It’s been little more than a week since Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson conquered the field at the 2023 Bassmaster Classic Sponsored by Academy Sports + Outdoors.
While it might seem like a good time to rest on his laurels and take it all in, the Northland Fishing Tackle and Bagley Baits pro is already looking forward to another winning season in 2023. A big part of his plan for success will be keeping a few proven Northland and Bagley lures in his line-up.
It’s well documented that Gustafson, the first Canadian to claim “The Classic” title, pulled off the feat while relying on a single lure: a smelt-colored 4-inch soft plastic jerkshad on a 3/8-ounce jighead built by a friend. While that proved the key last time around, a new season presents fresh challenges and the 40-year-old from Kenora, Ontario, plans to go into battle fully armed to get the job done. Like most serious bass pros, he’ll use different lures to match different waters, changing conditions, various baits, and even the mood of the fish he’s targeting. Figuring prominently in his 2023 campaign will be an assortment of Northland’s new jigs and Bagley finesse crankbaits. “I’ve won a lot of money with those lures,” he stated.
“I like the Elite Series jigs because they are just so versatile,” reveals Gustafson. “There are designs that work well in weeds and around sticky areas where bass love to hold, models that work great in open water, swimming jigs and jigs that are perfect for bouncing off the bottom, working mid-depths and even moping, the technique I used at the Bassmaster Classic. Every design features a super-sharp hook, a wide selection of color patterns, and appropriate weights to probe from top to bottom.”
Indeed, Northland’s Elite Series collection includes the Finesse Football Jig, Weedless Wacky Jig, Cabbage Crusher Jig, Nedster, and Weedless Nedster. All are specifically designed for largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass. Meticulously architected for tactical techniques, the entire assortment covers a medley of applications, from weedless slithering through the greenery, to stealth footballing, presenting small profile headstands on the bottom, and even the moping technique at which Gustafson obviously excels.
As Gussy explains it, “moping” centers around locating bass holding beneath baitfish schools and then working your lure just above their heads. “It’s really a do-nothing approach in that you want to get your lure just a few inches above the bass and keep it there with as little motion as possible until they can’t resist rising and grabbing it. Keep that lure in position as steady as you can, and maybe add in a small shake now and then if the fish are being stubborn.”
As for Bagley Bait’s Sunny B series, the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion says it’s no secret that lure can catch fish. “I had one rigged and ready to throw on my boat during the competition, and I used it to find a couple of fish during practice,” he revealed.
Gustafson says he especially likes the Shallow Sunny B for getting up close and personal when pre-spawn bass push up against shallow shorelines.
He’ll send it tight to the bank and try to tick some timber on the retrieve since this crankbait is surprisingly resistant to hanging up. “The 2-inch crankbait dives two- to four-feet deep and works great when bass are feeling a little finicky in cool, clear water,” he notes. “As the bass warm up and grow more aggressive, though, the original Sunny B is a great choice, diving to a depth of six- to 7-feet. New to the Sunny B line-up is the Pro Sunny B. At 3 inches in length, it dives five- to six feet and offers a slightly larger profile for bigger fish looking for a one-bite snack.”
All three crankbaits, notes Gustafson, do a great job of bulging water on the retrieve so the fish can both see them and feel them coming into range. “With a terrific variety of color patterns, you’ll never run out of ways to match the hatch or the mood of predators on the prowl,” continues the champ. My favorite patterns are the aggressive crawdad colors, but know that different patterns excel on different waters. They’ll all catch, but you’ll want to put in some time discovering which works best on your local hot spots.”
So, what’s next for The Classic champion? Gussy says he plans to focus on getting off to another solid start. “I’m automatically qualified for next year’s Classic since I won this one,” he says. “That should mean I’ll be feeling less pressure during my Elite Series events, making the fishing even more fun. I’m hoping that reflects well in my results.”