5 favorites: Gussy’s bait modifications

Hailing from Keewatin, Canada, Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson has 13 top 20 finishes to his credit. The Canadian has appeared in three consecutive Bassmaster Classics (2020-2022), and earned his fourth world championship berth by qualifying for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic, to be held in Knoxville, Tenn., March 24-26.
Photo: B.A.S.S. - In February 2021, Gustafson won the Bassmaster Elite at Tennessee River. Amplifying his win, Gussy showed off his northern smallmouth skills by clobbering the southern smallmouth with a moping/Damiki rig technique.
Tighten the swim jig. Gussy said the most important consideration for his swim jig is a perfectly straight presentation, with the hook facing up. This, he said, ensures the most lifelike appearance, while also keeping the bait weedless through brush or grass.
Shortening his swim jig’s skirt, trailer and weed guard helps streamline the bait’s overall profile. When he’s trimming the swim jig, Gussy wants his trailer legs to barely reach past the skirt. Another helpful point: He makes sure the skirt is evenly spread along the collar, as bunching on one side or the other throws off the balance.
Feathered hooks. Gussy’s a firm believer that adding a feathered treble to the back of a topwater bait, spoon and occasionally a suspending bait significantly increases his chances of attracting bites. The lifelike action often provides just the right amount of convincing movement.
For maximum diversity, Gussy will tie feathers to a variety of treble hook sizes from Size 8 hooks for spy baits, to 2/0 trebles for flutter spoons. His go-to hook is the Gamakatsu G-Finesse MH treble, but he’ll use heavier gauge hooks around cover or for giant factories like Lake Fork. 
Add a keeper. Improving worm hooks for use in certain situations is often a matter of adding a keeper to hold plastics securely. Gussy likes the Gamakatsu B10 Stinger for Neko and wacky presentations, but adding a keeper extends the hook’s use to Texas rigging.
Gussy forms his keeper with a small piece of wire or heavy fluorocarbon tied to the hook shank with thread (a vice helps here). One of his favorite ways to use this modified hook is on a drop shot — especially when he’s likely to encounter big fish.
Trim Ned rig. Surrounded by stellar smallmouth fisheries, Gussy’s a big fan of the Ned rig. His top bait is the 4-inch Z-Man Hula StickZ, but he likes to tune his rig for optimal performance. He starts by trimming 3/4 inch off the end to shorten the profile and help it stay snug against a Northland Elite Series Ned head.
He’ll also pinch the wire keeper when using Z-Man’s ElaZtech soft baits, because the flattened surface helps him slide the baits perfectly straight onto the hook. He’ll finish by adding a drop of Super Glue to hold the bait on the jig.
Weight a spinnerbait. Sometimes, burning a spinnerbait is the best way to trigger a bite, but Gussy knows the risk of “blowing out” the bait — causing it to break the surface — can kill the presentation. He avoids this by adding extra weight to his bait.
Gussy boosts his spinnerbait’s weight by removing the rubber core of an old-school rubber core sinker and then crimping the sinker onto the spinnerbait’s shank. This technique proves especially helpful with the smaller spinnerbaits he uses for smallmouth when he needs to keep them deeper and avoid the blow out.