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Bryan Gustafson's Smeltinator anchors Canadian's Bassmaster Classic victory

Angler Jeff Gustafson from Kenora, Ont. holds a rod and a Smeltinator jig in a handout photo. On Sunday, Gustafson became the first Canadian to capture the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic -- pro bass fishing's premier event — on the Tennessee River. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Bass Anglers Sportsman Society **MANDATORY CREDIT**

It weighed just 3/8 of an ounce but Canadian Bryan Gustafson's invention stole the show on pro bass fishing's biggest stage.

On Sunday, Jeff Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., became the first Canadian to capture the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic — bass fishing's top event — on the Tennessee River. In 2021, Gustafson also won his first Elite Series title there.

Both times, Gustafson went wire-to-wire using the Smeltinator jig — which Bryan Gustafson, also of Kenora, created in 2007 — In each event, Jeff Gustafson went against conventional wisdom, winning entirely with smallmouth bass when many felt a mixture of smallmouth and largemouth would be needed to garner the titles.

The Gustafsons aren't related but are close friends. Bryan Gustafson, also a diehard tournament angler, is the CEO of Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters, a sporting-goods business he began in 2015.

There's nothing quite like a Bassmaster Classic victory to validate a product in the ultra competitive fishing market. This time, though, Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters is ready with an ample supply of Smeltinator jigs.

"If a guy wins a Bassmaster Classic, that bait is always going to be the one that's selling the most for the inevitable future," Bryan Gustafson said. "It's awesome."

But after Jeff Gustafson's Elite Series victory, Bryan Gustafson couldn't make the Smeltinator available to anglers abroad due to the global pandemic.

"Unfortunately, we had no inventory," Gustafson said. "Gamakatsu, the hooks we put in them, had no inventory and were backlogged so that didn't really help too may people other than those who've ripped the jig off from us over the years. 

"But I'm fine with it … I would've been happy had Jeff won it on anything, to be honest."

During the Classic, Jeff Gustafson used a four-inch, smelt-coloured Z-Man Jerk Shadz on a 3/8-ounce Smeltinator jighead that was presented vertically above bottom-hugging fish. That technique, called moping, secured Gustafson 12 smallmouths for a tournament-winning 42 pounds, seven ounces although he modified his approach Sunday, sometimes pitching the jig and retrieving it slowly.

Two years earlier, Gustafson successfully applied the same moping approach and tackle presentation on the Tennessee River, again going wire-to-wire for his Elite Series victory.

On Sunday, Jeff Gustafson used a seven-foot-three, medium action G Loomis NRX+ 872 rod with a Shimano Stella 3000 reel spooled with 10-pound PowerPro and 10-pound Shimano Mastiff fluorocarbon leader. All but the leader line are also available on LOTW's website.

The Smeltinator jig features 3D holographic eyes and textured gill plates and mouth for a realistic presentation. It can be paired with paddletail swimbaits or small minnow-imitating plastics that are held in place by a ribbed bait keeper.

Another key was keeping the presentation horizontal so Jeff Gustafson constantly checked his knot to ensure it remained upward and hadn't slid down the eyelet.

Smeltinator jigs come in a myriad of sizes and colours.

"It has remained pretty much the same since '07," Bryan Gustafson said. "We made the keeper so you could slide the plastic on without splitting it apart, which would hopefully catch you a few more fish instead of having to put a new bait on.

"It's one of the few collar designs that works well with all plastics."

Bryan Gustafson and his wife were in Knoxville, Tenn., for the Classic, then shared driving duties back to Kenora with the tournament champion and his spouse.

"It was unbelievable, I'm so happy for Jeff," Bryan Gustafson said. "It was so surreal."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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