By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan

Jeff Gustafson is one of the most knowledgeable bass anglers in Canada. When he decided to compete on the FLW Tour a few years ago, he knew there would be a learning curve, but with more than $150,000 in winnings over the past 4-plus years, including a top-5 showing at Lake Hartwell last week, suffice to say, he’s finding his groove.

Unfamiliar Waters

Up until “Gussy” started fishing FLW events, aside from Sturgeon Bay, Wis., he’d acquired most of his outdoors knowledge fishing competitively and guiding on the Lake of the Woods. He also guides for wolves and deer that are as smart as they are elusive.

When faced with unfamiliar waters, he’ll look online at past event information from the FLW and Bassmaster websites, stories about specific fisheries, look at pictures from past events, and watch past TV shows if they are available. From there, he can dial in the predominant species and techniques to give him a baseline to work from.

“I might use Google Earth and look at the water body on there, learn where the ramps are, and where spawning areas might be,” Gustafson started. “It can be cool because sometimes if the photos were taken when the water was low, then you can see a lot of potential cover like rocks, trees, and grass that might be fishable during the event. In this case, I like to print pictures off for reference so I can find some of these places.”
Gustafson also utilizes Humminbird electronics loaded with LakeMaster mapping.

“This gives me an idea of potential spawning areas, as well as small structural pieces that other mapping probably doesn't have,” he said. “Sometimes you can find some little sweet spots that look high-percentage by studying the map before you hit the water.”

The Inside Scoop?

Because he’s from Canada, Gustafson doesn’t have a ton of experience fishing reservoirs, lakes and rivers in the Southeast.

“My network in the southern U.S. is limited,” he said. “A lot of guys get way more help than the public realizes. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it, it's part of the system. I might call guys that I've crossed paths with while fishing at these places, past co-anglers, or folks that I’ve guided around home on Lake of the Woods. It's a very competitive sport so anything you can get that might help is great as long as it's within the rules.”

On the Water Scouting

Gustafson likes to fish his strengths because sometimes it’s all about cutting a check.

“I like to fish for spotted bass since they are similar to smallmouths and generally easier to catch,” Gustafson said. “I like to follow general tendencies of bass based on the time of year. Many of our tournaments are pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn events. Knowing where they’re at in the cycle will give you a good starting point on where to start looking.”

The Pattern Program

While not every body of water easily presents fishable patterns, the more time Gustafson spends on the Tour, the more he’s growing accustomed to his surroundings.

Gustafson pointed out that the top pros are very good at being open-minded on tournament days even if they didn't get on a hot pattern in practice. “We all wish that we can fish a tournament with two rods on the deck, indicating that we're on a good pattern but that is seldom the case,” he said.

Gustafson is gaining confidence in his decision making and being able to apply what he’s learned on the water quickly. The more familiar he becomes with the various bodies of water, you can bet just cashing a check won’t be good enough for him.

Geared Up

Gustafson’s go-to arsenal when breaking down new water includes a Jackall Squad Minnow, a Jackall Binksy unless it is really cold, and a dropshot. He prefers a Jackall Crosstail Shad when drop-shotting for smallmouth and a Roboworm when targeting largemouth.

When fishing smallmouth, a Northland Impulse tube will be rigged on a 3/16- ounce head. On a TVA lake, he keeps larger shad imitating baits within reach. Florida always means that he has to be ready for grass and he’ll refine his approach depending on the fishery.

> Jerkbait gear: 7’1” medium-action G. Loomis NRX 852 casting rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (7:1 ratio), 10-pound fluorocarbon line.

> Topwater gear: 7’5” medium-heavy G. Loomis NRX 893 casting rod, same reel, 30-pound PowerPro braided line, 20-pound monofilament leader.

> Dropshot gear: 6’10” mag-medium G. Loomis NRX 822 spinning rod, Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 2500 spinning reel, 10-pound PowerPro braided line tied to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

> Tube gear: 7'3" medium-action G. Loomis NRX 872 spinning rod, same reel, 10-pound PowerPro braided line tied to 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.