KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Typically, to say an angler was moping around implies a poor performance; but nothing could be farther from the truth for Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson, who used a technique called "moping" to win the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. The first Canadian to claim the title, Gustafson tallied a three-day total of 42 pounds, 7 ounces and earned the $300,000 top prize.
"This is the highlight of my career, by a million times," the angler from Kenora, Ontario, said. "If I never catch another fish the rest of my life, I'll be happy—but I'm gonna (catch more fish)."
Gustafson set the early mark with a Day-1 limit of 18-8—the event's biggest bag. He held on to the top spot after posting a second-round limit that weighed 17-3.
When Championship Sunday found his fish profoundly uncooperative, Gustafson managed only two keepers for 6-12.
"It was a horrible ride back," Gustafson said of the uncertainty he faced during the hour-long return trip. "I never thought I'd win—I didn't think I'd be in the Top 5. It was a rough day, but it feels amazing now."
The second international angler to win the Bassmaster Classic (following Takahiro Omori's 2004 title), Gustafson is the first angler to win since the trophy was named for B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, who passed last May. Notably, Gustafson won the 2021 Bassmaster Elite event on the same waters—with the same technique.
Where He Fished
Tournament waters included portions of the Holston and French Broad Rivers, the confluence of which forms the Tennessee River headwaters near downtown Knoxville.
Most of the tournament took place on Fort Loudoun Lake—the first of nine reservoirs on the Tennessee—and Tellico Lake, which links to Fort Loudoun through a canal passing beneath the U.S. Highway 321 Bridge.
After winning that 2021 Elite event in the canal, Gustafson did some of his work there, but also fished deep rock structure in Tellico.
How He Caught 'Em
Gustafson's moping technique (aka Damiki rigging in southern waters) vertically presents a small jig with a baitfish body over suspended fish. Gustafson used a 3/8-ounce Smeltinator jig head with a 3.75 and a 4-inch ZMan Jerk ShadZ.
The jighead's 90-degree line tie was critical for maintaining the perfectly horizontal posture he needed for effective moping.
"The ZMan ElaZtech material is buoyant, so it helps keep the bait horizontal," Gustafson said.
Gustafson relied heavily on Humminbird MEGA Live, a forward-facing sonar unit that allowed him to locate fish and monitor their movement—in particular, their response to his bait—in real time. While that vertical presentation was his preference, Gustafson had to adjust for particularly wary fish.
"In the canal, I was just touching the trolling motor to stay on top of them, but on Tellico, I had to pitch the bait out there and swim it to them," he said. "I looked at 100 fish today on my MEGA Live and they were hard to catch. Thankfully, I got two of them to bite my bait."
Interesting point: Gustafson's travel roommate, Jason Christie, won last year's Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.
Rest of the Best
Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Maryland, finished second with 40-14. His daily weights were 16-1, 13-12, and 11-1.
Describing his strategy as super simple, he targeted shallow cover with shaky heads and Missile Baits Mini Magic Worms. When the rains of Day 2 sent muddy plumes into the tournament waters, he nearly had to pull the plug on his final-round plan.
"I wanted to run to a spot 60 miles away, but something told me to stay where I was," Schmitt said. "I stumbled into a little clean water deal and caught what I caught."
Placing third, Scott Canterbury of Odenville, Alabama, turned in limits of 12-13, 15-3, and 12-1 for a tournament total of 40-1. Assuming Gustafson's well-established moping skills would dominate the deep water smallmouth efforts, Canterbury said he committed to a familiar game plan.
"I said I'd fish my strengths (shallow water power fishing) because I can't beat Gussy going down there and doing what he did," Canterbury said. "So I stayed shallow and caught my fish on a spinnerbait, a ChatterBait and a 1/2-ounce Matt Herren Dirty Jigs flipping jig."
Drew Benton of Panama City, Florida, finished fourth with 38-3. John Cox of Debary, Florida, was fifth with 36-13.
Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Oklahoma, won the $2,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for the 5-13 he caught on Day 2.