AdvBassStats: 2023 Classic Report

Forget the suspense — I’m starting this report off with the kicker first. These are the last seven days of competition on the Tennessee River for Jeff Gustafson. He’s averaging one trophy per event after adding the 2023 Bassmaster Classic victory to his 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series win.
His dominance was such that through Day 2 of the Classic his total weight after the previous six days of Tennessee River fishing was barely behind the total of the rest of the field playing “best ball” – choose the best bag from each of those days from the entire field and the field was only 2 pounds ahead. The third day of this year’s Classic threw a little wrench into that incredible stat, but it couldn’t stop Gussy from reaching the pinnacle of the sport and claiming the Ray Scott Trophy.
After two days, this looked like a grinder of a Classic for 54 anglers and a runaway for Gustafson. He had built almost a 6-pound lead after 2 days, catching the largest bag on each of Friday and Saturday. His deep smallmouth bite in the Tellico canal produced every bit as well as expected.
Meanwhile the shallow water largemouth bite was more erratic for the rest of the field. The weather was changing each day and followed a period of cooler temps that may have been playing tricks on the spring migration toward the shallows.
Gustafson’s Day 1 was about perfect. He reached his first spot and filled his limit of 3-pound plus fish in about half an hour between 9:30 and 10 a.m. He was able to use the rest of the day to scout and practice.
Day 2 started great, but it gave a bit of a preview for what was coming in the finale. He had to work harder and fish longer to find that fifth 18-inch smallmouth and fill his limit.
By comparison, Day 3 was a disaster. Only Two keeper fish, one early and the next one after noon, for a total weight of 6 pounds, 12 ounces. Fortunately for Gussy, it wasn’t only tough on him. The entire Sunday field struggled, and the big lead he had built over the first two days carried him to the win.
Gussy was the only angler in the field to bring in 15 pounds more than once and wasn’t alone in the struggle on Sunday. Each of the top six finishers caught their lowest weights of the tournament on Day 3. There was none of the wind or current from the prior two days, and the fish just weren’t cooperating. What Day 3 lacked in catch volume it made up for in drama as both Scott Canterbury and Bryan Schmitt brought in double-digit bags to put the outcome in major doubt.
After the Day 3 weights were totaled for the rest of the field, Gustafson needed just over 5 pounds to knock Schmitt out of the hot seat and become a Bassmaster Classic Champion. He needed both of his two-fish and their 6-pound, 12-ounce weight to reach 42-7 and clinch the title.
For some perspective on where the weights in this Classic stand against history, I’ve plotted the mininum, maximum and average Classic leading daily weights since 2011 — that’s the farthest back that three-day weights are published. Given the need for Classic venues to be near enough to a metro area to host an Expo and arena weigh-in, I expected to see more grinders on heavily pressured water. Instead, 2023 was only the second time since 2011 that the Day 1 weight was under 20 pounds.
After two days, Gustafson was still within striking range of the average classic winning weight, but the fish wouldn’t allow it. This year sets a new bar for lowest total weight in this 13-year period, by almost 5 pounds less than the 2018 Classic at Hartwell.
The total weight comparison is interesting to see but doesn’t really matter. Nobody was fishing against historical weights, and everybody was dealing with the same fishery and conditions. One man came out on top, and it was great to see Gussy hold on and win it on a day that provided a true challenge to the entire field.