Gustafson finishes in top half of Bassmaster Classic pool

The 51st Bassmaster Classic took place over the weekend in Texas, at Ray Roberts Lake and if you have read my column in the past you probably know that this is the Superbowl event in professional bass fishing. I was fortunate to qualify for this tournament, my second Classic, and came away with a 21st place finish in the 54 angler field.

North Carolina angler Hank Cherry took the title for the second year in a row, collecting the $300,000 first place prize. Cherry became only the fourth angler to win back to back, joining an elite group including Rick Clunn, Kevin Van Dam and Jordan Lee. It was very impressive. In addition to the prize money, Cherry will have a lot of promotional opportunity within the fishing industry over the next year because of his back to back wins.

The fishing on Ray Roberts Lake was tough overall, with only a handful of anglers able to catch a five bass limit all three days of the tournament. The lake was flooded and the weather was hot, both contributing to the tougher fishing. The final day of the tournament on Sunday might have been the hottest day that I have ever been in a boat. When I got to my truck at the end of the day, it read 42 degrees Celsius, but the humidity was like nothing we ever see in Sunset Country. I mean, we get a few hot days over the summer but nothing like this; it was unbelievable.

When it gets that hot, I find that I try to cover up as much as possible with a hooded sun shirt and drink a lot of water. I was going for quick rides in the boat and moving spots every half hour or so to get a little bit of airflow because there was no wind at all. It was just one of those sticky, humid days. It was extreme as the -35 nights we get in the winter, if I could compare it to anything.

I ended up catching most of my fish flipping a weedless soft plastic crayfish imitator into the flooded bushes along the shoreline. These trees and bushes that would normally be out of the water all had three or four feet of water around them, it was an interesting way to fish. This flooding happens quite often on these southern reservoirs and when it does a population of bass always goes and makes themselves at home in the new cover.

The tournament itself was a success and from the anglers stand point, it is so fun. Texas is essentially opened back up from the pandemic so there were large crowds that came to watch the morning take-offs and the weigh-ins in the afternoon. It was nice to see after everything that we have all been through. The anglers really do get treated like rock stars throughout the week.

Competing in the Bassmaster Classic was a dream come true for local angler Jeff Gustafson, over the weekend. He finished 21st place in the 54 angler field. He is now fighting for a spot in next year’s tournament. (Bassmaster photo)

To focus for me now turns to the last two events of the season, out in New York state in July on Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. I don’t want to miss this event next year and after seven regular season events I’m just outside the cutline for qualifying for next year’s Classic. I need to have a couple of solid finishes at these last two events to get myself back on the right side of the line. We fished both venues last year and I did well at both so I’m excited to get out there. They are both excellent smallmouth fisheries so the fishing will align with my experience around home a lot more than these southern reservoirs do.