Gussy’s Classic gameplan

Jeff Gustafson breaks down his approach to the 2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors.

Ladson, SC (March 18, 2024) – You might call Grand Lake, Oklahoma a “classic” bass fishery. When 56 of the nation’s best competitive bass anglers launch boats here and kick off the 2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Joekcy Outdoors (March 22 to 24), they’ll be greeted by 46,500-acres of potential bass-holding water and nearly every type of casting target imaginable. Formed by the Grand (aka Neosho) River, this sprawling reservoir encompasses 1,300 miles of shoreline, its murky waters wending into endless arteries of creek arms and coves, plus little cuts, ditches and other points of angler interest around every point and bend.

Zoom in and discover a virtually infinite network of docks, rocky points and isolated woody laydowns. Or start by casting to one of the lake’s numerous breakwalls, strategically placed to buffer boat docks, and which happen to offer ideal ambush points for big largemouth bass by accident. Often overlooked or outright ignored, Grand Lake also harbors a surprising array of offshore structure, including deeper sunken islands and rock piles, as well as mazes of submerged brush—many of these zones unmapped or known only to local anglers.

In other words, Grand Lake is one seriously cool angling amusement park. 

Gussy’s Classic gameplan

While most of the Classic competitors plan to work the banks, you might just find Z-Man pro and 2023 Bassmaster Classic champion Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson marching to his own drumbeat once again. Don’t be surprised if Gussy’s bass ride is offshore and all alone, hovering near a mega school of prespawn hawgs.

At the 2023 Classic on the Tennessee River, Gussy excelled at a type of sonar/sight-fishing known as moping, short-pitching a jig and Scented Jerk ShadZ™ to deepwater smallmouth bass, staged outside eventual spawning areas.

Years before Gustafson won either the 2023 Classic or the 2021 Elite Series event on the same stretch of Tennessee River, however, the Keewatin, Ontario angler already had the pattern wired for bass of every stripe.

“Given the success I’ve had moping across North America—on Canadian lakes, the Great Lakes and everywhere down to Georgia and Texas, I’d have to say it probably works in more places than it doesn’t,” he suggests. “Spring, summer and fall . . . anytime you’ve got largemouths, smallmouths or spotted bass feeding on deeper water forage, or using structure in 10 to 30 feet, pitching a Jerk ShadZ can unlock some crazy, occasionally untapped bites.”

The defending champ’s top three patterns

Scented Jerk ShadZ

Scented Jerk ShadZ™ – Exactly no one should be surprised that when asked to ID his top potential patterns for the upcoming Classic, Gussy opened with a familiar angle. “I fished Grand one other time in 2015,” he recalls. “Learned just enough to know that beyond the abundance of big bass and traditional shallow patterns, the lake holds some less-known stuff worth exploring. My plan for this Classic is to find something special, maybe a different or off-the-wall approach. These guys, especially the local anglers, are so good and know the lake so well, I’m probably not going to beat them by throwing a spinnerbait shallow,” Gussy admits, flashing his trademark friendly grin.

“At least initially, I’ll be searching for a pattern related to the Scented Jerk ShadZ,” he continues. “But this year, I’ll have several different sizes and colors tied on, including the standard 4-incher, plus a 5-inch and even a 7-incher for the lake’s big largemouths.

“Across the country right now, that Jerk ShadZ program is among the hottest things going. It’s an awesome option for forward facing sonar—shallow and deep—and you’re going to see some fish caught on this bait at the Classic, no question.” 

ChatterBait Elite EVO and Chatterspike

ChatterBait Elite EVO™ / ChatterSpike™ – Given the dominance of shallow cover and Grand Lake’s reputation, Gussy’s second pick is another perennial winner. “There’s certainly a great chance we’ll see winning fish caught in shallow water—especially around docks, laydowns and breakwalls, or just in the backs of creeks.

“These places beg for a searchbait and for me, that means the ChatterBait Elite EVO™. Been throwing this new Z-Man ChatterBait a lot this spring with awesome results. It’s got a great sharp hook, plus a cool trailer keeper system that keeps ElaZtech® baits locked down tight.

“But what I especially like about this new ChatterBait is it’s quick-start vibration,” observes Gustafson. “The instant the lure hits the water, its blade engages and starts working. Most of the knockoffs just don’t do this. And it’s probably the most overlooked, yet important function of a bladed jig, allowing you to fish it slower and ricochet the blade off cover and keep it vibrating continuously. Can’t tell you how powerful that little action is, especially around pressured or tentative bass.”

If spring rains dirty the water, Gussy plans to go with a pattern, like Glitter Bomb, embellished with a silver-sparkle blade and bright white, black and chartreuse skirt. If the lakes shad-rich waters remain relatively clear, his chosen ChatterBait Elite EVO hues will include Spot Remover and Electric Shad.

Gussy also IDs his new favorite ChatterBait trailer: “Especially early this spring for water that’s a little colder, I’ve been running that ChatterSpike™ a lot. It’s got a cool segmented tail that frees it to kick, but with a subtler, higher frequency vibration. This bait really works well with the Elite EVO, enabling its natural, random zig-zag hunting action. I know I’m going to get some good bites with this ChatterBait combo. It’s one of those lures that simply catches big bass everywhere.”

ZinkerZ and SMH Jighead

SMH™ Jighead / ZinkerZ™ – While visiting Grand Lake in the past, Gussy has consistently caught bass on a shaky head set up—his third presentation pick for the 2024 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors. “Brian Latimer’s SMH™ Jighead is a nice shaky head. It pairs great with one of several options, including the SMH™ WormZ™. But one of my other go-to baits is the big 5-inch ZinkerZ™, a proven fish-catcher that’s meaty and loaded with salt, and yet durable enough to catch over a dozen bass per bait.

“It’s really a power-finesse presentation, and I’ll likely have a couple two shaky head rods rigged for pitching around the usual shoreline spots. Wouldn’t surprise me if this thing caught my biggest bass of the derby.”

Regardless of outcome, this year’s Classic is fertile ground for instigating new ideas and novel approaches and for putting new bass catching tools on the map. Will Gussy repeat as champ? Will the biggest bass come from the usual shoreline cover? Or does Gussy or someone else have a real chance of delivering a surprising statement win?

“All I know is, winning the Classic has been a crazy, awesome, life changing ride,” admits the likeable Z-Man pro. “Honestly, just for the epic celebration alone, it makes you want to win again that much more.”