By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

A day after winning the Bassmaster Classic, Jeff Gustafson was feeling great from an emotional perspective. Physically, it was a different deal entirely.

"I feel awesome, but my body doesn't," he said with a chuckle. "It was a bit of a long night. I had a photo shoot this morning and I was really glad I could wear sunglasses."

The first Canadian to win the Classic and just the second born outside the U.S. to accomplish the feat (following Takahiro Omori), the 40-year-old Gustafson and wife Shelby were praparing for their 22-hour drive from Knoxville, Tenn. to their home in Kenora, Ontario, on Monday. Another celebration likely to sap some energy from the next day will occur there soon.

"We'll get some kind of party next week," he said. "It felt like half the people from Canada were in the weigh-in crowd – there were a few hundred, anyway. I have to thank all of them that came out because they made it really special."

Ironically, Gustafson's big celebration occurred after the toughest fishing day he's had on the venue (the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn., encompassing Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes). He's now competed in two top-level events there – the other was a regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series derby in 2021 – and led the standings after all seven rounds.

Two superb days last week allowed him to take a 5 1/2-pound lead into the final day. But his fish, likely weary from angling pressure and changing environmental conditions, wouldn't cooperate Sunday and he managed to boat only two smallmouth that met the 18-inch minimum-length requirement.

His 6-12 haul gave him the victory by a 1-09 margin over runner-up Bryan Schmitt.

He won this tournament the same way he topped the last one – with a modified vertical-jigging technique in Tellico with a fluke-style bait known as "moping." He was looking at all of his fish on forward-facing sonar (Humminbird MEGA Live) before inducing them to bite.

His rotation consisted of just two locales – a place littered with chunk rock and an ordinary-looking point.

"I never had more than a 10-minute span (on Sunday) when I wasn't working on a fish," he said. "It's not like they were gone – they were just so hard to catch. I just kept hoping that one would bite.

"On the ride back in I was pissed because I didn't think I had a chance. I'd figured if I caught three keepers that day I had a chance and four was game over. But still, I didn't have any regrets. It's not like I had another option to go catch largemouths or anything like that. I'd fished for largemouths for about 2 hours on one of the practice days and that just confirmed that I was an idiot for trying it and it was time to go look for more smallmouths."

He caught several 17-inch-plus smallmouths on Sunday that didn't help him.

"If the tournament had been a week ago, I'd have been done in 20 minutes every day. When I found them they were easy to catch and there were a lot of them. Then the weather got really warm and most of them started marching toward the bank (to spawn).

"Enough of them hung on just long enough for me to get what I needed."

He said the $300,000 payday will make things a bit easier for the foreseeable future, but he won't alter anything in regard to how he goes about his craft. One thing he does plan to do, however is have some discussions with people who've been in his position.

"I still love to fish and nothing there is really gonna change," he said. "It's a big deal, but that part hasn't really sunk in yet. Sometime in the next couple days I'll try to talk to (Jason) Christie or Hank (Cherry) or maybe Jordan Lee and try to get some tips on how to make the most of it."

Gear and Pattern Notes

> Moping gear: 7'3" medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX+ 872 rod, Shimano Stella 3000 spinning reel, 10-pound PowerPro braid (main line), 10-pound Shimano Mastiff fluorocarbon (leader), 3/8-ounce Smeltinator jighead, Z-Man Jerk ShadZ (smelt).

> He said his main spot is likely one where big smallmouth spend the entire winter. "They're happy being out there. Every other fish I caught puked up fresh shad – half-eaten ones."

> If there's another place like it anywhere in the system, he doesn't know where it is. "These guys would've found them if they were everywhere."