April 22nd, 2024

Cooper Gallant, Jeff Gustafson both anxious for start of 2024 Elite Series season

By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 21, 2024.

Cooper Gallant poses after winning the 2022 St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open at Cherokee Lake in Jefferson County, Tenn., in this April 2, 2022 handout photo. Fishing for a living hasn't grown old for Cooper Gallant. The 26-year-old Bowmanville, Ont., native begins his second Elite Series campaign Thursday in the season-opening tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir. Gallant was the circuits' top Canuck in 2023 but is keen to become its third Canadian champion. "I pinch myself every day, I realize how lucky I am," Gallant said. "I honestly think the hunger has become even crazier, I'd say this is the hungriest I've ever been." THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Bassmaster, Andy Crawford

Fishing for a living hasn’t grown old for Cooper Gallant.

The Bowmanville, Ont., native begins his second Elite Series campaign Thursday in the season-opening tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir. Gallant, 26, was the circuits’ top Canadian in 2023 but is keen to become the country’s third champion.

“I pinch myself every day, I realize how lucky I am,” Gallant said. “I honestly think the hunger has become even crazier, I’d say this is the hungriest I’ve ever been.

“I’m really looking forward to 2024 more than I did last year. I’m definitely fired up to get it started.”

Gallant was 16th in last year’s season opener chasing largemouth bass on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. He capped his rookie campaign finishing fourth (Lake St Clair) and 18th twice (Lake Champlain, St. Lawrence River) fishing smallmouths.

He was 17th in the overall standings, just ahead of Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Ont. (18th). Cory Johnston of Cavan, Ont., was 26th while Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ont., was 52nd.

Lake St. Clair isn’t on this year’s schedule but Lake Champlain (Aug. 8-11) and the St. Lawrence River (Aug. 15-18) are.

The Elite Series season traditionally opens in Florida. But these first two events — the next is at Lake Fork in Texas (Feb. 29-March 3) — are noted largemouth bass waters. Fish between 13 and 15 pounds are possible at Toledo Bend.

“These first two will be a lot of fun,” Gallant said. “There’s going to be big ones caught, they’re going to be pre-spawn and fat.”

Gallant will again fish plenty of new water this year, having just three practice days to establish tournament gameplans.

“I like to run around in tournaments,” Gallant said. “But I find with many of these fisheries, you can get confidence in an area, get bit and expand upon it.

“The tournaments I’ve done well in, I’ve usually had that area with other spots I can run to. But I also like having that area where I can hunker down and grind out a limit.”

No Canadian won a ’23 Elite Series event. But Gustafson made history last March, becoming the first Canadian to capture the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic — pro bass fishing’s premier event — targeting smallmouths on the Tennessee River.

“Obviously many good things have come from winning that tournament but there’s also been sacrifices to normal living,” Gustafson said. “It (off-season) was busier than normal and my results after the Classic were mediocre and not up to my expectations.

“I’m looking forward to starting out fresh and having a good year. I like the schedule, it’s now figuring out how to win another.”

Gustafson’s best post-Classic finish was 16th at Alabama’s Lay Lake. He was 68th and 51st, respectively, at Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence after 14th- and 18th-place finishes there in 2022.

“Any time we go there, my expectations are high and it’s always exciting,” he said. “After the season, I spent more time fishing in my boat (during fall) than I ever have.

“I just wanted to spend time working on a few things and using the electronics and felt like I did that. At this time of year for us in Canada, we get out of the winter weather and on the water and into some nicer weather. That’s always a motivating perk.”

Gustafson will defend his Classic title at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees next month. The Johnstons and Gallant will again also be there.

Unfortunately for Gustafson, the Tennessee River isn’t on this year’s schedule. Gustafson also claimed his first Elite Series title there in 2021, a year after Chris Johnston became the circuit’s first Canadian winner.

“Obviously it’s been an amazing run there and at some point we’ll go back,” Gustafson said. “But I know when we do, it’ll be different because these guys aren’t going to let me have my way and as much freedom to do what I was doing there.

“More will figure that out and it will be much harder. At least I’ve won and maximized the opportunities I’ve had there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.

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