Big bass leads to top ten Bassmaster series finish for Jeff Gustafson

Heading into this last stretch of the Bassmaster Elite Series season where we have four events over a six week period I will admit that I was a little bit nervous about my chances of success. We knew the fishing was going to be tough at these tournaments, it’s just the way it is in the fall at most southern fisheries, so figuring out a way to survive and catch a few fish would be very important.
For me, the nervousness came from the fact that I was on the bubble for the Bassmaster Classic cutline heading into this final southern run, but after a good tournament last week at Lake Guntersville, it helped cool down the stress. The second event took place over this past weekend on Santee Copper Reservoir in South Carolina. It is a famed body of water, known for big bass but it had not played host to a national level event in over a decade so we didn’t really know what to expect.
We were supposed to fish Santee in April, when it has a reputation for kicking out all kinds of giant bass. Ten pounders and 40 pound limits are not unusual in the spring but outside of that timeframe when the fish move shallow to spawn, the lake is known to be tough to fish. It has vast areas that are still covered in standing timber and fields of stumps so running around in the boat is challenging. There are boat lanes to get to different areas of the lake but when you get out of those boat lanes, some areas are okay to run around in, others are not. Learning that ate up a significant amount of my practice time. If you hit one of these big stumps, it’s like hitting a rock reef and you can cause significant damage to your boat and motor.
After our three days of practice before the tournament, I ended up catching a total of five keeper sized bass, over 14 inches in length. Two were big fish over five pounds, the rest were just barely keepers. I had a few other bites and figured out that flipping shallow, heavy weed cover was my best chance to catch a few fish. It was definitely the toughest practice that I have ever had for a pro tournament. I was not that optimistic heading in the tournament.
The first day I managed to catch four fish, including a couple of nice ones for a 13 pound limit that had me just inside the top 40 cut. On day two, my plan was to continue working the area where I had caught my fish on day one. I had a relatively slow morning with three fish in my boat, one nice one and two small keepers. At around lunch time I was telling myself, catch two more keepers and you’ll be okay. That’s when I made my luckiest flip of the week, setting the hook on a 9-7 largemouth that ended up being the largest bass caught in the tournament. Moments later, I caught a six pounder and all the sudden I have a big limit weighing over 22 pounds to jump me right into the top ten.
That big fish was probably the second biggest bass I have ever caught. To do it on a tournament day was special and quite frankly, very lucky. It made my whole event. I ended up catching three keepers on day three, just squeaked into the top ten, then managed four small keepers on the final day to finish up in 9th place.
Catching that big bass brought out all of the emotions that make me love competitive fishing so much. It’s a fish catch that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. With two events remaining I have moved up to 20th in the points list and I’m in pretty good shape to qualify for the Classic, which is my number one goal for the year. We’re back at it again this week at Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee for what sounds like another tough tournament. It is a lake known for kicking out big bass as well so hopefully my luck will continue. The tournament this week starts Friday and runs through Monday.