The attention of the bass fishing universe is focused squarely on Lake Hartwell near Greenville, South Carolina this week, as 55 professional anglers – including 16 rookies – compete in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. As veteran Elite Series pros Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson and David Mullins rig rods, tie knots, and devise plans to reach the pivotal final day of competition, they each opened their playbooks to provide us with their best guesses about how this year’s Classic will unfold.
Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson
Hailing from the rocky shorelines of Ontario’s expansive Lake of the Woods, Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson is on a quest to become the first Canadian champion at the Bassmaster Classic. No stranger to hoisting the heavy hardware, Gussy scored his first Bassmaster Elite Series victory on the Tennessee River in 2020 and is now preparing to compete in his third Classic. “I feel lucky and grateful to be back at the Bassmaster Classic,” reflects Gustafson, who is only Elite Series angler to have a “Loonie” – Canada’s one-dollar coin – permanently embedded within his boat’s carpeted deck. “It reminds me of home and all the people who helped me get where I am today – and there’s no doubt that it brings me good luck!”
“I’ve fished Hartwell a couple of times before,” notes Gustafson, “so I know what to expect. The water is cold, so this should be a pre-spawn event. In fact, I want it to stay cold – I’d be fine if my Lund Pro-V Bass boat was frozen to the trailer every morning. Cold weather and cold water will set up a strong offshore bite – and that’s my biggest strength. There has been some rain near the lake recently, and it’s forecast to rain some more. That influx of water will warm up the backwaters and muddy them up, so I’m sure some competitors will be fishing shallow, dirty water – and no doubt, there will be some big fish caught that way. But I’m looking for consistency offshore; that’s the game I’m going to play.”
“I’m most comfortable with a spinning rod and finesse tackle in my hand,” reflects Gustafson, who regularly collects trophies and paychecks from clear, bass-infested waterways. “I’m lucky that I get to fish with some of the most sensitive spinning rods ever made: NRX+ rods from G. Loomis. These rods give me an incredible tactile advantage when detecting bites and reading bottom composition. I pair NRX+ rods with Shimano’s new Stella reels, which are the smoothest, most powerful spinning reels you could ever imagine. Having used that Stella-NRX+ combination, it’s hard to imagine picking up anything else. I’ll spool up with 10 pound-test PowerPro and finish with a 10 lb-test fluorocarbon leader. As for baits, I’ll be cycling through some finesse fishing classics, like small swimbaits, dropshot rigs, and Ned rigs. Soft baits from Z-Man will play an oversized role for me; that supple, reliable and durable ElaZtech material just flat-out catches ‘em.”
“This derby is what we work for all year,” concludes Gustafson, “and I’m going to make the most out of every cast and every opportunity. Hopefully you’ll see me on stage with a big smile on Championship Sunday!”
David Mullins is riding a wave of tournament success into the Bassmaster Classic, having notched a pair of top-10 finishes in each of the first two events of the 2022 Bassmaster Elite Series. The current points leader in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, Mullins is ready to do battle on bass fishing’s biggest stage.
“While we’re seeing a little bit of warmer weather,” notes Mullins, “I think this will more than likely be a pre-spawn bite. Water temperatures should be in the mid-to-upper 50s. Right now, there’s a fair amount of water clarity. If the rain holds off and water levels remain stable, I think this event is going to be won in the shallows, with both finesse and power fishing presentations coming into play.”
A renowned hard bait aficionado, Mullins is ready to leverage fishing’s most advanced tackle technologies to help him climb the leaderboard. “In clear, cold water, the FLASHBOOST system in Shimano’s World Minnow jerkbaits will play a big role. Even as the bait sits motionless, the shimmering reflective foil that is suspended within the lure’s body keeps moving, dispersing flash throughout the water column just like a dying baitfish. When the water is clear, bass can see that flash from far away and are instinctively drawn in to investigate – and strike. Long casts are critical in clear, shallow water and the JETBOOST system in the World Minnow, coupled with the smooth, long-casting Shimano Curado MGL 150 reel will help me launch baits far away from the boat and cover more water on every cast. If the water does start to dirty up in the creeks from runoff, the new Shimano Macbeth series of crankbaits will emerge as key players. These baits trace their origins directly to Japan, and are packed to the gills with Japanese quality and innovation. Macbeth has already paid dividends for me on the Elite Series, and I’m looking forward to knocking the paint off a few on Hartwell.”
“As I get ready to compete in my third Bassmaster Classic,” reflects Mullins, “I can’t help but think about Aaron Martens. He was one of my great friends, and I wore his colors on the third day at the Harris Chain event. He gave me my first Shimano reels, and I wouldn’t be here – competing on bass fishing’s biggest stage – without him.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mullins and Gustafson envision different pathways to becoming a Bassmaster Classic champion. Now, these two Elite anglers have a few days to practice and dial in their bites on Lake Hartwell, hopefully reserving a place in bass fishing’s most prestigious history book. Be sure to follow their progress up the leaderboard at the 2022 Bassmaster Classic.
Dena Woerner-Vick is an avid angler, outdoor writer and marketing professional. She manages King Eider Communications, a public relations company focusing on the outdoor space, especially fishing, hunting and adventuring.