Extra boat time this fall

A win in the final tournament of the season for Elite pro Jeff Guastafson, with his brother Ben.

Winning the Bassmaster Classic back in March was obviously the highlight of my year, and it made for a great year, career wise. It certainly took the pressure off for the rest of the Bassmaster Elite Series season because I already had my ticket punched for the 2024 Classic at Grand Lake. That being said, I was not all that happy with how my season finished off. I was especially upset with my below-average performance on the Northern Swing, where we visited the smallmouth factories – Lake St. Clair, Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

Over the years, when these smallmouth events pop up on the schedule, they have always excited me because my results have usually been solid. During my five years on the Elite Series, these Northern Swings have been instrumental in my qualifying for the Classic every year.

As this past season progressed, my goal became to double qualify for the Classic through the Elite Series points. I was in good shape as we headed north for the final three events, but things didn’t really go as planned. I ended up finishing 52nd in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year points. It was disappointing for sure.

After the season wrapped up, I told myself that I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the boat this fall to simply catch a bunch of fish and work on my craft. We have some good tournaments around home in September and early October, on Lake of the Woods and some surrounding bodies of water. I fished as many of these as I could and really only missed a few days on the water through all of September and October.

Tournament in September with my wife, Shelby Gustafson. We finished in fourth.

Over the last few days of October, we’ve been hit with about 6 inches of snow. It’s not looking like we’re going to see many more days with above freezing temperatures, so my season is just about finished. I feel good about how much time I spent on the water this past fall and will be ready to go again when the Elite Series season starts back up in February at Toledo Bend.

Looking back at those last few smallmouth events, it wasn’t like I didn’t catch any fish, but I obviously expect to make the Day 3 cut on any of the northern fisheries. I missed it by ounces at St. Clair and the St. Lawrence. I just felt like I needed to catch more fish using my Humminbird Mega-Live forward-facing sonar and get more practice with it. It became quite obvious that you better be proficient with this technology if you want to hang with these guys.

I also wanted to play with some different baits and sizes of jigheads that I use for many of my favorite smallmouth techniques — just get more efficient while I’m on the water. Northland Fishing Tackle, one of my longest-running sponsors, is letting me help design a number of bass jigs built with Gamakatsu hooks. There has been quite a bit of testing different jigs and designs. We want these jigs to be perfect, and we want tournament anglers to use them. I’m excited for some of the good stuff we’ll have available soon.

I get asked all the time, “How do I become a pro tournament angler?” The best answer I can give is to fish as much as you can. Obviously, getting sponsors, a social media following and some of those elements are important, but they come as you gain credibility from your results, and actually catching fish.

When you head out, try to avoid fishing the spots where you know you can catch fish. Fish as many different bodies of water as you can, and don’t just go fishing on the nice days. I get no bigger rush in fishing than when I find an untouched school of fish before a tournament or figure out how to catch pressured fish using a new technique.

Learning something new every day that you’re on the water is how you’ll become a better angler.