With one poor night of sleep, one good night of sleep and eight hours of windshield time helping me to put things in perspective, I am still excited by everything that went on at this year’s Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. In fact, the only one who may still be on a high greater than mine is Gussy himself. While all Classics are special in their own way, the combination of a great host city, some compelling storylines and a champion who is humble, personable and supremely talented mean that this one will be tough to beat.
Here are a few thoughts about what I experienced at my 19th Classic, 18th as a member of the media and 13th as a member of the Bassmaster.com team:
Job security – In all but one Classic since 2010, I’d been on the water, contributing to the Bassmaster blog. With the rise of LIVE, that effort has seemingly become redundant and unnecessary, but it opened me up to take some chances on human interest stories – I wrote about Brandon Card’s health scare, about the Aussie fans, about Lee Livesay’s brother-in-law and about Shelby Gustafson’s plans for Day 3 of the Classic. I hope to expand upon that role in the future.
Job insecurity – At the conclusion of the champion’s press conference, B.A.S.S. digital guru Jim Sexton went up and whispered to Gussy, who writes a regular column for this site: “Congratulations to my favorite writer.” I took mock offense, and Gussy responded, in seeming jest, “I’m coming for your job, Robbins.” At this point, is there anyone who doubts that he can do it all?
Forward facing – I’m agnostic on whether forward-facing sonar is good for the sport, bad for it or neither, but I know that good fishermen catch fish on derby day. Put Gussy out there with a flasher and a topo map and he’s still going to win his share of tournaments and checks. Everyone else in the field (save John Cox) had similar electronics, and none of them could make it work.
Odd couple success – They couldn’t be from more different backgrounds, but 2022 Champion Jason Christie and 2023 Champion Jeff Gustafson have become tight. Plenty of loners have won big events, but you don’t move forward when you hang out with grumblers and malcontents, even if you’re a superior angler. This is just another example of success being contagious.
Sponsorship opps – I’m still hoping that Simms will come out with a signature series of Kenora Dinner Jackets for Gustafson. Also, Tim Tam, the Australian biscuit (aka, cookie) company may want to work something out.
Speaking of Australia – It was cool to see that the numerous and excitable Aussie fans seem to have adopted Gustafson subsequent to his trip Down Under last year. The huge international fan bases were a big part of what made this Classic special.
International champions – As has been noted many times, Gussy is the second international champion overall and the first since Takahiro Omori in 2004. With no offense intended to Takahiro, who had a slight language barrier to contend with and was never particularly interested in promotions, we can expect Gustafson’s media reach to be far wider. That last win came pre-LIVE, pre-social media, pre-YouTube. The world has grown much smaller in the past 19 years.
Alternate species – Gussy’s 12 bass were all either smallmouth or meanmouth. We haven’t seen a winning creel dominated by non-largemouth since Kevin VanDam in Pittsburgh in 2005 and Woo Daves in Chicago in 2000.
Growing the sport – If you don’t believe that having a Canadian winner helps spread the word about bass fishing, here’s a tidbit that might change your mind. This morning, my college roommate – a hockey fanatic who doesn’t follow fishing at all – sent me an article about Gussy’s win that showed up in his feed because retired NHL start Dustin Byfulgien was at the victory party.
I think we’re in for a great ride with the new champ, and I can’t wait to continue this year. There are some Classics where I leave exhausted, but this one was so exhilarating that I felt like we could’ve done back-to-backs.