By Lucas Punkari, Fort Frances Times Ltd.
After five straight years of finishing in the top 10, which included a trifecta of third place finishes, Kenora’s Jeff Gustafson and Bemidji’s John Peterson were finally able to nab the top spot on the podium at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
The pair, who have fished in the tournament together since 2007, hoisted the FFCBC trophy inside the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina on Saturday, after they caught 55.42 pounds of Rainy Lake bass over the course of three days.
“It’s extremely hard to win one of these tournaments, and this one here is really prestigious.
“It’s special to us and we are going to enjoy it, that’s for sure,” he added.
Gustafson and Peterson started the tournament in first place with a weight of 19.17 pounds on Thursday, but dropped to fourth in the standings after Day 2 with 15.90-pound bag, which gave them a two-day total of 35.93 pounds.
The duo saved their best bag for the final day, however, as they hauled in an impressive weight of 20.35 pounds, which proved to be the second biggest single day catch of the entire weekend.
“Things really have to work well for you in order to win a tournament like this one, as the competition here is very fierce,” Peterson noted.
“We had a big first day weight, a pretty good second day, and we got a really good catch here on Day 3 to really anchor our win,” he added.
An all Fort Frances team finished right behind Gustafson and Peterson in the standings, as Ryan Hyatt and Karl Wolff came home in the runner-up spot with a three-day weight of 53.84 pounds.
Having entered the day in third position, the first-year tandem were able to move up one spot in the standings with their 17.91-pound bag on Saturday.
They were unable to knock Gustafson and Peterson off of the ‘hot seat,’ however, as they finished 1.58 pounds behind the eventual champions.
“It’s nice to know that we made a lot of good decisions during the weekend, and we stuck with what we thought was going to work,” Wolff said.
Day 2 leaders Troy Norman and Jay Samsal were the final bullet that Gustafson and Peterson had to dodge during the weigh-ins, but their 15.60-pound bag was not enough to move them back into the lead.
That left the tandem with a 51.63-pound total for the weekend, and a third place finish.
“Any time you get to go through a tent with a crowd like that, it gets your heart pumping,” enthused Norman, who is from Fort Frances.
“That was the highlight of my fishing career so far,” added Samsal, who lives in Kenora.
“The guy who won [Gustafson] is one of our best buddies, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” he stressed.
Defending champions Mark Raveling and Mike Luhman briefly held the lead on Saturday, as their 17.17-pound bag gave them a three-day total of 51.39 pounds.
Gustafson and Peterson knocked them out of the top spot shortly afterwards, and the reigning title holders would finish the tournament in fourth place.
“We actually did better in the tournament than we did during our pre-fishing,” Raveling noted.
“Everything went right for us during all three days, and we just did the best we could,” Luhman added.
Dale Labelle of Devlin and Dave Byrnes of Fort Frances moved their way into the top five on Saturday, after they started the day in 14th place.
The local tandem were able to haul in an impressive 18.70-pound bag on Day 3, which gave them a three-day total weight of 50.12 pounds.
“Today [Saturday] was a lot of fun for us,” Labelle smiled.
“We were just happy to be in the top 15, and we were able to catch a lot of fish and have a good bag.
“There was some wicked weather out there though, and I’m just glad everyone was able to get back here safe and sound,” he stressed.
Rounding out the top 10 were Paul Kielb and Jim Picha (49.96 pounds), Lauren Ras and Chuck Olson (49.27), Chad Adrians and Caleb Colwell (48.98), George McDonald and Kevin Erickson (47.47), and Glenn Leroux and Trevor Zimak (47.22).
Prior to the weigh-ins in the 15-boat Championship Flight, Fort Frances’ Bryan Gustafson and Kenora’s Jamie Bruce nearly stole the show on their way to winning the Division II title, which consisted of anglers that were in 16th-52nd place after Day 2.
The 2013 ‘Castin’ for Cash’ winners on Lake Despair reeled in the biggest bag of the tournament on Saturday at 20.36 pounds, which included a 4.89-pound hog that was the biggest single bass that was caught all weekend.
“We gambled a lot during the first two days of the tournament, and we ran up and down looking to run into them [the fish],” Gustafson said.
“We grinded out an area for all it was worth today [Saturday], and we were able to capitalize on every fish that we caught,” he added.
The Division III title, which featured the teams that were ranked from 53rd-89th place after Friday’s weigh-ins, was won by Sean Good and Pete Badiuk, as the Fort Frances duo topped the standings with a 18.19-pound bag.