There is no question that living the pro-bass-angler dream fulltime on the Bassmaster Elite Series certainly comes with a certain level of sacrifice. Most pros would agree that missing time at home is one of those sacrifices, which can be tough to deal with.
It’s just apart of the lifestyle.
For Elite Series newcomer Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, not many places on tour are close to home. One of three young Canadians, Gussy really enjoys fishing lakes that remind him of his home waters — Lake of the Woods.
“There are a lot of similar visual characteristics between Lake Lanier and Lake of the Woods,” Gustafson said. “The towering pines, expansive rocky shorelines and much of the offshore structure is very similar to what I grew up catching walleyes from. Plus, it’s nice to get on soft water this time of year.”
Lake of the Woods is generally beneath 4 feet of ice in February, and that also means boats are winterized and stored until the springtime thaw.
But the visual reminders aren’t the only reason Gussy loves Lake Lanier. Last year in March, he finished seventh among 182 other anglers during a FLW Tour stop on the same body of water.
“The lake just sets up right for me, I understand the way the fish relate to the structure, and I’m confident here. That’s a big deal,” he said. “We don’t have spotted bass where I'm from, instead we have smallmouth, largemouth and plenty of walleyes. I think catching walleyes on Lake of the Woods is just like catching spots down here.”
Lanier covers over 37,000 acres of surface area during full pool, and that provides plenty of privacy for 75 anglers.
“I prefer to fish by myself, and while I’m sure I’ll see a few other guys during the first day, I believe the majority of my fishing spots won’t have other anglers pressuring them,” he said. “That’s a big deal to me, and I like that.”
His season didn’t start how he wanted at the St. Johns River, so he’s looking to make up for lost ground on a body of water he knows well and loves to fish.
“I need to do well at this one,” he said. “To stay in the running for Angler of they Year, and to earn a spot at the Classic, I can’t have two bad tournaments. You never know how things will actually play out, but I’m confident on this lake, and I’m glad to be out here again. This is going to be an exciting tournament.”
Bill Weidler is a second-year pro from Helena, Ala., and while that’s 1,448 miles from Gustafson’s hometown of Kenora, Ontario, both have similar connections to the same body of water.
“I cut my teeth fishing Logan Martin and all the Coosa River lakes, so targeting offshore spotted bass are right in my wheelhouse. Lanier reminds me of my home lakes, and I enjoy that.” he said. “Spots won’t always win a tournament when there are plenty of big largemouth swimming around, but on this lake at this time of year the spots will be critical.”
Instead of spending a bunch of extra gas money and practicing on Lanier before the off-limits period, Weidler chose to practice on Smith Lake in Jasper, Ala.
“Smith Lake is an hour up the road from my house, and it’s a deep, clear-water lake full of spotted bass and blueback herring,” he said. “I knew that if I could figure them out there, I could figure them out at Lanier. It’s a gamble, and one that I hope pays off, but only time will tell.”
Weidler knows how to deal with spotted bass during the winter after years of chasing them.
“I’m used to fishing for spotted bass, and I love them. But, going into this event knowing the spots be the primary species most guys fill their limits with — and that makes me even more confident,” Weidler said. “I know how to target big spots. Now I hope that my time on Smith Lake plays well once the derby starts.
“This fishery is polar opposite to St. Johns River, but it’s going to be every bit as competitive, if not more so,” he said. “The weights will be very tight, and the guy that can put together a 20-pound bag on Days 1 or 2 will stay in the hunt to win. I’m looking forward to giving it a shot.”