Canadian Jeff Gustafson takes lead over first day of Bassmaster Classic

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It was a great start to the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic for Canadian Jeff Gustafson.

Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., took the overall lead after the first day of pro bass fishing’s premier event on the Tennessee River. He weighed a five-fish limit of 18 pounds, eight ounces for a one pound, one ounce lead over American Brandon Lester.

Gustafson has done well here before. In 2021, he went wire-to-wire to capture the Elite Series tournament on the Tennessee River. That made him the circuit’s second Canadian champion.

The year before, Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Ont., claimed the Elite Series event on the St. Lawrence River at Clayton, N.Y.

“You know, it worked out today,” Gustafson said. “I don’t have a lot of places but I started this morning where I caught them last time and there’s some fish there but they’re hard to catch.

“I lost a nice one, I tried to boat-flip it on a small hook, I shouldn’t have done that. I went to the next spot and settled down and made it happen.”

Johnston and his brother, Cory, both also had solid starts Friday.

Cory Johnston, of Cavan, Ont., stood fifth overall with a five-fish bag weighing 14 pounds, two ounces while Chris Johnston was seventh at 13 pounds, 12 ounces for his five fish.

Cooper Gallant of Bowmanville, Ont., the other Canadian in the 55-angler field, stood 48th overall at three pounds, 13 ounces for his two fish.

The Johnstons and Gustafson are fishing in the Classic for a fourth straight year while Gallant, an Elite Series rookie, is competing in the event for the first time.

Chris Johnston has cracked the top-10 the last two years. After finishing eighth in 2021, he held the overall lead in the final day of competition last year before taking home fifth.

That’s the best finish for a Canadian in this tournament. Gustafson said it’s way too early to begin thinking about him potentially making history as the first Canuck to claim the title.

“There’s a long way to go for that to happen but it feels awesome to be in good shape … and survive the first day,” he said. “I hate hearing the second Canadian (to win Elite Series tournament) and I love beating Cory and so I’m happy.

“I’m a happy dude right now.”

In 2021, the Johnstons and Gustafson all qualified for the final day of the Classic. Cory Johnston finished 11th while Gustafson was 21st.

Last year, Cory Johnston was tied for 26th while Gustafson was 41st. In 2020, Gustafson was the top Canadian at No. 31 while Chris Johnston was 34th and Cory Johnston was 47th.

“I’m excited to go again (Saturday),” Gustafson said. “I’ve got some good stuff but you just never know with these things if they (fish) move.”

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