Tough weekend at Lake Guntersville

Coming into the seventh stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series season last week at Lake Guntersville, Alabama I was feeling pretty good. After a pair of tough events in March and early April, I followed those with two solid finishes and was above the cut line for the Bassmaster Classic. As I have said many times in the past, the goal of the nine event season is to qualify for the Classic, the Superbowl event in professional bass tournament fishing.

This would be my fourth tournament in three years at Guntersville. Next to Lake of the Woods, I’ve probably spent more days fishing on this lake in the past few years than I have anywhere else so I’m familiar with the venue. That being said, in five tournaments here I have had two solid finishes and three poor finishes so it’s not exactly my favourite tournament lake.

I was confident heading into the week that I would have a good tournament and was expecting that I would be able to find some schools of bass offshore in deeper water. In a lot of the tournaments that I do well in down in the U.S., I have used my electronics and to be honest, some of the skills I learned walleye fishing around home, to find and catch largemouth bass in deeper water. We don’t really get to catch largemouth bass in deep water in Northwest Ontario, I’m talking 18 to 25 feet of water. It gets so hot in the summer in the southeast U.S. that a lot of the fish will move out to this deeper water to get away from the heat and follow the schools of baitfish that are doing the same thing.

Jeff Gustafson fished shallow water last week at Lake Guntersville and it ended up being the wrong choice. – photo provided by Bassmaster

The first day of practice I fished a few of the deeper spots that have been good in the past and I didn’t catch any fish so I started looking around in shallow water and started catching fish. So I prematurely figured that all of the bass in the lake were still shallow, but I should have known better. Most of the fish I was catching were not that big but I did see several big bass swimming around and caught a few nice ones so I decided I would spend my time fishing shallow and that would be my plan.  

It’s funny how it goes in these tournaments once they start. My start was not great the first morning of the event. Though I did catch a limit relatively quick, they were not the size that I needed. I kind of knew that what I was doing was not the right program but I just couldn’t bring myself to do something else, even though I had a bunch of other fishing rods rigged up in my boat in case this problem arose.  

A few of the better spots that I found had other anglers fishing them and I never got to try my luck on them so that was disappointing. I missed a few fish each day that would have helped and it just seemed like whenever I had talked myself into trying something different I would see a big fish swimming and that would keep me glued to the shallow water. In the end the results were not good. Back to back eleven pound limits landed me a 72nd place finish.  

Wisconsin angler Caleb Kuphall won the tournament fishing shallow, with the second largest margin of victory in Elite Series history, over 17 pounds. I was actually fishing around some of the same areas that he and a couple of the other top ten finishers were concentrating on but I was not very open-minded in the techniques that I was using. I made some big mistakes in this event and it costed me. This field of anglers that I compete against are so good that if you make mistakes, lose fish or don’t perform you sink fast in the standings.

I’m now on the outside of the Bassmaster Classic cutline, in 45th place. The top 40 anglers qualify for next year’s Classic so I’m not out of it by any means. The last two tournaments of the season are back to back events up in New York in July on Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, two of the best smallmouth fisheries in the World. They are both waters that I have had good results at in the past so I’m confident that everything will work out but the pressure is on now. If I do my job and have a couple of solid finishes, I’ll end up where I want to, inside that top 40 group. 
Before the last two events of the season we have the 2021 Classic coming up June 11-13 at Ray Roberts Lake in Texas. I qualified for this event last year and am proud to be competing in it. That is where my focus is going to be for the next couple of weeks as I try to get prepared for the biggest tournament of the year.