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Z-Man® Pros Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson and Grae Buck Divulge MVP Baits For the Classic

Canadian pro Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson has the versatility it takes to conquer Lake Gunterville's constantly changing conditions. Photo courtesy of Wired2Fish

Long before signing sponsor deals with ace bait brand Z-Man Fishing, Jeff "Gussy" Gustafson and Grae Buck both leaned on ElaZtech® softbaits and ChatterBait® bladed jigs to cash hefty tournament checks. Now, on the eve of the 50th annual Bassmaster Classic, the two talented anglers—both Classic rookies— are configuring potential tournament-winning gameplans.

A highly versatile Ontario based bass pro with numerous international tournament wins to his credit, Gussy has in recent years produced a pile of top-ten finishes on southern U.S. waters. The only Elite Series angler to rock a deep-V aluminum Lund boat, you've got to respect Gussy's style for staying true to his northern roots.

A hockey star during his days at Penn State, Pennsylvania angler Grae Buck qualified for his first Classic after winning the 2020 Bassmaster Eastern Open at Oneida Lake, NY with a Ned-Rigged Finesse TRD™. Regardless of the bite, Buck fishes with an infectious positive energy. It's an outlook and approach that's resulted in several wins on the FLW College and Phoenix Bass Fishing Leagues—and the potential for bigger triumphs in the future.

The new Fire Craw pattern ChatterBait JackHammer has been as hot as its name.

Before hitting the water for pre-fishing this week, the two enthusiastic Z-Man pros paused to break down a variety of probable Classic presentations:

Bladed Jigs

Gussy: Obviously, the high water, rain and cold weather could really throw some crazy variables into the mix, but I'm pretty confident in my abilities with a ChatterBait JackHammer™. At the 2014 Classic at Guntersville, Paul Mueller set the one-day tournament record, boating something like 32-pounds with a ChatterBait Elite. The big fish track records of both the ChatterBait Elite and JackHammer are pretty hard to ignore.

Buck: Gussy's got the right idea! My Classic strategy revolves around Guntersville's giant prespawn females and the lure that consistently puts them in the boat. That means locating concentrations of bass staging in milfoil and hydrilla, particularly milfoil edges or pockets and lanes between the vegetation. Like Gussy, I'll be targeting those areas with a 3/8- or ½-ounce ChatterBait JackHammer, probably something bright and highly visible. For me, the JackHammer simply triggers the biggest bass in the lake; it's certainly one of the favorites to win the Classic. The easy-starting blade and its consistent, rod-thumping vibration make this ChatterBait one of the all-time tournament baits, for sure.

Gussy: Have to add that a lot of us will be throwing Z-Man's new Fire Craw pattern. You'll see this bright red ChatterBait rigged on the decks of a lot of anglers at the Classic; can't tell you how many competitors have been asking me to hook them up with this color. Fire Craw JackHammers have become hard to find, though, so alternatives like Spring Craw and Hite's Hot Craw could also play prominently. I put a green pumpkin pattern RaZor ShadZ on the back for what might be the ultimate big fish confidence bait.

Buck: Worth noting, too, that the other popular bait for working the shallow vegetation at Guntersville is a lipless crankbait. While these lures have a track record of producing here, I think the ChatterBait slides through the vegetation a bit better and simply yields bigger bites.

A swimbait like the DieZel MinnowZ can be a potent presentation for bass using bridge areas.

Swimbaits

Gussy: Another pattern that's always in play at Guntersville involves bass relating to bridges and riprap around causeways. These areas provide current breaks that attract baitfish and bass, consistently. During prefishing, I'm sure I'll be checking several bridges for the presence of fish with an Aqua-Vu camera. If the fish are there, you can catch a bunch pretty fast.

For working bridges, there's no better bait than a 5- or 7-inch DieZel MinnowZ™—a really productive paddletail swimbait I rig on a HeadLockZ HD™ jighead. A crankbait or a jerkbait can also work well around riprap, but for me, the swimbait is a little more versatile. The big 7-inch DieZel could prove valuable this week for big fish.

CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig

Flippin'

Buck: Last time I fished Guntersville, I marked a bunch of laydowns in the back of creeks that looked really good. Been looking forward to coming back and flipping a jig with a Palmetto BugZ™ in these spots. Particularly if weather messes up the grass bite, flippin' the stumps could become a major factor.

Gussy: We had an FLW Tour event here in 2017 and there were some really good bags caught punching mats of hydrilla and milfoil. If the weather is cold and nasty, the Classic could become a flipping deal. Either way, I'll have a couple rods ready with CrossEyeZ™ Flipping Jigs—one with a Palmetto BugZ and another with Punch CrawZ™. The buoyancy of the ElaZtech material gives these trailers a lot of action and loft in the water. And they're so durable you can flip with a single trailer, a lot of times, all day long.

The SlingBladeZ Spinnerbait could fly under the radar and play a prominent role at the Classic.

Spinnerbaits

Gussy: This past season, we've seen several big events won on spinnerbaits. If the water is dirty at Guntersville, a big ¾-ounce SlingBladeZ™ could play a role. This is the most well-balanced, high-level spinnerbait out there right now. Certainly, with so many anglers throwing ChatterBaits and lipless cranks, the bigger profile of the SlingBladeZ spinnerbait could make a difference. It's funny to call the spinnerbait a sleeper lure, but with the right conditions, it just might be a winner.

Final Thoughts

Buck: Fishing the Classic is a dream come true, for sure. It'll be really fun to fish Guntersville during what should be a strong prespawn bite. The one thing Classic rookies like Gussy and I have going for us is an open mind. We haven't fished these lakes as often as some of the veterans, but I'll approach my practice period with a totally clean slate. Almost any bait could work . . . so long as it's a ChatterBait <laughs>.

Gussy: I like fishing these Tennessee River lakes. You can't come here with too many preconceived notions, and that certainly applies to the weather. We just had an Elite event cancelled at Chickamauga on the same system a few weeks ago, due to high water. Looks like we've got more rain in the forecast, so it could get interesting.

Really hoping to find some green grass in some of the creeks—that could be really important. The fish aren't making spawning movements yet, it's more of a staging situation. We'll likely have guys catching bass way far back in the creeks, while others will be working those 4 to 8 foot bars closer to the main river channel.

For everyone who's ever fished a bass tournament, the Classic is the goal. No matter what happens, this will certainly be one of the highlights of my fishing career. Can't wait.

Classic rookie Grae Buck is no stranger to tournament wins and big prespawn largemouths.

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