GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Jeff Gustafson said coming into this week that Lake Lanier on the historic Chattahoochee River was probably his favorite fishery in the lower 48 United States.
Thursday didn’t do a thing to change his mind.
The 36-year-old first-year Elite Series pro from Keewatin, Canada, caught five bass that weighed 19 pounds, 2 ounces and took the lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier. He said the lake reminds him of home — even though he is more than 2,000 miles away, fishing for green spotted bass instead of brown smallmouth.
“Obviously, today was a lot more fun for me than last week when I had two fish to start out my Elite Series career in Florida,” Gustafson said. “I’m not catching a lot of fish, but I got some good ones today.”
Gustafson learned to love Lake Lanier last year when he finished seventh here in an FLW Tour event. He said that prior knowledge told him what was swimming in the lake — but not how to catch them this week.
“It’s completely different this year,” he said. “I didn’t catch fish off any of the places that I did last year.
“But I like fishing for spots. These things act a lot like the smallmouths do up at Lake of the Woods, where I live.”
Gustafson’s two biggest fish — both spotted bass in the 4-pound range — were the first two he put in his livewell. His finesse tactics included a jerkbait, a swimbait and other lures he said were “really no secret.”
His biggest obstacle of the day was the light line he’s using to target fish in the clear water. He said he broke off two bass in brushpiles that could have helped him eclipse the 20-pound mark.
Gustafson’s bag topped a day that was dominated by healthy spotted bass that looked like they had all swallowed footballs. David Mullins of Mount Carmel, Tenn., was second with 17-12, followed by Virginia pro Rick Morris with 17-6 and Californian Chris Zaldain with 16-15.
Like Gustafson, Mullins said his experience with smallmouth — albeit on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake — played a role in his Day 1 success.
“This lake fishes a lot like home, where you have a window in the morning for about an hour and half to two hours and then it kicks back up in the evening,” Mullins said. “It’s the same way at home — and if you have wind, it seems like they’ll bite all day long.
“The wind just didn’t blow much today.”