Starting a new pro Bassmaster season

Back in 2012 I had a friend from Minnesota who offered to help me out to sign up for some professional bass tournaments in the U.S. At the time, FLW had a four tournament series called the FLW Tour Opens and that’s what I signed up to fish. The four stops were in Florida, Michigan, Alabama and Texas. Getting the opportunity was a dream come true and really, I probably would have been happy just to get to fish those four tournaments.

These events each had a $4,000 entry fee and my friend – Don Nelson – helped to cover those for me. At the time, I was a fishing and hunting guide and that was a lot of money – more than I was probably willing to risk fishing on lakes that I knew nothing about. Don had visited me several times at Lake of the Woods to go fishing and went way above and beyond to help me get started in a career that I had only dreamed about. Sadly, he got sick in 2015 and passed away but I’ll be forever grateful to him and his family.

Jeff Gustafson with a nice bass from Lake Okeechobee, Florida at his first professional event back in 2012.

Like many aspects of life, sometimes knowing the right people can be very helpful. While I didn’t have any really high finishes that first year, I did manage to finish in the money in each of the four tournaments that I fished and was able to qualify for the full FLW Tour the following year.

My first few years of fishing in the U.S. didn’t go great but I did good enough to hang in there and keep fishing the following year. Over my time doing this I’ve seen a bunch of talented anglers come and go. Many of these anglers didn’t get the same help that I did to start out, put all of those big entry fees on a credit card and went for it. The problem is that a couple of bad tournaments – which can be expected when you start out – will put you in a big hole, very quick. When faced with these financial pressures, the fun of fishing is taken away and often the results are not good.

There were a lot of hard lessons learned in those early years, competing on southern reservoirs that were much different from fishing around home in NW Ontario. That being said, growing up in Sunset Country gave me the opportunity to fish for a number of species on a variety of water bodies so I feel like I was fairly well rounded when it came to my knowledge of how to fish both shallow and deep and use my electronics.

After six years fishing the FLW Tour, I got the opportunity in 2019 to join the Bassmaster Elite Series, the premier fishing league in professional bass fishing. Now, headed into my fifth season on the Elite Series, things are going good and I’m grateful that I’m able to continue pursuing my dream job.

My results have become more consistent in recent years, mostly from experience fishing waters across the U.S. over the years. The schedule includes ten events each season and usually we’ll visit a couple of new waters that I’ve never been to before but the rest I usually have some experience on. I actually enjoy fishing waterbodies that I’ve never been to before and getting to visit new places.

Making things more difficult is the competition getting better every year. Each season, ten anglers are eliminated based on performance and ten new anglers are invited from the Bassmaster Opens. Each year the new anglers that qualify are just more talented and experienced.

I’m back on the road this week, headed south in preparation for my 11th season, starting in February. Looking back, it’s actually hard to believe that I’m still getting to fish for a living. Avoiding having to get a real job for as long as possible remains my main source of motivation to catch fish!

Another NW Ontario angler is making a run at fishing for a living this year. Jamie Bruce, of Kenora has signed up to fish the nine tournament Bassmaster Open circuit this year. His goal is to finish in the top ten in points to qualify for the Elite Series. I think he is the best representative from our area to give it a shot and am excited to follow his success this year. You can follow Jamie on his social media pages and get the reports on his podcast Get The Net.
Finally, one of the best perks of getting to fish these circuits is that the season always starts in February so I get to break up the winter. Stay warm everybody.