No Canadian has ever won the Bassmasters Classic but Jeff Gustafson now faces a lot more competition in the race to be the first.
On Wednesday, Dovetail Games released the virtual fishing simulator "Bassmaster Fishing 2022." Gustafson, of Kenora, Ont., is one of 10 Elite Series pro anglers that game participants can compete against on some of the bodies of water where Elite Series events are staged.
The other anglers include American Hank Cherry — who has won the last two US$1-million Bassmaster Classic events — Japan's Taku Ito and Australian Carl Jocumsen. And the confirmed venues are: St. Lawrence River; Chickamauga Lake, Tennessee: Lake Ray Roberts, Texas: St. Johns River, Florida: Lake Guntersville, Alabama; Sabine River, Texas; Lake Hamilton, Arkansas; and Toledo Bend, Texas/Louisiana.
Dave Mercer, of Port Perry, Ont., the official MC of the Bassmaster Elite Series, will also be featured in the game.
"It's pretty cool," Gustafson said. "They (Dovetail Games officials) came to some of our events and at one they did a bunch of photos from every angle of us standing there and casting which they used to create movements.
"It's neat to be part of it."
The game features real-life likenesses of Gustafson and the other pros, including their hair, facial features and body shape. And players will have access to a selection of equipment from real-world sponsors for maximum immersion and also be able to create their own custom angler to challenge the pros.
Fortunately, participants won't have to endure the elements that Gustafson and his fellow pros must when on the water.
"Well, you're not going to feel the effects of a 20-mile-an-hour north wind, pouring rain or broken equipment, which are all the reality of what we go through," Gustafson said. "But I think if you're not that familiar with bass fishing you're probably going to be able to learn a few things as far as what lure to use in a certain situation based upon weather and the time of day and type of lake.
"There's a lot of options on there for that sort of stuff. It will be fun to see, I'm sure once people start playing it I'll get some reports and I think it will be a lot of fun to hear everyone's opinion."
Gustafson, 39, completed his third season on the Elite Series and secured his first win Feb. 27 on the Tennessee River. That made Gustafson the second Canadian to win on the circuit after Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ont., did so on the St. Lawrence River in 2020.
Gustafson has appeared in 30 career Elite Series events, finishing in the money 29 times. Twice he has competed in the US$1-million Bassmaster Classic, the Series' premiere and most prestigious tournament, finishing 31st and 21st, respectively.
Gustafson is one of three Canadians on the Elite Series, along with Chris Johnston and his older brother, Cory. The Johnstons have also participated in the last two Classics, finishing eighth and 11th, respectively in this year's event as all three Canucks eclipsed the previous mark of 31st, registered in 2016 by Ottawa’s Charles Sim.
In "Bassmaster Fishing 2022," players will begin their careers in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, mirroring where many of the pros got their start. They will work through the Basspro.com Bassmaster Opens, Elite Series events and eventually earning a spot in the iconic Bassmaster Classic.
Throughout career mode, players will master the tools of the trade, from different rods, lures and reels, to learning where bass tend to congregate in different waters and practising their casts as they hook bigger fish.
Players can also unlock and upgrade gear and boats as they progress through the game.
Multi-player modes include Freedom Fishing and the competitive Bassmaster Royale mode. Anglers in Bassmaster Royale compete against the clock and one another in the quest to avoid elimination.
"Working directly with Bassmaster and many of the best anglers in the world has allowed us to take the simulation in Bassmaster Fishing 2022 and deliver the most authentic bass angling experience to date," Dovetail Games CEO Jon Rissik said. "We hope we can help foster a new generation of anglers who find a lifelong love of fishing, both in-game and in real life, and look forward to working with our fantastic community as we grow and expand the game after launch."
"Bassmaster Fishing 2022" is available on the PlayStation5, PlayStation4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and Windows PC.
The game allows participants to use many of the presentations the pros would on the water, such as diving and lipless crankbaits, buzzbaits, top-water lures. They'll also have access to finesse options like ned rigs, texas rigs, drop shots and jig heads.
Players can also experiment with different weights on different lures to find the best possible combinations in order to hook trophy fish. While participants can increase hook size to help with hooking big fish, they'll also find that will result in more snags.
"Bassmaster Fishing 2022" also comes with standard default loadouts to help new players get started such. All eight of the game venues come with a pro tip regarding what setup to use for catch specific species of fish.
Players will also be able to track their progress and success with equipment. They can see which lures are producing on each body of water so they can fine-tune their respective presentations.
Gustafson expects the game will help get more people interested in the sport.
"The more we touch mainstream media I think it's good for everybody," he said. "I know how many people do enjoy playing video games and it will be cool.
"If through us they start sharing some of the experiences on social media, which is a big deal now, maybe it does bring a few more eyes to what we're doing."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press