Kenora angler competing in 'Super Bowl' of bass fishing
Kenora’s Jeff Gustafson will compete this weekend in what’s been called the Super Bowl of fishing competitions at the Bassmaster Classic in Tennessee.
Gustafson has been a professional angler for just over a decade and currently competes in the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“It's kind of the top competitive [bass] fishing circuit in the U.S. And the [Bassmaster classic] is our sort of championship event,” he said when reached in Tennessee. “I qualified for it based on last year's season.”
Gustafson said there are nine regular season events all over the United States, spanning from Florida to New York and Tennessee. Competitors get points based on where they finish.
“There's 100 anglers in the field, and the top 40 [are awarded spots in] the Classic,” he said, adding it will be his fourth time competing in the event, which awards the top place finisher a $300,000 U.S. prize.
“This one is kind of special because we were fishing on the Tennessee River in Knoxville and I actually won an Elite Series tournament here two years ago at the same place,” he said. “So it's a body of water that I have a good history on.”
Gustafson took home over $136,000 that day.
He said the Classic is a three-day event, which changes locations each year.
It runs from Friday through Sunday, with the whole field fishing the first two days before the top 25 competitors fish on the final day.
“We got to keep [the bass] alive in the boat, we weigh them, and then they're released back into the lake,” he said. “You just got to catch the five biggest bass that you can each day, and that's how you determine the winner.”
The winner is chosen based on the combined weight of the fish over the three days.
Gustafson described the spectacle of the event, which ends each day at the Thompson-Boling Arena, where the University of Tennessee basketball teams play.
“It’s big like an NHL arena. Boats get pulled into the arena each day and there'll be a pretty good crowd the first two days. On Sunday, the final day, the arena will be packed…with 15,000 people or more,” he said. “It's pretty cool.”
He called the Bassmaster Classic a major event, with lots of media coverage and a chance for him to represent his sponsors — and maybe even get more sponsorship. He said the event includes some perks others don’t.
“Regular season events have a $5,000 U.S. entry fee. There's no entry fee for this one, and everyone that fishes gets $10,000 U.S.. So it's a big deal just to be in the event,” he said.
“And then obviously if you do make the top 10, you can win pretty good money. The winner gets a pretty awesome big trophy and just a lot of prestige.”
The event is also paired with the biggest fishing expo in the world, which takes place during the tournament.
“Everybody in the bass fishing community is at this event, from the manufacturers to media people and sort of anybody that has anything to do with bass fishing,” he said.
Gustafson said his life revolves around bass fishing and tournament fishing, which he's followed since he was young.
“I had a father and grandfather that took me fishing when I was a little kid and I just caught the bug for it,” he said. “We have a big tournament in Kenora called the Kenora Bass International. It's been going on since 1988 and when I was a little kid, my parents took me to watch the weigh-in for it, and it was just something that I wanted to do.”
Gustafson said he went to the University of Manitoba where he was “kind of on the ‘Keep Mom Happy program.”
“I guess when I got done with that, I knew that I didn't want to get a full-time Monday to Friday job,” he said.
Gustafson, now 40, started fishing professionally in 2012. He first started on a different tour for six years before joining the Bassmaster Elite series, where his career series earnings so far total just a little more than $450,000 U.S..
“To do it professionally, it's very expensive. The entry fees are one thing, but just the travel and all the equipment, it's an expensive hobby,” he said.
“I just got some help to get started and I've just been able to sort of do well enough to stay at it. I'm certainly not like one of the top guys in the world. But I'm competing against the best in the world, and I've been holding my own and doing pretty well.”
“I kind of consider myself lucky every day that I'm out here getting to do this,” he said. “It's sort of a dream to get to fish in [the Bassmaster Classic]. You want to make the most of the opportunity, but at the same time, enjoy being here and just try to enjoy every minute of [the experience].”
Gustafson said his boat will be equipped with a live camera feed during the first day of the tournament, which can been seen here.
Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source