By Jamie Mountain
Staff writer, Fort Frances Times Ltd.
Defending the title at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship is no easy task.
It’s hard enough winning the tournament even just once against a field full of skilled anglers.
But it’s a challenge that Bryan Gustafson and Brian McNanney are looking forward to as they head into the 25th anniversary of the popular tourney this week.
Gustafson, a former local who now lives in Kenora, and McNanney, who hails from Sioux Narrows, topped the 94-team field with a three-day weight of 51.57 pounds last year to take home their first-ever FFCBC title together.
“We’re just gonna play it by ear and kind of try and let the lake tell us what’s going on and not get too locked into one thing,” Gustafson said of his and McNanney’s strategy heading into the tourney this year.
“It’s really hard to try to win a three-day tournament if you go into it locked in on one idea or tactic,” he reasoned.
“You pretty much always have to make some kind of an adjustment.”
Gustafson and McNanney were surprised to win the title at last year’s tourney as they didn’t feel they had brought in enough to get the job done.
After back-to-back fourth-place finishes the previous two years, the duo were expecting to place in the same area yet again.
But their Day 3 haul of 18.5 pounds was the biggest of the day and helped vault them into first place and secure the $20,000 winners’ cheque.
“It was awesome. I grew up fishing on [Rainy Lake] and I had won almost every tournament up here except for that one leading up to that point,” Gustafson noted.
“It was kind of a nice feeling, for sure, to finally seal the deal.
“We’ve had lots of close finishes and the way it went down [last year], 95 percent of the tournaments I’ve ever won I knew ahead of time that I was gonna win, but we had no idea,” he stressed.
“We thought we were gonna get third or fourth going into [the final] weigh-ins, so it was definitely a thrill and definitely a shocker.”
The FFCBC boasts a strong field of anglers year after year and Gustafson and McNanney know that nothing will be a given out on the waters of Rainy Lake this time around.
But they’re also confident that their camaraderie and angling skills will help put them into the mix of top talent.
“It’s different because I’d say we’re both captains on any other team, so when you put us two together it’s interesting,” Gustafson said of his fishing partnership with McNanney.
“We’re really open minded, we work well together that way. But yeah, we fish well together and we have a lot of fun together. We go fun fishing together a fair bit throughout the year as well.
“We’re a good team,” he enthused. “We don’t rely on practice heavily, we stay pretty open minded and change [our strategy] a lot throughout the tournament.
“I think the last three years in a row, our biggest bag has been on the final day which everybody else kind of goes the other way because they rely a lot on the practice and a lot of guys get their big bag on the first day and then slowly fall off the map,” Gustafson noted.
“Where with us, like I said, three years straight our biggest bag has been on the final day, so we stay really open minded. We’re not afraid to run to another part of the lake or try something totally different.”
Although the tourney has the biggest first-place prize ever this year with a $25,000 cheque, Gustafson noted that he didn’t feel it would change their approach and how they plan to battle it out with other teams.
“I’m just actually looking forward to fishing. I opened a second business this year and haven’t got to fish much this year,” he said, referring to his new LOTW Sports Headquarters store in Winnipeg that opened its doors in May.
“Right now, as we’re speaking, this is one of my first times fishing this year, probably my fifth time,” he said while out on his boat on Sunday evening.
“I’m just looking forward to being out on the water and having a good time.
In terms of teams that he felt would give him and McNanney a run for their money this year, it was the usual suspects who are seemingly always in contention at the FFCBC.
“Jay Samsal and Troy Norman, they’ve been really good the last several years, they’ve had some back-to-back wins,” he noted, referring to them winning the title in both 2016 and 2017.
“Jeff Gustafson and John Peterson, Mike Luhman and Mark Raveling are always a threat,” he stressed.
“I have lots of buddies that I fish other tournaments with too. John Austin, he’s always able to figure something out and there’s a lot of good teams in this tournament actually.”
Another team Gustafson feels he and McNanney will need to look out for is locals Matt Goldamer and Andy Carlson.
“If I had to pick a dark horse to do well this year, it would be Goldamer and Carlson,” he noted.
“They seem to be figuring it out more every year. Good local guys that spend lots of time on the lake.”
With 98 teams signed up as of Monday morning, it’s sure to be an exciting three days of bass fishing.