KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE — Canadian Jeff Gustafson captured his first-ever Bassmasters Elite Series win in emphatic fashion Sunday.
Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., recorded a five-fish limit weighing 14 pounds, three ounces for an overall total of 63 pounds. Gustafson finished seven pounds, one ounce ahead of runner-up Steve Kennedy to capture the US$100,000 winner's cheque.
"This is the lifelong dream for me," Gustafson said. "I've loved bass fishing and bass tournaments ever since I was a little kid.
"It's a lot of sacrifice doing this. The travel and time away from home, that part of it isn't glamorous. So to finally get it — awesome."
Gustafson, in his third season on the Bassmasters Elite circuit, was one of three anglers to weigh a five-fish limit all four days but the only one to record double-digit weights each day. He took the opening-round lead Thursday after registering 17 pounds, 14 ounces.
Throughout the tournament, Gustafson did most of his damage early, catching his limit — or close to it — shortly after the start of fishing each day. But action Sunday was delayed roughly 90 minutes due to fog, creating questions whether Gustafson's fish would still be there once the final round opened.
Gustafson quickly provided the answer, registering a five-fish limit before noon.
Gustafson had some tense moments with his third fish, a three-pound smallmouth bass. He attempted to lift it into his boat in windy conditions, only to have it squirm loose and back into the water.
Gustafson successfully landed it on his second try before quipping: "That might've been the ugliest fish catch of all time but it's in my livewell."
Gustafson began Sunday's final seven pounds, 14 ounces ahead of Kennedy.
Gustafson becomes just the second Canadian to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., accomplished the feat last year.
Both Johnston and his older brother, Cory, of Cavan, Ont., competed in the semifinal round Saturday. Cory Johnston finished 45th overall (18 pounds, nine ounces) while Chris Johnston was 50th (13 pounds 12 ounces).
The top-10 anglers after Saturday's round qualified for Sundays final.
All three Canadians are in their third season on the Elite Series. The trio qualified last year for the Bassmaster Classic, the circuit's premier event that offers a US$300,000 prize for the tournament winner.
This year's Classic will be held in June on Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Tex.
Gustafson was 24th in the season-opening event on the St. John's River in Palatka, Fla., two weeks ago. The next tournament is March 18-21 on Pickwick Lake in Florence, Ala.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.
The Canadian Press