Forestville, WI – There’s a new King on the throne of the bass fishing world and his name is Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson. The 40-year-old from Kenora, Ontario, making his fifth Bassmaster Classic appearance, tallied 42-pounds, 7 ounces of Tennessee River smallmouth bass over the three-day tournament held in Knoxville and sponsored by Academy Sports + Outdoors. Leading wire-to-wire to best the field by nearly a two-pound margin he became the first Canadian to win the sport’s most prestigious title.
A member of the National Professional Anglers Association (NPAA), Gustafson earned $307,000 in prize and bonus money for his winning performance. He was joined in the Top Ten finishers by fellow NPAA member Jay Przekurat, who placed seventh with a 34-pound, 9-ounce total and took home a $21,500 check. At age 23, Przekurat, from Stevens Point, WI, was the youngest angler in the 2023 Classic field.
“We couldn’t be more proud or happy for these two super competitors,” says NPAA’s president, Patrick Neu. “These were great performances under challenging conditions and the tremendous pressure of the most prestigious bass fishing competition in the world. To excel as they did, out-pace the best of the best, and come away with the title and a top-ten finish speaks to the quality of their knowledge, skills and ability to perform when it’s all on the line. Both Gussy and Jay are terrific anglers, wonderful people and consummate professionals. We’re thrilled to count them among our membership at NPAA, which had six additional anglers in the 55-entrant field.”
Gussy got off to a great start, taking the lead he would never relinquish on the first day of competition. Continuing on a hot streak, his tally at the end of Saturday pushed up to 35 pounds, 11 ounces for a six-pound lead on the field heading into the home stretch on Sunday. The last day of the tourney, however, proved a tough one for the would-be champion who managed only two keepers. Fortunately for him, most of the field experienced similar frustrations as the wind died out and the water laid glass flat.
“It’s all still surreal at this point,” said Gustafson following the competition. “What an amazing tournament it turned out to be. I’m glad I caught a little luck and things ended up going my way. I thought I might have blown my lead on Sunday as I headed to the final weigh-in,” he continued, a slight chuckle and noticeable hint of relief in his voice.
“I went into this tourney with the mindset I was going to concentrate on chunky smallmouths,” continued the winner. “After all, this is ‘The Classic,’ and nobody is fishing for Angler of the Year points. Everyone is gunning for the win so you have to target lunkers to stay in the mix. It may have looked easy, but I can tell you that wasn’t the case – especially on the hour-long drive back to the Sunday weigh-in. The key for me was sticking to my game plan. For the entire contest I threw a smelt-colored 4-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ™ on a 3/8-ounce jighead, moping fish I found with my Humminbird MEGA Live electronics in 20-foot depths.”
“Moping,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is a creative technique where anglers focus on finding suspended fish in open or offshore waters and work their lure gently just above their target’s heads hoping to draw them up for a strike. It’s the same technique with which Gustafson won an Elite Series event here in 2021. The key, he reveals, is to move your offering as little as possible, holding it just above the fish until they can’t resist any longer. While the jighead he used is built by a close friend, Northland Fishing Tackle’s UV Mimic Minnow is a close match if you’d like to give the technique a try.
While Gustafson was thrilled with his win, Przekurat had no complaints with his seventh-place finish. “I was happy with my day-to-day consistency, especially considering I had only a handful of keepers in practice,” he stated. “I couldn’t get a good read on the fish, so I just went back to what I knew. I flipped a green pumpkin jig all three days while hunting largemouths in two- to four-foot depths.”
Przekurat, who Gustafson called “The real deal,” found his confidence and hit full stride by the end of Friday’s opening session as he weighed-in with 14 pounds even, good for sixth-place. After that, he just kept grinding. “A lot of that confidence came from a seminar I did with my father, Jason Przekurat, at the NPAA Annual Conference back in January,” he explained. “We talked a lot about how having a good attitude and believing in yourself are two of the most important keys for success in any fishing situation. Even if you don’t have the most experience on a particular piece of water, you can still do well if you stay focused. Thinking back to that seminar helped me stay solidly in the top ten for all three days. I’ve also learned a lot from the organization and its members about running my business more professionally and even dealing with the media, which suddenly seems more important than ever,” he said with a laugh.
Przekurat added that he was happy to see additional NPAA anglers in the tournament, as well as several other “northerners” making the grade. He thanked his family, friends, sponsors and everyone who cheered him on during The Classic.
Gustafson, too, thanked his supporters, and mentioned his ties to NPAA as a definite plus. “I’ve known Pat Neu for a long time. He was first to approach me about joining, and helped me get started by adding a letter to my work visa to prove I was fishing for a living at a professional level. I’m proud to be an NPAA member. I like the advocacy work we do for tournament anglers and everyone in the fishing industry. The quality of the membership really stands out to me, as anyone who has ever attended the NPAA Annual Conference will attest. Congratulations to my fellow members who also competed on this incredible stage.”
As to that letter of support Neu penned for Gussy years ago, the NPAA president says wryly that he doubts anyone will ever again ask if the 2023 Bassmaster Classic winner really earns a living with rod and reel.
NPAA represents all who make a living in the sportfishing industry. Membership includes everyone from guides and captains to tournament anglers, fishing department associates/management/shop owners, manufacturing personnel, engine mechanics, and professional rep groups. In addition to superior networking opportunities, sportfishing advocacy and promoting entry into the sport, the organization offers a monthly member newsletter, a weekly industry NewsBLAST, and access to significant discounts on gear and services provided by many of its nearly 80 supporting partners.
For more information on joining the NPAA and exploring the many benefits membership provides, visit npaa.net.