he finished 87th in the AOY standings, he was still OK with how the season went – especially considering Okeechobee was the only lake he had been to before.
“Overall, this year wasn’t bad,” said Gustafson. “Obviously Okeechobee was disappointing because I did so well there the previous year and then this year I kissed my shot at the Forrest Wood Cup goodbye. I caught my limit in a half hour each day but couldn’t find any big ones.
“Smith Lake was cool because I have never fished for spotted bass before. I took a check at that event and on Beaver, which felt good. Then Eufaula was rough, the wheels sort of fell off on that one during the tournament. And on Grand I completely missed the boat. I didn’t think it would be as easy as it was to catch them. But I closed the season off nicely at Chickamauga and cashed a check to rebound.”
With a year under his belt, Gussy feels more prepared for the 2014 season.
“I really learned a lot this year,” he said. “I didn’t really receive any help and I had a blast. I definitely have a better idea of what to expect next year. The big eye-opener this year was just how congested those southern lakes can get. You think you found a few spots to have all by yourself and come tournament day there would be two or three other boats on it.”
After leaving Chickamauga, Gussy traveled back north to prepare for the tournament season at home.
“We have a catch-and-release season for bass all year in Ontario, but July 1 is when you can begin to keep them so that is when the tournaments begin. A lot of people in Canada, and just up north in general, love to bass fish and the tournaments around northwest Ontario are top notch. Most of them are team events put on by the local communities and feature some really good payouts and some even better competition.”
Gussy has been either practicing for a tournament or competing in one every week but two since leaving Chickamauga. And so far he has won the Bassin’ for Bucks tournament on Lake of the Woods where he caught a 7.19-pound monster largemouth and took home the title at the prestigious Fort Francis Canadian Bass Championship held on Rainy Lake while fishing with John Peterson of Northland Fishing Tackle.
With the tournament season winding down, Gussy can begin to focus on his whitetail deer guiding, writing articles, filming for his TV show “Fishing with Gussy” and eventually ice fishing.
“I think I still have three more episodes to get done for the show and around a dozen articles I need to write. And coming up here in October I’ll start guiding for deer on Lake of the Woods which runs until November 15. Once all that is over I generally can get out hunting on my own for a bit but then it is pretty much time to hit the ice.”
The Ontario native also manages to guide on the ice and during open water when his schedule permits. Mashed in the middle of this non-stop lifestyle, Gussy recently married his long-time fiancé, August Collison.
“It won’t be too long and I’ll be packing my gear up and heading back down to Okeechobee to start the 2014 FLW Tour season. I’m really excited about going to Sam Rayburn next year because it is such a large body of water. I think next year could be a little easier for me and I hope to be more open to the decisions I make on the water. I’m looking forward to giving it another shot.”