June 5, 2014 by Curtis Niedermier
Last week he was catching 65-pound sturgeon in British Columbia. Today, he was hauling his personal best bass, a 10-pound, 12-ounce brute, over the gunwale on day one of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Pickwick Lake, which is presented by Straight Talk Wireless and hosted by the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Bureau. Such is the life for Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson, the second-year pro and popular Canadian outdoor television host from Keewatin, Ontario, who took the early lead on what began as a beautiful, mild morning in Florence, Ala., and ended with a thunderstorm that washed out weigh-in and sent nearly the entire crowd running for cover. Gussy’s first-day total of 24 pounds, 8 ounces gives him a 15-ounce cushion over the hands-down favorite in this event, Randy Haynes. As a well-traveled outdoorsman, Gussy has been exposed to some of the best fishing in North America, but he says today ranks right near the top of his greatest fishing experiences. “I’ve been to Mexico five times, and I’ve never caught one over 10,” he says. “I was shaking like a leaf. When I caught it, I had pulled up to a spot and caught three 1 1/2-pounders in three casts. Then I fired back out there and it bit. “I’ve never been in this position before,” Gussy adds. “It feels awesome. I picked the right day to catch the biggest bass of my life.” About 98 percent of the pros in the field – save a few holdouts – are fishing offshore ledges, and the best community holes have gotten extremely crowded. A few have chosen to bounce from spot to spot to try and see as many schools as they can. Others are camping on “mega-schools” and working with other pros to control the area. A third group, which includes Gussy, is working the perimeter of the schools and keying on subtle details that hold “outliers” from the primary was of bass. “Every place I caught my fish was a little odd-ball spot,” Gussy says. “The main spots I want to fish were loaded up with boats, and I don’t have the nerve to pull in on someone. I’m fishing mid-lake ledges, and when I can find a school, I can catch them every cast.” The “odd-ball spot” pattern was something Gussy picked up on in practice, when he found a school on a little inconspicuous piece of structure. That’s when the light bulb went on and he realized he could hang with the community-hole campers without having to play bumper boats. Plus, those obvious holes, which everyone knows are holding schools of fish, can offer the occasional opportunity when someone else leaves the spot vacant. Gussy’s rods are rigged with the same old, same old ledge-fishing lures, but there were three that produced best for him today. He caught the double-digit slob on a football jig, caught a pair of 3-pounders on a crankbait and caught his second biggest on a swimbait. The crankbait has been his school locator, while the swimbait is more of a follow-up option to tempt a bigger bite. As for tomorrow, Gussy suspects he can get on a good bite on a pair of nondescript humps that he located near the end of the day today. He had a flurry there in the afternoon and caught them on every cast. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll go hunting for a big school and try to rekindle some of his day-one magic. Win or lose, for Gussy, who makes his living in the outdoors year-round, this tournament has already been a dream event. “If you’re a bass fisherman and you catch a 10-pounder, that’s like shooting a Boone and Crockett whitetail,” he says. 2nd place – Randy Haynes – 23 pounds, 9 ounces If you didn’t pick Randy Haynes for your FLW Fantasy Fishing team, stop reading this right now and bang your head on the wall. Rarely has there ever been such a top-10 lock in a tournament as Haynes is in this one. Let’s make the case: 1. Pickwick is his home lake. 2. He’s the best ledge fisherman in the world right now. 3. He’s as confident as ever in high-pressure ledge tournaments after winning the Rayovac FLW Series event on Kentucky Lake last week within a mob of about 500 competition boats that took to the lake for the Rayovac and another major tournament. What I’m trying to say is that Haynes is the no-doubt man to beat this week, and had day-one leader Jeff Gustafson not hauled in a 10-pound, 12-ounce bass, Haynes would be on top of this derby right now. As it stands, he’s in second place with 23 pounds, 9 ounces. Once again this week, the Counce, Tenn., pro relied on a brand-new crankbait from Profound Outdoors called the Z-Boss 20 (he used it last week in his Kentucky Lake win). It’s a subtle crankbait that can tempt fish to bite “behind” other lures on pressured ledges – and there’s no more applicable tournament to use it than this one. His other go-to today was a 1-ounce Profound Outdoors Swampers jig rigged with a Strike King Rage Tail Rage Craw trailer. “I wasn’t really expecting to do that well today,” says the modest Haynes. “I didn’t fish much in practice because I was afraid to get seen on any of my spots.” Last week at the Rayovac, Haynes used a run-and-gun approach to hit 30 to 40 spots the first and last day. Today, he used a similar strategy. “I idled over 60 spots, but I probably didn’t fish but 30,” he says. The crowds on the other ledges kept him from making the full rotation. There are very few secrets on the water this week, and Haynes says he has nothing hidden out there himself. He fished within site of all the crowds today but wasn’t able to get in on many of the bigger schools. Instead, he worked around the community holes and hit some more subtle periphery structures. If all goes as planned, that’s where he’ll be fishing tomorrow, and he believes fishing the “outside” could produce a big bag, though his confidence wasn’t extremely high. Haynes told the weigh-in crowd that he’ll need a little luck tomorrow to be able to match his performance today. “I screwed up on the first hole this morning,” Haynes adds. “I thought it was a big-fish spot. I’m hoping that the pressure will move the fish to my secondary spots tomorrow.” 3rd place – Richard Peek – 23 pounds, 1 ounce Richard Peek lost 45 minutes of the prime afternoon window – when there was actually some current flow in the lake to activate the fish – because he was hunkering down under a covered boat dock to dodge lightning and get out of the downpour that rolled across Florence. His strategy today was to look for something away from the swarms on the community holes. “I tried to stay away from it as much as I could,” says Peek, who weighed in 23 pounds, 1 ounce. “The spots with the good fish everyone has found. I was lucky to get on a good spot with a late boat number today.” Peek says he found several boats on each of the first three spots he checked this morning and decided to not even stop. On spot No. 4, he found only one other boat and was able to work in alongside his competitor. That spot produced three keepers. He caught his fourth at around 12:30 and No. 5 at 2 p.m. All totaled, Peek only caught about 10 keepers. Three spots produced all of Peek’s fish, which is an indication of his stay-put strategy. When he gets on a school, the Alabama pro grinds it out for 30 or 40 minutes at a time. “You have to work on them,” he says. “With the lack of current and number of boats on them, those fish know you’re there. They’re usually within 20 yards of my waypoint, but without current, they’re moving around. They might move 100 yards while you’re on them. You just have to try and find them.” A swimbait is one of Peek’s go-to lures on the Tennessee River, where he’s won tournaments in the past. Today, however, the swimbait wasn’t producing. He countered with a jig and worm to catch the bulk of his fish today. Tomorrow, he hopes to pull up when the current is flowing. Current positions the fish up on the ledge on predictable spots – usually some type of shell bed or “spot on the spot.” When the current stops, the fish tend to suspend and roam more. If he can time his arrival just right, Peek knows he can close the gap between he and the leaders. “I know what I’m going to do tomorrow,” Peek says. “I’m going to hit the same three or four spots and try and do the same stuff. There are that many in those schools. When you pull up and they’re on, you can catch them on every cast.” 4th place – Michael Neal – 23 pounds Lake Chickamauga local Michael Neal was another popular FLW Fantasy Fishing pick this week, and he didn’t disappoint his supporters on day one. His 23-pound limit puts Neal a pound and a half off the lead. Neal is in his element this week. He’s a ledge fisherman, even when it’s not the heart of “ledge season” as it is now, and his knowledge of bass behavior on the Tennessee River in summertime helped him avoid many of the crowds that other anglers had to deal with today. “I like to fish off the bank,” Neal says. “I don’t always fish deep, but I do fish off the bank. “I’ve always heard how small this lake fishes,” he adds. “But I can honestly say I never fished in a group of boats today. I was surprised.” Neal sifted through 10 places today, catching bass on five of them with a few lures, but finding the best results with a 5 1/2-inch Lunkerhunt Saltwater Swim Bento. Part of the reason for his success was locating a few subtle secondary structures that held fish. “They’re called community holes for a reason,” Neal says. “They hold lots of fish, probably more than anywhere else. These are the biggest schools anywhere on the Tennessee River. In practice, I would find a community hole and then look on the outskirts. I got on one spot late today that I’ll try to get on tomorrow. It was a sweet spot by a community hole.” Good for Neal, he thinks the secondary spots will continue to replenish with bass that get flushed out of the bigger schools by the angling pressure. If he’s right, this Tennessee River ledge expert will be fishing all the way through the weekend. 5th place – Greg Hackney – 22 pounds, 4 ounces Greg Hackney has one goal this week: Earn valuable points toward making the Forrest Wood Cup. The 2009 Cup champion is currently in 37th place in the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings, and the top 35 get invited to Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C., for this season’s championship. He got an early start toward accomplishing his goal this morning. “I found a group of fish that I think nobody else found,” Hackney says. “I didn’t go to them first thing because if I had, I’d have been seen [by anglers leaving takeoff]. My first fish was a 4-pound smallmouth. Then I caught a couple little ones, and then when I fired up the school, it was big smallmouth after big largemouth, the way the Tennessee River is supposed to be. I caught 30 or 35 fish. “I burnt them a little, and that was intentional,” Hackney adds. “I’m just trying to make the Cup, so for me this is a two-day tournament. Even though the lake is not fishing good, there are so many big fish and so many Tennessee River sticks that someone is going to catch a big bag.” The Louisiana pro believes he can milk the school again tomorrow, and he has one other similar spot that’s a little under the radar, both of which he found in the first two hours of practice. His remaining spots were all covered with about five boats apiece. The only uncertainty for tomorrow is how much pressure his first spot received by the one other competitor that he saw pull in after him. Even if his competitor hauled up a few from the school, the small structure still has enough fish to help Hackney to a strong finish. But the pressure could cause them to reposition and require that Hackney spend time hunting them down again. “These dang fish are moving,” he says. “It’s hard to stay on them with no current because they come up [suspend].” When the fish turn idle in periods of slow current, Hackney has come up with a 1-2 lure combo – one to fire up the school, and the other to capitalize on the increase in action – that seems to be working thus far. The rest of the best 6th place – Robbie Dodson – 21 pounds, 11 ounces 7th place – Casey Ashley – 21 pounds, 10 ounces 8th place (tie) – Shane Lehew – 20 pounds, 9 ounces 8th place (tie) – Wesley Strader – 20 pounds, 9 ounces 10th place – Jason Lambert – 20 pounds, 2 ounces For complete results, click here. Kelley “drags” his way to co-angler lead Cody Kelley was dialed in on Pickwick today. He relied on a pair of bottom-dragging lures to catch 19 pounds, 8 ounces and take the day-one lead in the co-angler division. “I had a limit by 8, then it really slowed down,” says the Conway, Ark., co-angler. “I culled a little after that.” Kelley’s go-to lures are all made by Crock-O-Gator: a 3/4-ounce shaky head rigged with a Magnum Swamp Bug and a 3/4-ounce football jig. “I like to throw something heavy, dragging on bottom so I can feel how it [the ledge] lays out,” says Kelley, who reached for the jig as his top ledge feeler. “And if he [the boater] switches to the jig, that’s when I throw the shaky head. “We were fishing with company all day long,” Kelley adds. “To have something slow on the bottom, with all the sonars on, really helps.” Kelley will have to be on his game again tomorrow to stay at the top. He leads Jimmy Kowalksi of Lake Placid, Fla., by just three ounces, and five other co-anglers caught more than 16 pounds today. Co-angler standings 2nd place – Jimmy Kowalski – 19 pounds, 5 ounces 3rd place – John Jacobs – 18 pounds, 2 ounces 4th place – Daniel Buswell – 17 pounds, 13 ounces 5th place – Nick Hensley – 17 pounds, 8 ounces 6th place – Brad Roberts – 16 pounds, 10 ounces 7th place – Alan Woodford – 16 pounds, 9 ounces 8th place – Kyle Monti – 15 pounds, 9 ounces 9th place – Dennis Kirby – 15 pounds, 1 ounce 10th place (tie) – Eric Self – 14 pounds, 12 ounces 10th place (tie) – Ronald Young – 14 pounds, 12 ounces Bridgford Big Bass winners Pro: Jeff Gustafson – 10 pounds, 12 ounces Co-angler: Jimmy Kowalski – 7 pounds, 12 ounces Competition format In Walmart FLW Tour competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. The full field competes in the two-day opening round. After day two the field is pared to the top 20 pros and co-anglers. The co-angler competition concludes at Saturday’s weigh-in, and the top 10 pros continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from all four days. For more coverage For those who can’t catch the weigh-in action in person, FLWOutdoors.com offers FLW Live, an online application that brings fans real-time weigh-in results, streaming video and audio. In addition to FLW Live, FLWOutdoors.com offers real-time updates from the water. Simply click on the tournament ID within the “On the Water” banner at the top of the FLW or Walmart FLW Tour home pages. Walmart FLW Tour event information Takeoff Location: McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Drive, Florence, Ala. Time: 6:30 a.m. Weigh-in Thursday and Friday location: McFarland Park, 200 James M. Spain Drive, Florence, Ala. Time: 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday Saturday and Sunday location: Walmart, 2701 Cloverdale Road, Florence, Ala. Time: 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday FLW Expo Date: Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8 Location: Walmart, 2701 Cloverdale Road, Florence, Ala. Time: noon to 4 p.m. Admission: FREE Free Concert: See country star Chris Janson live in concert Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free. Follow FLW For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow the Walmart FLW Tour on Facebook at Facebook.com/FLWFishing and on Twitter at Twitter.com/FLWFishing.