The Bassmaster Elite Series Resumes at Lake Eufaula
After a 3 month hiatus, the Bassmaster Elite Series is finally back up and running. The tension was palpable leading up to the event with the entire field itching to get back onto the water. Simms decided to catch up with Elite Series angler Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson about what it was like going through quarantine as a professional angler, to hear his thoughts about the tournament and what it is like getting back to what he does best- fishing.
Simms: So it’s been almost a 3-month break from tournaments for you- what’s it feel like finally getting back to work?
Gussy: It was SO NICE to get back at it last week. I missed the competition – I live for it – and I missed my buddies. We have a good travel group including Seth Feider, Chris Groh, Chris and Cory Johnston and we will usually rent houses for the weeks of our events. It was great to reconnect with these guys and just get back to fishing. Like many others out there, it’s been a tough few months with little opportunity to earn income.
Simms: What was it like when you got the call that the Elite Series was starting back up? I’m guessing you were excited? Were you feeling anxious about competing again?
Gussy: BASS did a good job keeping us in the loop with multiple plans for resuming our season. We had a few events canceled during the spring and rightfully so, but when we got word that we would be able to continue the season with some social distancing and safety measures in place, I think we were all very excited. I didn’t have a lot of anxiety, there was more anxiety about not being able to fish, compete and try to make some money for me. Once we get back out there on the water, it’s just business as usual.
Simms: For someone that makes a living traveling and fishing, what was it like not being able to move around and fish?
Gussy: It was a strange few months for me, for all of us I think. I live in Canada and we’ve been locked down pretty tight. In my home area of NW Ontario (Lake of the Woods), we have had very few cases so we were lucky on that front but our area is suffering pretty bad right now because we rely so heavily on tourism, mostly from US Midwest anglers who travel here for fishing trips year after year. None of that is going on right now. I do some guiding when I’m home so I missed that big time.
Simms: What were you doing to pass the time during quarantine?
Gussy: Luckily, where I live is an amazing place if you like outdoor activities. When my wife Shelby and I returned home after the Classic, we got in a few weeks of ice fishing – caught a bunch of big walleye, crappie, pike, and lake trout. When the ice started to break up we got in some shed hunting for deer antlers, and once we could get the boat back in the water, we were back on the fishing train. We are lucky here to have world-class fishing for several species so there is always something to catch out there.
Simms: You quarantined up north, didn’t you? Did it feel weird getting thrown back onto a southern lake? Did you feel out of your element or any rust throughout the weekend?
Gussy: Getting back to fishing last week wasn’t too unusual but I was not really prepared for the heat down in southern Alabama. It was in the 90’s every day and humid. I’ve found the best way to make it through the long practice days down south in the summer is to cover up. You’ll very seldom see me fishing in the summer time anywhere without a SolarFlex Hoody. The hood covers up my head pretty well and also helps with keeping the sunlight out of my glasses. I can’t imagine fishing anymore without wearing one of these shirts.
Simms: Tell us a bit about your thoughts on lake Eufaula and what your strategy was for the tournament? You’ve come close to winning there in the past- did you feel confident going into this one?
Gussy: I almost won an FLW Tour event on Eufaula in 2015, throwing a topwater lure. I hadn’t been back but I was excited for sure because of the good experiences in the past. It’s a great tournament lake because it’s big and you can choose to target bass with almost any technique you like. The lake is also in really good shape right now, fishing wise, so we knew it was going to be a fun week.
Simms: Eufaula is a big lake with a ton of structure in it- how did you break down that size body of water? Did you go searching for brush piles, or did you want to take a different approach from the rest of the field?
Gussy: So, my first day of practice I checked a few of the areas where I caught them last time with the topwater, got a few good bites and felt confident I could catch some fish doing that. I then spent the majority of my practice looking offshore for both brush piles and schools of fish on the river ledges. Because of the time of year, we all knew that there would be good numbers of fish offshore but they take time to find, especially the sneaky spots that a lot of the competition might overlook. Heading into the tournament I was confident that I could do okay because I had a few options on where to fish and techniques to employ.
Simms: After the first few days, did you feel like you were on a good bite? give us a breakdown on how your strategy changed throughout the weekend, if at all?
Gussy: Both days of the tournament that I fished, I caught one big fish out deep and then put the rest of my limit together fishing shallower. A few groups of fish that I found disappeared so that hurt- I felt like these were really going to pay off. It turned into a grinder tournament for me, just trying a bunch of different things to put the best five bass together that I could. I ended up with a 43rd place finish, which is not awesome because the top 40 fishes a third day and makes a little more money, but I made a few bucks and didn’t bomb so I didn’t hurt myself too badly in the points standings. Obviously, the goal for everybody fishing the Elite Series is to make the Classic next year. At this point I’m sitting on the bubble, tied with my buddy Feider for the last two spots but we are heading north for the next four tournaments so I think we’re both in pretty good shape.
Simms: We were watching the leaderboard all weekend and it looked like it was a roller-coaster with different guys shooting up and down the board- why do you think that was happening? Was it just the fishing pressure, or was it the amount of boats buzzing around the lake in general?
Gussy: It was pretty interesting, all of the different ways that guys were catching fish and it seemed to change every day. The first day, the shallow guys got’em, the next day brush piles seemed to be the deal, then the third day, ledges were the best. It would have been fun to watch for sure! Not many lakes where you’ll see the variety of techniques the guys were using. Pressure was a big issue there for sure…there was a big tournament on the lake the week before we arrived and there are a lot of local anglers around Eufaula, it’s kind of in the heart of bass fishing in the south.
Simms: What was it like fishing a tournament during these strange times? Did it feel surreal not seeing a crowded dock when you pulled in for weigh in?
Gussy: It was different fishing the tournament last week for sure, not having the usual fan engagement that we do, but I think we were all just happy to be fishing. The social distancing requirements were all pretty standard for the situation we’re in right now so we did what we had to do. Hopefully moving forward, things get better and at some point we get back to normal with some high fives and hugs.
Simms: Your next few events are back in the northern fringe in New York starting with Lake Cayuga- are you excited for that spell up north?
Gussy: I’m excited for the run of tournaments we have coming down the pipe up north. On paper the schedule is really good for me, but I still have to catch the fish. We are going to Cayuga, the St. Lawrence River and then Lake Champlain three weeks in a row in July, what bass angler wouldn’t be excited about those places. I can’t wait to get back at it out in New York!