When the old guard surrendered their spots on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2019, they made way for the new stars of pro bass fishing.
They also made way for a whole slew of catchy, new nicknames that will dominate the sport for decades.
Some were obvious like “The C-O-Double B” for Brandon Cobb, while others evolved through strange means like “Baby Shark” for Shane LeHew.
I accepted those without question, but one just didn’t sit well with me — “Gussy.”
I can’t really explain why I had such a problem with the nickname.
Maybe it was because Jeff Gustafson is a bit of a badass, offering things like guided wolf hunts in subzero temperatures during the offseason — and “Gussy” just seemed a little soft for a guy like that.
Maybe it was because simply modifying a section of his own last name seemed a little lazy to me — like the people who’ve tried hanging the silly moniker “Brash” on me through the years.
I even tried to accept “Great Canadian Snow Leopard” — the title bestowed on him by Bassmaster emcee and nicknaming extraordinaire Dave Mercer. But I wasn’t crazy about that one either.
I had just about settled on simply calling him Jeff Gustafson — until I was around him a few times and realized he was simply born to be a “Gussy.”
If you’ve ever met him or even watched him on television, you know what I mean.
You’ll never be around a less-assuming superstar — and that’s exactly what he is.
Even before his March victory in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota in Knoxville, Gussy was one of the greats of our sport.
In 44 total events with B.A.S.S., he’s finished in the money 43 times, with two victories and one second-place finish. He’s made five Top 10s, 14 Top 20s and an amazing 23 Top 30s.
He’s quickly become known as the unquestioned best in the world when it comes to the deep-water tactic called “moping” — every bit as much as Missouri legend Denny Brauer was known as the best flipper in the world during his heyday in the early and mid-1990s.
Anywhere a smallmouth swims, Gussy’s one of the favorites, and he’s quickly adding largemouth to his repertoire — something that will put him in position to win a Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year title to go with the first Classic trophy ever owned by a Canadian.
But none of that is what makes him so fit to wear the nickname “Gussy.” It’s the fact that he whips your tail so quietly and with such grace that makes him perfect for the moniker.
Mercer, another Canadian who has relished this time of Canadian uprising on the Elite Series, once described Gustafson as “almost too nice” — and compared to the machine-like brotherhood of Chris and Cory Johnston, I can see where Mercer was coming from.
But make no mistake, Gussy wants to win. He just has a unique way of making you root for him while he’s beating you.
Only guys who behave with pure class ever achieve that — and he is pure class.
Last January at a Shimano media event at Bienville Plantation in Florida, Gussy, knowing I was from Alabama and prone to spouting Southern expressions, was picking at me about the phrase, “Do what?” I was tired — and I have a personality that comes across as a little crass even when I’m fresh — so I guess it seemed like I didn’t like the picking.
Gussy apologized for 10 minutes, even though I wasn’t the least bit offended.
This past fall, Gussy made a Facebook post about how he’d just had his last fishing trip of the year before the lakes around his home iced over. In the comments section, I couldn’t resist telling him I was going in Alabama that next week.
“I hope it snows,” he responded, following with, “Seriously, I hope you catch a bunch.”
Tough enough to zing you but caring enough to let you know he was just funning. Hard enough to beat you, but classy enough to be first in line to shake your hand when you come out on top.
He’s the perfect representative to be the world champion of our sport — the kind of superstar we need in a sport where many were getting too big for their britches.
And he’s the perfect Gussy.