KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – As her husband headed out on Day 3 of the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, Shelby Gustafson seemed to have ice water running through her veins – and it’s not just because she’s Canadian.
Actually, she stated that’s one stereotype about her fellow citizens that isn’t true across the board, at least not with respect to her: She’s frequently cold. Her husband Jeff, however, can handle the elements better, often ice fishing with no gloves. He’s also a walking Kenora Dinner Jacketed advertisement for Canada in his exceptional politeness.
‘He’s the stereotypical polite Canadian,” she said. “That is to the core how he is. If anyone is going to say otherwise, it’s probably his wife.”
She seemed calm sitting in the lobby of the Downtown Marriott post-launch but admitted that she hadn’t slept well last night, tossing and turning, not obsessing about anything in particular, but aware of the pressure her husband should have been feeling. Meanwhile, he appeared to sleep soundly next to her.
Today, though, she’s resolved to make good use of her time. She’ll start off with a trip to the gym, and after a few hours may tune into Bassmaster LIVE to figure out what kind of day her husband is having. She knows that since he’s targeting smallmouths, any keeper fish is likely to be a heavy one, and with 15 or 17 pounds in the boat, she’d feel comfortable taking a leisurely family lunch before weigh-in.
Mrs. Gustafson has taken some advice from her close friend Shana Ramsey, fiancée of last year’s champion Jason Christie.
“My situation was different, though,” said Ramsey, sitting beside her in the hotel lobby. “Jason was going into it tied for first. Jeff has a pretty good lead.” Either way, expecting a Gussy win, Ramsey told her friend to “buckle up for the next 48 hours.”
Gustafson did encourage her husband to wear the appropriate plaid this morning. He’s been cycling through various flannels this week but settled on the mostly blue one that she recalled him wearing when he won here in 2021. Other than that, she has no superstitions or rituals. She used to look for meaning in her off-the-water actions but ultimately deferred to her husband’s skill and his calm, measured demeanor.
“Having no control is my favorite part,” she said. “I have confidence in him and what he’s doing. I have faith in him and now I know that nothing I do is going to have any effect.” Despite that understanding, she’s as fully immersed in the fishing tournament world as one can be without actually being out there competing. That wasn’t the case when they met. On their first date, when he told her that he fished for a living, she was incredulous:
“What do you mean you fish for a living?” she recalled asking, laughing at the memory.
While she now knows that it is indeed possible to fish for a living and to have a chance to win $300,000 – that’s US, not Canadian – in a single week. She was not there when her husband claimed a six-figure check on this same fishery with an Elite Series win in 2021. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be there to support him and to celebrate, but rather that the borders were generally closed due to COVID. Even today, with passage loosened substantially, it’s still harder to get here from there. Many flights are prohibitively expensive and require one or two connections. They’ll have a substantial contingent of supporters in person, and of course via the internet as well.
Even in the best of circumstances, though, she recognizes that her husband has a different burden to go about his business than many of the other competitors. The drives are longer, the border crossings take time, and there are complications simply with earning income in another country.
That’s why with all seriousness, now that Jeff has a visa, they are thinking of moving to Tennessee. Granted, it’s her first time in Knoxville, but the city has been good to this young couple in ways both obvious and not-so-obvious and it’s central to the tournament scene.
There’s only one potential holdup, other than leaving behind friends and family: She’s not a fan of the color orange.
“Maybe it would grow on me,” she said. “But what I really like about it here is the fans’ dedication to their teams.”