Jeff Gustafson declared Bassmaster Elite Champion

Competitive bass fishing is a crazy activity or sport, however you want to look at it. The highs are so high and the lows are so low, it’s really a roller coaster. When I started competing at the pro level in 2013 I was star struck to be competing against many of my idols growing up; it was surreal. Over the years there have been some great tournaments and plenty of tough ones where I have experienced all of these emotions. It all came together on Sunday when I won my first pro-level tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Over the years as I started to get to know many of the anglers that I was fishing against and as my results became more consistent I felt like I belonged fishing at this level but I didn’t know if I would ever be able to cross the line and actually win a pro-level tournament. I had finished second a couple of times but I really didn’t know if I would ever be able to win.

After a couple of days of prefishing for the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Tennessee River last week I was worried that this tournament was going to be a disaster. The first day of practice I caught three largemouth bass that barely met the 14” minimum length. The next day I failed to catch a single keeper. These were long days, fishing from dark to dark, so it was very disappointing. Heading into the third and final day of practice I knew that I needed to try something a little bit different to try and figure out how to catch a few fish.

My preference is always to try and fish deeper water and utilize my electronics any time that I can in these tournaments. I have more advantage doing that because of all my time at home fishing for walleyes and smallmouths. I’m confident in what my electronics are telling me so I like to fish that way. I had been fishing shallow water the first couple of days so on the final day of practice I decided to look in deeper water even though it was not expected that deep water would be an effective option by pundits heading into the tournament.

On that final day of practice I managed to catch a few smallmouths and found an area that had some fish but I didn’t know if they were of the right size. At this body of water, smallmouths had to be 18” to keep, so myself and most anglers were hesitant to target smallmouths. Not having anything else to really go to, I decided that the first day of the tournament I would try the smallmouth spot and maybe I’d get lucky and catch a keeper or two.

When the tournament started I was pleasantly surprised to catch a limit of smallmouths within about an hour or so of starting fishing the first day. That limit weighed 17-14, giving me nearly a four pound lead after the first day of the tournament. Heading into the second day I still wasn’t sure that what I’d found was really solid, maybe I got lucky the first day?

When I arrived to my spot on day two and caught some nice fish again relatively quick, I then realized that I had found something special and I would have a good opportunity to win the tournament. Days three and four went well and when it was all said and done, my four day total of 66 pounds was about six pounds better than second place finisher Steve Kennedy from Alabama.
Winning the tournament means everything to me. More than anything I just wanted to do it for all of the people that have supported me along the way and helped me to get on this stage. My family and particularly my Dad, who took me fishing every chance I wanted to go when I was a little kid. All of my friends who have encouraged me every step of the way, after a good tournament or a bad one and the sponsors who have made it possible for me, a regular guy, to be out there competing. Finally, my wife Shelby is the greatest supporter of all and does everything she can to help me all the time. It’s very humbling.

There has been a lot of sacrifice along the way. When you see the cool boats and trucks, all of the fishing gear and the coverage that we get online, it all looks glamourous, but I can tell you that the long drives and weeks and weeks away from home are not glamourous. Getting to hoist that trophy above my head on Sunday afternoon made it all worth it! Thank you to everybody who has reached out over the past couple days with the messages, they are greatly appreciated!