June 01, 2022
Bassmaster pro Jeff Gustafson is a fairly positive guy, so the idea that he’d celebrate “moping” seems quite out of character. Watch him doodling a jig in soft water, though, and you might think that he’s gone a little loco. What he’s using, though, is a technique that he’s convinced is the next big thing in bass fishing.
“Moping,” the act of using a fluke-style bait vertically on a jighead, is “almost like ice fishing,” he said. “You’re watching it on the electronics the entire time, following it down, and then the number one thing is to keep it above the fish, make them look up to it.”
Sure it works on his northerly home waters in Canada and adjacent states, but is it really a more widely-applicable technique? The proof is in the results, as he won a 2021 Elite Series event on the Tennessee River in Knoxville this way, leading wire to wire to claim the six-figure top prize. Even in the short time since then, technology has improved, and he believes that if you’re not on top of this, you’re leaving catchable bass behind.
How Did it Get the Name?
Early in his career, Gustafson was heavily mentored by the Lindners, and while they’d used the technique longer than he’d known them, they didn’t officially name it until one night at a tournament venue.
“We’re moping ‘em up, Gussy,” he recalled Ron Lindner saying. “You just sit there and hold the rod still, watching the end of the rod with your head down. It doesn’t sound fun, but it’s effective and they’ll smoke the bait.”
Where to Mope
Gustafson typically mopes in 15 to 30 feet of water, but says that it really shines for him any time bass are feeding in the 20- to 35-foot range.
“Up here it’s smelt or ciscoes,” he said, referring to his home waters on Lake of the Woods. “When I almost won at Lake Champlain it was an alewife deal. In Knoxville it was all shad. In general, colder water is better.”
He said that one place it hasn’t been a key player for him where you might otherwise expect it to excel, is the Great Lakes. Fish there are “looking down more for gobies and crawfish,” he opined, and they’re also pressured in key areas. “You don’t want them to know that you’re on top of them. You want the water to be clear, but not zebra mussel clear.”
The Right Gear
While the bass he’s targeting are typically in a feeding mode, that doesn’t mean that they’ll bite indiscriminately. “You need the bait to be perfectly straight with a 90 degree eye on the jighead,” he said. He uses the locally popular Smeltinator, built on a relatively heavy gauge Gamakatsu black nickel hook. Another good choice is the Z-Man Finesse Eyez, and Northland is coming out with one soon, that he says replicates one his mentors, the Lindners, used for year.
“You’re going to catch 50 or 60 fish in a day,” he added. “Not just bass, but pike and walleye, too. You don’t want a super-light wire hook for that reason. You want to be able to catch big fish with it. In Knoxville I was boat-flipping them.”
A 3/8-ounce model is his go-to, although in water less than 20 feet deep with minimal current he might drop down to a 1/4-ounce.
“You want it to drop, get it down to them. Too light and it’ll go off to the side.” It’s harder to find a 1/2-ounce model with the right sized hook for the smaller baits he prefers.
When he first started moping, he exclusively used a 4-inch Berkley Power Minnow in the smelt color, but noted that he hasn’t used one in six to eight years since he’s discovered the Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ.
“It’s buoyant, so it stays horizontal,” he explained. “With a little dab of glue the durability is awesome. It’s not getting pulled down, so you don’t have to reel it up to check it.” His favorite colors are usually Smelt and Shiner and Pearl, but in Knoxville the winning color was Bad shad. The reason? “It was a total coincidence. It was the first one I grabbed.”
This is 100% a spinning rod technique, and Gustafson primarily uses 10-pound test Power Pro braid with a leader of 10-pound test Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon. Some anglers might want to drop down to 8, but he doesn’t see the reason, and notes that the knot gets worn out a little bit quicker. He rigs it on a medium action G.Loomis NRX 782, which is super-sensitive, and adds a Shimano Stella.
The sensitivity helps when they’re biting light, but typically when the bite is in effect it can almost be overkill: “There’s no waiting around, no nibbling,” he said. “As soon as they hit it, it often feels like a punch in the arm and they hook gets them pretty good.” On occasion, however, the super high-end gear makes a huge difference, specifically when the bass push the lure up and the line merely goes slack.”
The Electronics Revolution
This is a highly targeted finesse presentation, and Gustafson said that recent improvements in electronics have made it easier. He works diligently to find the sweet spot beneath his transducer and then lightly feather the trolling motor. That’s with two-dimensional sonar, but forward facing units make the job even more efficient.
“Now it’s easier to see the bait,” he said. “So you can pitch at those fish when they’re 20 or 30 or 50 feet ahead of the boat.” Once he gets it in the strike zone, though, that’s when all activity stops. “The less you move it the better. For people who haven’t done it, it’s hard to sit and hold your rod and not move it. When those fish are skyrocketing up to it, they’re biting it for sure, but I will use a little bit of movement when they’re a little hesitant or slightly spooked. I’ll just pull or lift it slowly and shake it a little.”
While modern electronics have helped him refine moping, he said that it’s actually easier to do out of a tiller boat than a typical bass tournament boat. “It’s all about efficiency. When you’re idling and you see a fish or a rock, you put a dot on them, drop the trolling motor and circle back to them. With the tiller, you just put the back of the boat into the wind and it’s easier to control and stay on top.”
For tournament anglers, one frustration may be that you’ll run into other species. “If they’re bass,” they usually bite pretty quickly,” he said, but he’s also caught lots of walleye and pike doing it, along with crappies and lake trout. In tournament practice he might look at the school with his Aqua-Vu camera to ensure that he’s not wasting time fishing for the wrong fish.”
It’s Only Getting Better
Now that the secret’s out, and the technology has caught up to—or perhaps surpassed—the potential, Gustafson is convinced that it will produced more wins on various tours.
“Smallmouth like it the best,” he said. “But I’ve used it all over. I caught some on Lake Travis in Texas in an FLW, and a few on the Tennessee River Lakes and even on Lake Fork.” Earlier this year he participated in a media event on Florida’s famed Bienville Planation, and when a cold front shut down the finicky shallow Florida strains, he went out deep and did what he did best.
“I found deep water,” he said. “I was with a writer from California and he’d never fished that way with electronics. On a tough day, we must’ve caught 50 largemouths. I’d say he was pretty impressed.”