International representation on Elite Series

The 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series season kicks off next week at the St. John’s River in Florida. It’s the fourth year in a row that the St. John’s is hosting the kick-off event to the season. After finishing in July last year, it’s been a long off-season and I can tell you I’m excited to get the new season started.

Typically the Elite Series relegates some anglers from the field each year, while bringing in a new batch, usually around ten anglers. Because of the pandemic nobody was relegated after the 2020 season and we had a field of 100 anglers last year. For 2022, Bassmaster wanted to get the field back down to around 90 anglers and there were 13 new qualifiers from the Bassmaster Open Series so 23 anglers were removed from the field after last year. They based the relegations on the past three year average of angler of the year points.

It was tough because I had a few good friends who aren’t going to be fishing this year but hopefully they will be able to find their way back. Like any other high level sport, there are always young, up and coming stars who want to take your spot. 
Heading into this season, I expect the Elite Series to be very competitive. It is a stacked field with many of the best bass anglers in the World. While most of the anglers are from the U.S., there is some international representation as well. There are three Canadians, including myself, along with Chris and Cory Johnston from Peterborough, Ontario. There are also one Australian, Carl Jocumsen, as well as three anglers from Japan. Takumi Ito, who won the final event of 2021, is entering his third season and will be joined by two of his friends, Daisuke Aoki and Masayuki Matsushita who have both won Open tournaments over the past two years. These Japanese anglers are really good, particularly with finesse techniques. The bass fishing is tough in Japan so they have to have a high skill level to consistently catch fish. These skills have resulted in quick success when they have come over to North America.

The emcee for the Elite Series, Dave Mercer, is also Canadian, heading into his twelfth season as the man running the stage. He is the long-time host of the Facts of Fishing TV show and is very good at what he does.

Anyone who has followed the Elite Series over the past couple of years and watched Bassmaster Live has probably taken a liking to Taku Ito for his animated personality when he is in front of a camera. He is one of those guys who is fun to be around and he’s got a great sense of humour. I have become friends with him and when I think about some of the sacrifice that I make to pursue this crazy activity, it’s much greater for him. He has a wife and five year old son back in Japan but comes over the America for the entire season. While his English is pretty good, when he first came over here it was very minimal. He had to find a boat and truck to use, learn how to get around the United States and figure out how to catch bass on a different continent. It’s pretty remarkable. I have a lot of respect for him. 
Taku is not the first Japanese angler to find success in America. There have been several anglers before him who have done very well, particularly Takahiro Omori, who when the 2004 Bassmaster Classic.

We start the new season with back to back events in Florida, at the St. John’s, followed by the Harris Chain of Lakes the following week. I last fished the Harris Chain in 2018, in an FLW Tour event where I finished second and fellow Canadian Chris Johnston won so I’m looking forward to that one just based on some past success. Following that we have the Bassmaster Classic in early March at Lake Hartwell, South Carolina, followed by a regular Elite event at Santee Cooper Lake in South Carolina. My wife Shelby and I are down in Florida now, getting warmed up for the new season and enjoying the nicer weather, though it has been unseasonable cold here as well. We’ll get to come home after mid-March after this first run of tournaments, which I’m looking forward to because I really love the late March ice fishing!

Jeff Gustafson shares dinner with Taku Ito during the 2020 season when they were on the road together in Texas. They are two of seven international anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series.