Canadian Pro Gustafson Feels At Home In Georgia, Takes Lead At Bassmaster Elite
GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. —

Jeff Gustafson said coming into this week that Lake Lanier on the historic Chattahoochee River was probably his favorite fishery in the lower 48 United States.


Thursday didn’t do a thing to change his mind.

The 36-year-old first-year Elite Series pro from Keewatin, Canada, caught five bass that weighed 19 pounds, 2 ounces and took the lead in the Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier. He said the lake reminds him of home — even though he is more than 2,000 miles away, fishing for green spotted bass instead of brown smallmouth.

“Obviously, today was a lot more fun for me than last week when I had two fish to start out my Elite Series career in Florida,” Gustafson said. “I’m not catching a lot of fish, but I got some good ones today.”

Gustafson learned to love Lake Lanier last year when he finished seventh here in an FLW Tour event. He said that prior knowledge told him what was swimming in the lake — but not how to catch them this week.

“It’s completely different this year,” he said. “I didn’t catch fish off any of the places that I did last year.

“But I like fishing for spots. These things act a lot like the smallmouths do up at Lake of the Woods, where I live.”

Gustafson’s two biggest fish — both spotted bass in the 4-pound range — were the first two he put in his livewell. His finesse tactics included a jerkbait, a swimbait and other lures he said were “really no secret.”

His biggest obstacle of the day was the light line he’s using to target fish in the clear water. He said he broke off two bass in brushpiles that could have helped him eclipse the 20-pound mark.

Gustafson’s bag topped a day that was dominated by healthy spotted bass that looked like they had all swallowed footballs. David Mullins of Mount Carmel, Tenn., was second with 17-12, followed by Virginia pro Rick Morris with 17-6 and Californian Chris Zaldain with 16-15.

Like Gustafson, Mullins said his experience with smallmouth — albeit on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake — played a role in his Day 1 success.

“This lake fishes a lot like home, where you have a window in the morning for about an hour and half to two hours and then it kicks back up in the evening,” Mullins said. “It’s the same way at home — and if you have wind, it seems like they’ll bite all day long.

“The wind just didn’t blow much today.”

Mullins wasn’t the only angler who said the flat, calm conditions made the fishing tougher Thursday. Likewise, he wasn’t the only one excited about Friday’s forecast that calls for clouds, increased winds and rain showers beginning around 1 p.m.

“If it stays cloudy with a low ceiling all day, I feel like I’m going to catch them,” Mullins said. “When I don’t catch them is when it gets sunny and slick.”

Morris, a noted shallow-water expert, said he leaned on his background from Upstate New York to find the Lake Lanier spots.

“I grew up with a spinning rod in my hand,” Morris said. “When I first went pro in the Opens, I had all spinning rods on the deck — didn’t even know how to throw a baitcaster. I have spinning-rod skills, and I had to apply them today.”

Though he said he’d rather be fishing fast, he used a slow finesse game Thursday around deep structure.

“I caught probably a dozen fish,” Morris said, “so I feel pretty confident that I can go out and probably catch 13 to 14 pounds tomorrow.”

One of the few big largemouth brought in Thursday belonged to Indiana pro Bill Lowen. It weighed 6-14 and claimed the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week.

Patrick Walters, who took the lead in the DICK’S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year race last week with a fourth-place finish on the St. Johns River, had another stellar day Thursday. The 24- year-old South Carolina pro caught five bass that weighed 16-12 and finished tied for fifth place with Ray Hanselman Jr.

“I came into the season thinking (Toyota Bassmaster) Angler of the Year,” Walters said. “If you think like that — and fish like that — Rookie of the Year will take care of itself.” As the leader in the DICK’S Sporting Goods Rookie of the Year race, Walters collected $500. He’ll get another $500 if he retains the lead after this week’s Elite event, and $10,000 if he earns the crown at season’s end.

Other bonus awards winners from the Power-Pole Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River last week were Rick Clunn, who won $1,000 for being the Toyota AOY leader and John Crews Jr., who collected the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 11-2 largemouth.

The tournament resumes Friday, with takeoff scheduled for 6:45 a.m. from Laurel Park in Hall County and weigh-in back at the park at 3:10 p.m. Only the Top 35 anglers will advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.

Takeoffs Saturday and Sunday will also be at 6:45 a.m. from Laurel Park, but the weigh-ins will shift to Coolray Field on Buford Dr. in Lawrenceville, Ga., at 4 p.m.