KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Despite cool, rainy conditions, Jeff Gustafson maintained the lead during Friday’s second round of the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Tennessee River, catching a limit of smallmouth bass that weighed 15 pounds, 10 ounces.
His two-day total of 33-8 gives him more than a 3-pound advantage of Tennessee pro Brandon Card, who is second with 30-7.
Gustafson, a two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier from Canada, said he never expected to catch two limits of smallmouth with the 18-inch minimum size restriction in place for this week’s tournament waters.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “Now with the position I’m in, there’s that stress. It’s been a good week so far. You could have signed me up for 50th place on Wednesday night. One thing I’ve learned doing this, these chances to win don’t come along very often and you just hope you take advantage of it when it happens.”
While the area Gustafson is fishing is still producing quality smallmouth, the bites didn’t come quite as fast Friday as they did on Day 1. The Keewatin, Ontario, native said he had more bass bump his bait instead of eating it.
After catching four fish in the first two hours, it took Gustafson until just before 1 p.m. to secure his final keeper.
“There are still some fish there, but they were harder to catch today and they are getting harder to catch,” he said. “I wasn’t really able to expand a whole lot, and part of that was it took me so long to catch my fifth fish.
“It was important to get that last one.”
With bass setting up in two or three “sweet spots” in his primary area, precision has been important. If he misses his spot by a couple of feet, he feels there is little chance of getting a bite.
The specific technique used to catch his fish on Day 1 has continued to produce, however.
“The way I’m fishing is the primary way we catch smallmouths back home in mid-summer through the fall, and I’ve been dying to utilize it in a tournament down here since I started fishing in 2013,” Gustafson said.
With very few options outside of his current strategy, Gustafson will return to the same area for Saturday’s semifinal round.
“I’m not leaving that area I’m fishing. I’m sure the fish are there, it’s just a matter of if I can wrangle five of them,” he said. “It seems like the morning is better and hopefully I can capitalize on that. Hit the juicy stuff first thing.”
With the big bag of the day at 16-10, Card jumped from fourth to second. The Knoxville native, who recently moved to North Carolina, used a flurry around mid-morning to secure four of his five bass, including a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder on back-to-back casts.
“I’m just grinding it out in an area,” Card said. “I have a section that seems like there is big fish. You can go hours and not even get a sniff. And then, you will catch like two or three or four in a row.
“I went from zero to five fish in literally 20 minutes. I culled and then to catch my seventh fish, it took me hours.”
While dragging an Advantage Baits Wild Card Finesse prototype jig was the key for Card on Day 1, he relied on jerkbaits and a jig on Day 2. Although he’s fishing a reaction bait, Card said he is using a deliberate approach.
“Yesterday with the high sun, they wouldn’t come up on a jerkbait,” Card said. “So yesterday, I had to drag. I’m fishing so slow it is unbelievable. I’m barely even moving.”
On his final cast Friday, Mississippi native Brock Mosley caught a 6-10 largemouth on spinning gear to anchor his limit of 14-10. The fish took Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day and helped move him from fifth to third with a two-day total of 27-10.
“I was stuck on four fish, and I saved enough time to hit two spots on my way back,” Mosley said. “One was the exact same spot I caught a big smallmouth yesterday.
“About 10 casts into it, I leaned into her. I actually thought I had some carpet or something until she shook her head. I got her in the boat to fill my limit and that’s huge on this place.”
With largemouth being the primary target, Mosley said he is trying to change with the conditions.
“It seems like this lake wakes up in a different mood every day,” he said. “I decided not to go to Tellico today about lunch as I was working that way. I figured I would stay up here and grind it out.
“I was really fortunate to get that last bite. Otherwise, I would have only had 8 pounds.”
The Top 50 remaining anglers will take off tomorrow from Volunteer Landing at 7 a.m. ET. Weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. at World’s Fair Park Performance Lawn. After Saturday’s round, only the Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday.
Live coverage of the event can be streamed on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast the action live from 8-11:30 a.m. Saturday.
The tournament is being hosted by the Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.