Punchin’ big bass in Florida & FLW Tour Preview

Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

It’s been a busy start to 2014 for me.  Between keeping the snow plowed out of my driveway at home in Ontario, taking care of a few ice anglers and a wolf hunter, and getting ready for the upcoming FLW Tour season, there hasn’t been a dull moment.

Across North America, the weather has been terrible this winter.  It has been the coldest I can remember back home and we have a lot of snow.  Because of the weather I have not been ice fishing as much as I normally would have but when we have been out, the action has been good for crappies, lake trout and walleye.  I had one wolf hunter in and he tagged out with a big male on his second day of hunting.

Ontario Wolf Hunt Results

Ontario Wolf Hunt Results

I have been down in Florida now for about a week, getting back into fishing mode in preparation for the first FLW Tour event of the season coming up the first week of February at Lake Okeechobee.  I came down to Florida early to break in the motor on my new boat and hopefully sharpen up my skills a little bit before I start competing against the best bass anglers in the World.  The weather at home also made it easy to hit the road a little bit early.

For the past week I’ve been hanging around the Kissimmee area, staying with a couple of friends from home who rent a house here for a couple of months.  I’ve been fishing most days, trying out a number of small lakes in the area.  I’ve had a few good days of fishing and a few tough ones, but it’s been fun to fish a bunch of new water.

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Gussy with a Florida Chatterbait Bass

The highlight of the trip so far was getting to see a GIANT bass that my friend Seth Feider from Minnesota caught this past weekend.  Seth fished in the BASS Southern Open on Lake Toho last week and stuck around for an extra day to fish a little lake that I really like.  Well, the luck was on his side as he caught the two biggest bass of his life in one day – a 13-4 and a 10-1.  His previous big fish was a six and half pounder from Minnesota.  Pretty awesome fish!

Seth Feider with a Giant Florida Largemouth Bass

Seth Feider with a Giant Florida Largemouth Bass

Seth caught his big fish punching matted vegetation with a heavy rod, heavy braided line, a big tungsten sinker and TriggerX Goo Bug.  The idea is to use a compact bait with the heavy tungsten sinker, generally 1-2 oz., to punch through the mats and drop the bait in front of bass that are hiding beneath them.  It’s a tactic that is proven to catch big bass on Florida lakes and lakes across North America that have a lot of grass in them.  You need the heavy tackle to pull fish back through the weeds.

Seth showing off his lunker & his punching setup

Seth showing off his lunker & his punching setup

I have caught a few good fish this week punching as well as casting swim jigs and chatterbait style baits to cover water.  I’ve been trying to spend as much time as I can fishing with baits that I think I may use when I get to Okeechobee, like the Jackall Cover Craw.  We are able to start practicing on Sunday (Feb. 2) and I’m really looking forward to getting out there.  The long-range weather forecast looks great for entire week of the tournament so it could be a major “whackfest” if the big females swarm the shallows to spawn.  My buddy, Brandon McMillan, a local stud who won the FLW Tour event at Okeechobee in 2011 told me that he thinks the fishing could be really good out there for us next week.  I can’t wait!

Gussy Prepping for the FLW Tour Opener on the Big O!

Gussy Prepping for the FLW Tour Opener on the Big O!

Look for the Okeechobee report next week and stay tune for many updates from this year’s FLW Tour!

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing krugerfarms.com and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (facebook.com/gussyoutdoors).

Forrest Wood Cup Recap: Tharp Makes his Mark on the Red

 

Photo from ForrestWoodCup.com.

Photo from ForrestWoodCup.com.

Pro-staff Contributor: Rich Lindgren

The moment FLW announced the Red River as the sight of the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, Randall Tharp circled it on his calendar.  He knew that of all the venues that would host the Cup in coming years none would likely better align with his strengths as an angler.  Tharp is well-known for extracting big bass from shallow vegetation all over the south.  It’s not that he can’t catch them everywhere, but he is particularly comfortable on venues like the Red River—plus his nickname on tour is the Mongoose, how fitting is that?!

Sunday’s final weigh-in marked the finale of the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup, which featured 46 of the best professional bass anglers from across the country.  Tharp crossed the stage with a 5-bass limit weighing an even 14 pounds on Sunday to claim the title of Forrest Wood Cup Champion as well as $501,000 in prize money and contingencies.  Tharp, with a 4-day total of 20 bass for 53 pounds, 2 ounces, won by a 4-pound margin over the reigning Forrest Wood Cup champion Jacob Wheeler of Indianapolis, IN.  Wheeler caught 5 bass, weighing 14-3, to push his 4-day total to 20 bass, weighing 49-2—earning $75,000.

Despite the drastic cool front that greeted the anglers between the practice period and the tournament, Tharp made key adjustments that put him in a position to earn the title.  The Everstart pro said that he had several key baits this week.  His primary bait was a 3/8-ounce bluegill-colored swim jig paired with a Strike King Rage Craw, which he used to weigh several of his fish throughout the week, including his bigger bites.  He said that he boated a few keepers throwing a square-bill crankbait and his three biggest fish from Sunday came on a white-colored Spro Bronzeye 65 frog with orange tails. He had two primary areas that he fished—every day he started just north of the ramp in a small lake lined with houses until he had his limit, then would spend the rest of his time in his big-fish area looking for a few upgrades.  Tharp’s patience was a major contributor to his success, as he normally would only get one or two good bites in his afternoon area, but those were the bites that carried him to victory.

The top 10 pros finished the tournament in:
1st: EverStart pro Randall Tharp, Port Saint Joe, FL, 20 bass, 53-2, $501,000
2nd: Jacob Wheeler, Indianapolis, IN, 20 bass, 49-2, $75,000
3rd: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, NC, 20 bass, 46-1, $60,000
4th: Kerry Milner, Bono, AR, 20 bass, 44-7, $55,000
5th: Chevy pro Larry Nixon, Bee Branch, AR, 20 bass, 44-4, $50,000
6th: Michael Neal, Dayton, TN, 20 bass, 44-2, $45,000
7th: Walmart pro Mark Rose, West Memphis, AR, 15 bass, 43-7, $40,000
8th: Troy Morrow, Eastanollee, GA, 20 bass, 41-8, $35,000
9th: Tom Monsoor, La Crosse, WS, 20 bass, 41-2, $30,000
10th: Robbie Dodson, Harrison, AR, 19 bass, 37-11, $25,000

A complete list of results can be found at ForrestWoodCup.com.

Rich Lindgren is a tournament bass angler living in Lakeville, MN chasing bass all over Minnesota and its adjoining states. Bass blogger, podcaster and fishing promoter. You’ll see him fishing the Minnesota bass tournament scene representing krugerfarms.com and Dobyns Rods among others. You can like him on Facebook (facebook.com/bassinblog).

 

Photo from ForrestWoodCup.com

Photo from ForrestWoodCup.com

Lake Chickamauga FLW Tour Report

Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

Gussy prefishing on Lake Chickamauga

Gussy prefishing on Lake Chickamauga

The final event of the 2013 FLW Tour season took place this past weekend at Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee.  For many anglers on the tour, this was an important event, because after it was finished the 35 anglers with the most points after the six-event season qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup—the annual Tour Championship where anglers fish for a first place prize of $500,000.  My chances of qualifying for the Cup were eliminated earlier in the season after a couple of bad tournaments.  So I went into the event with the goal to cash a check and end the season on a good note.

I had spent a few days at Chickamauga in late May before the lake went off limits, which helped me because I had a good idea of what I wanted to do when I got back for the official practice.  I planned to check out some places where I had caught fish earlier—both shallow and deep—hoping that would give me a start on things I should focus on during the week of the tournament.

Over the course of the three day practice for this tournament, I found a few different areas that held fish, and had a reliable dock pattern that would put a few extra fish in the boat after I was finished working over my “spots.”  The best place I found was a small ledge that had a shell bed on it.  In practice I caught a couple of big fish off of it on a ¾oz football jig.

Gussy with friend and fellow pro-angler, Blake Nick at the rules meeting.

Gussy with friend and fellow pro-angler, Blake Nick at the rules meeting.

When the event started, this ledge was my first stop and it paid off when I caught a five-pound largemouth on my third cast of the day.  I caught this fish on a Jackall Muscle Deep 15 crankbait in the chartreuse shad color.  I was throwing this bait on a 7’11” G. Loomis GLX crankbait rod (GLX955CBR)Shimano Chronarch reel (CH200E6) and 12 lb Sunline Sniper FC line.  I could get this bait to touch the bottom in 14-16 feet, where the fish were and put a few of my biggest fish in the boat during the tournament with this set up. Over the course of the event, I also caught a few of my weigh fish on a football jig, a drop-shot rig and by pitching a jig around some docks—all using G. Loomis rods and Shimano reels.

After a good catch on the first day (18-05), I sat in 21st place.  My goal on day two was to improve my position and try to make the top 20, which would have allowed me to fish another day.  I ended up having a little bit of a tougher second day and brought in 13-14, to finish in 26th place—earning a check for $10,000.

Overall, my experience fishing the FLW Tour this season was awesome!  I learned a lot and look forward to giving it another shot next year.  I feel like the experiences I had this year, both good and bad, will help me down the road.  Huge thanks go out to all of my sponsors for making it possible for me to fish the FLW Tour this year, as well as all the people that supported me through the ups and downs of the season.  It’s been fun!

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing krugerfarms.com and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (facebook.com/gussyoutdoors).

Here was the biggest fish Gussy caught at Chickamauga--it was over six pounds.

Here was the biggest fish Gussy caught at Chickamauga–it was over six pounds.

Grand Lake, OK FLW Tour Report

Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

The fifth stop on the 2013 FLW Tour took place this past weekend at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake.  I arrived in Grove, Oklahoma the day before practice started, and while I drove over a bridge on the lake I was shocked to see the high, dirty water.  There were literally thousands of logs and pieces of debris floating down the lake—a result of heavy rains accompanying the nasty storms that have gone through Oklahoma recently.  Fishing this type of water was going to be a new experience for me.

A look at the flooded shoreline of Grand Lake.

A look at the flooded shoreline of Grand Lake.

During my first morning of practice, things started out pretty well.  It didn’t take me long to start catching some nice fish by flipping a ½ oz jig in some of the flooded bushes and wood along the bank of the lake.  Over the course of the day, I caught several good fish and figured I was onto a solid program that would carry me through the weekend.  But, the next two days of practice were not as good as the first.  I wasn’t sure if I had simply found a good area on the first day or if the pattern was not as solid as I thought.

Heading into the event I figured that 13 pounds per day would likely be enough to get a check at this event, based on what I saw in practice and what some of the other anglers were saying.  But as it turns out, I was way off on that prediction.  I brought in 12 pounds the first day of the tournament and found myself sitting in 94th place.  On day two, I did a little bit better and caught 13 pounds but it didn’t help my final standings.  I ended up with a 99th place finish at this tournament.

Even though I ended outside of the money, I still had some success with my techniques.  I caught most of my fish with a jig on a 7’5″ G. Loomis GL2 flipping stick matched with a 7:0:1 Shimano Core 100 and 20 lb Sunline Sniper Fluorocarbon.  I also caught a few fish with a Jackall SK-Pop Grande on a 6’8″ Shimano Crucial topwater rod  matched up with a 7:0:1 Shimano Chronarch reel and 30 lb Power Pro Super Slick line.

Gussy with a big fish he caught during practice.

Gussy with a big fish he caught during practice.

Obviously I’m disappointed with where I finished, but I am taking some positive notes from the experience.  I lost two big fish during the first day of the tournament, they just jumped off on me, so I ended up weighing a couple of small fish that day.  I’m not trying to give you the “woulda, coulda” routine, but I know that if I would have landed those two fish I would have been flirting with getting a check and a happy finish.  So I feel like I was on the right program with my technique but maybe needed to find a better location.  I’m taking the positive out of all of these events and hopefully next year when I’m faced with similar conditions I’ll be able to adjust a little more quickly.

There is one event left on the 2013 FLW Tour Majors schedule coming up in a couple weeks at Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga.  I’m looking forward to getting on the water on Chickamauga and trying to put together a solid game plan to end the season on a strong note.

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing krugerfarms.com and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (facebook.com/gussyoutdoors).