By Russ Bassdozer
Special to BassFan
Jeff Gustafson is a strapping Canadian outdoorsman from Kenora, Ontario who guides hunting and fishing parties year-round. At 29, "Gussy," as he's known, also wreaks havoc competing in the some of biggest bass tournaments in his native country.
This year, thanks to the support of several sponsors, he will be fishing the FLW Tour Opens, with stops at Okeechobee, the Detroit River, Wheeler and Sam Rayburn.
"Obviously I'm very excited and I know that the entire year on tour will be challenging," he said. "The tough part for me is that I'm only going to get 3 days to practice on each body of water. I live too far away and have a busy schedule with all the other things that I do to get to any of these places before the off-limits.
"Fortunately there is pretty good information available on the web to hopefully point me in the right direction. I don't really have anybody to help at these waters other than a couple of friends – fellow Canadian angler Bob Izumi and Minnesota pro Jim Moynagh – who have fished some of these waters at other tour events. I know that Bob and Jim are super-competitive and I would never expect them to be to wide-open books for me, but I am going to count on them to help me out with some of the things a rookie such as myself needs to learn about fishing the tour and maybe some navigation tips for getting around on these waters. The fishing part itself, I like to do my own thing."
Warmth on the Way
Gustafson will get his first taste of tour-level competition next week at Okeechobee.
"Okeechobee's a place that I have never been to before," he said. "The biggest thing I'm worried about is where can I and can't I drive my boat? I don't want to lose too much fishing time trying to figure that out."
He plans to enjoy Florida's warm weather.
"It will be prime time to get out of Canada because we are in the dead of winter up here. I've been guiding wolf hunters for the past couple of weeks and the past two mornings it's been (minus-10 degrees) when I've taken the guys out to their blinds on my snowmobile. Obviously, I hook them up with heaters to use in the blinds. We are ice fishing right now as well – catching lake trout, crappie and walleye."
After Okeechobee, he'll have lots of time to prepare for the other events on the circuit, which won't resume again until the Detroit River stop in late August. The third stop's on Wheeler in late September and the final leg's on Sam Rayburn in mid-October.
Strong Summer Lineup
Gustafson expects to fill the gap between the first and second Tour Opens with a lot of fishing on familiar waters.
"Our bass season in Ontario is open year-round, but it's a catch-and-release-only season from January until July 1, so we can fish for bass in the spring but there are no tournaments until July. Then, just about every weekend through the end of September there is a tournament on Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake or one of the many smaller lakes in the region. We have a really good lineup of bass tournaments up here and a few of them have been around for a long time. These are all good events with healthy-sized fields, good payouts and tough competition.
Gustafson is the host of a new TV show that airs nationwide in Canada.
"The Kenora Bass International tournament (or the KBI, as it's called) was started in 1987 on Lake of the Woods and over the years many high-caliber anglers have fished it, including Guido and Dion Hibdon, the Lindner clan (Al, Ron, James and Bill), Terry Baksay, O.T. Fears, Bob Izumi and many more. It has become one of the most prestigious open team tournaments in North America and 2012 marks the 25th anniversary. The weigh-ins are a big spectacle held right downtown on the shore of the lake. I've been fortunate to win the Kenora Bass International twice (2000, 2008) with my partner Chris Savage. We also have three 2nd-place finishes over the years."
The Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship is another of the most notable events up north. Gustafson and his partner, John Peterson (founder of Northland Fishing Tackle), haven't won that one yet, but they have several Top-5 finishes.
"Jim Moynagh has been dominant there over the years with partner Joe Thrun. They've actually won the event five times.
"I've cut my tournament teeth fishing these legendary Canadian waters and have had success in tournaments in Minnesota and Wisconsin, too. I know that where I live is out of the loop of mainstream bass fishing, but I can tell you that I love to compete and I follow everything that's going on south of the border very closely.
"The good thing is we have some of the best bass fishing in the world right outside my door, so I get to catch a lot of fish over the course of our short Canadian season," he continued. "I'd like to show the rest of the world what I can do. Thanks to my sponsors, I am getting that chance, and I intend to make myself known as a rookie to reckon with on the FLW Tour Opens in 2012."
> Gustafson's primary sponsors are KrugerFarms.com, International Comfort Products, Mountain Dew and Lund Boats. "These companies have been huge and if everything goes good, hopefully I can gain their support to fish the FLW Tour Majors as well in 2013. That is my goal and my dream."
> He's the host of a new TV show airing across Canada called "Fishing with Gussy."