We're going to 'The Show'


Jeff Gustafson

How I spent some of my time getting ready for the Classic.

The alarm on my phone was the first sound I heard at 6 a.m. up in Kenora, Ontario. It was -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit) outside when my buddy Big Joe Pritchett picked me up a short time later. He had offered to give me a ride up to the Winnipeg International Airport, the closest airport to where my wife, Shelby, and I live.

After a couple weeks at home following the St. John’s River Elite event, I did quite a bit of ice fishing on Lake of the Woods. Now I’m excited to get back on the road. We are only days away from the start of the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, and I am on my way to Birmingham, Ala., to see a dream come true for me during the week on Lake Guntersville.  

There are no direct flights from Winnipeg to Birmingham so my first flight of the day took me to Denver, Colo. I know, not really in the direction of Alabama, but it was the best option I had with only one layover. When our Elite Series event at Lake Chickamauga was postponed, I made a call to my friend Blake Nick who lives near Birmingham to see if I could leave my truck and boat at his place while I went home for a couple of weeks.  

Blake and I travelled and stayed together the first few years that I fished in the U.S., and he has helped me out several times in the past with this same favor. He is one of the best dudes I’ve met through my fishing adventures so it was good to see him. He and his wife Jennifer even fed me dinner when I got to their place after St. Johns. They had a bed for me to sleep in and drove me to the airport at 4:30 in the morning on my way out of Birmingham.  

While I was traveling today I read Don Barone’s column from a couple days ago — his letter to the Classic competitors. If you haven’t read it, you should. It made my day. It’s all about the dream that everyone who competes in bass tournaments has — to fish in the Bassmaster Classic — and how those of us who are so lucky be competitors should enjoy every minute but not take it for granted. 

For kids growing up in Canada, the dream for most is to play in the NHL. Hockey is our sport, and a lot of kids play but only a small few make it to “The Show.”

Somehow I found The Bassmasters TV show on TNN when I was 7 or 8 years old in the early 90s, and I fell in love with competitive bass fishing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dreamed about having my boat towed into the Classic arena and holding up a pair of big bass or how many times I was battling a big bass, pretending I was fishing the final day of the Classic while I was growing up. That is what my fishing dreams were about.  

This week I get to fish in the Bassmaster Classic. I’ve known for several months now that it was going to happen, but now that it’s finally here, it’s a strange feeling. I’m excited, more than words can describe. There are just so many people along the way who have helped me to get here that I want to share the experience with.

My family has been supportive of my fishing passion since I was a little kid. I’m so happy that my parents, my brother, sister and my wife are all able to come to Birmingham. It’s special to me that they are all traveling so far to watch me go bass fishing. The friends, hundreds who I’ve shared the boat with or let me park my truck and boat at their place while I traveled home, who have encouraged me to go for it … this is for all of you. And for the sponsors that I’ve had over the years. I would not be here without the support. It took me a while to get here, but I am going to live a dream this week. 

This week on Lake Guntersville I am going to enjoy every second, but I am going to give it my best cast, try to make some good decisions and out fish my buddies. I want to be the last person standing on that stage with my pal Dave Mercer on Sunday afternoon.