UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — Canadian pro Jeff Gustafson came into the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake with modest expectations.
But his confidence has grown with each passing day — and on Friday, it grew by leaps and bounds as Gustafson caught five bass that weighed 25 pounds, 6 ounces and took the lead with a two-day total of 49-1.
His catch of 25-6 is the biggest of the tournament so far.
“It was a dream day — both of the last two days were,” said Gustafson, who lives in Keewatin, Canada. “I was expecting that to happen either day, but now the expectations are pretty high. I’ve seen what’s out there, and it’s pretty impressive.”
While much of the field has been concentrating on shallow grass, Gustafson has focused on small patches of hard bottom offshore. Since this is his first trip to Cayuga, he said he doesn’t know a lot of spots to try.
So, he’s been sticking mainly with one area.
“There’s just not a lot of rock here,” he said. “In practice, I idled for hours and every couple of hours I’d kind of find something.
“When I started the tournament, my plan was to get a limit of largemouth and then go fish for smallmouth. I thought the smallmouth would be my biggest fish, but they disappeared.”
Gustafson has been using an Aqua-Vu underwater camera — and on Friday, he saw a few smallmouth that gave him an extra tinge of hope for the final two days.
“Even though I caught 25 pounds today, it wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed,” he said. “I’m really just catching one here and one there, but they’re the right ones.
“If the smallmouth turn back on, that could really make a big difference for me.”
Thursday’s leader Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, caught another impressive bag of 21-11 and now rests in second place with 46-0.
He said his day could have been much better if it hadn’t been for some early miscues.
“With the way they’re biting, you’ve got to capitalize early,” Zaldain said. “I had some big bites early today and didn’t catch any of them. I missed a bite on a swimbait when the fish just crushed it, and then I broke one off.
“You have to put fish in the boat in that situation.”
Like Gustafson, Zaldain is fishing offshore structure with a variety of baits, including the big swimbaits he’s known for using.
“I think these big bass roam, they’re nomadic,” he said. “There’s 400 feet of water out in the middle of this place, and it’s nothing for a 5- or 6-pound largemouth to live in 35 feet of water — just like they do during the wintertime here.
“Where they go after the morning bite, I have no clue. I think they just hang out in the lake with the lake trout.”
Tennessee pro David Mullins, who caught 22-1 on Day 1, added 23-13 Friday and is now in third place with 45-14. Mullins said he’s fishing “mid-range” depths and has been lucky enough to have several spots to himself.
“Not only have I been fishing by myself, but I’ve got several places from practice I haven’t even tried yet, and I haven’t seen anybody on those spots either,” he said. “It may be that there’s no fish there, but they were there in practice.
“It’s nice to have that in reserve.”
Alabama pro Scott Canterbury had yet another solid day, bringing in 22-4 to move into fourth place with 45-2. With that showing, he maintained his stranglehold on the lead for Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Canterbury’s total of 686 puts him 24 points ahead of second-place angler Drew Cook, a rookie from Florida.
“It’s just been a dream week for me,” said Canterbury, who was obviously emotional over the prospect of winning the AOY title. “The last two weeks have been that way.
“There’s so much fishing left to do. But winning Angler of the Year … that would just be a dream come true.”
Cook caught 21-10 Thursday and jumped from 20th place in the tournament to seventh. He maintained his lead in the race for DICK’S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year.
Louisiana’s Derek Hudnall still holds the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with an 8-1 largemouth.
The tournament resumes Saturday, with the Top 35 remaining pros taking off at 6:30 a.m. ET from Frontenac Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3 p.m., with only the Top 10 advancing to Championship Sunday for a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.