So close—yet so far

By Joey Payeur
Staff writer, Fort Frances Times Ltd.

Bryan Gustafson can’t say he wasn’t warned.
Fellow angler Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson of Kenora (no relation) told the Fort Frances native he would be seeking revenge after Bryan beat Jeff by the narrowest of margins at a bass fishing tournament on Lake of the Woods back in 2012.
“Gussy” and his partner, John Peterson of Bemidji, Mn., picked Saturday to exact that revenge—edging Bryan Gustafson and teammate Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla. out of top spot by less than a quarter-pound to win their second-straight Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship crown.
“It’s payback,” a still-disbelieving Bryan said shortly after he and McMillan’s three-day total of 56.96 fell .22 pounds shy of “Gussy” and Peterson’s first-place weight of 57.14.
“[‘Gussy’] told me then he was going to get me back,” he recalled.
The Fort-Florida duo led after Day 1 on Thursday with the only bag to crack the 20-pound mark at 20.29, then stretched their advantage to almost two pounds after a mark of 19.47 on Day 2.
But lurking in the shadows were the defending champs, who vaulted from fourth place to first on the strength of their 20.20-pound haul on Day 3—which was the best of the day.
Needing 17.43 pounds to dethrone the title-holders, the Gustafson and McMillan wound up with 17.20—leaving the victors to raise their arms and the defeated to wonder what could have been.
“If you told me before the tournament that we would have had 57 pounds for the week, I’d have taken that,” admitted Bryan Gustafson, who still got to split a healthy runner-up prize of $10,000 with McMillan.
“Any other year, we would have won by a couple of pounds.”
McMillan also has had experience in stealing a championship by the slimmest of margins.
“I’ve been on both sides,” he noted. “I’ve won a big tournament before by one ounce.
“It’s a shame. I told Bryan I was only going to fish here if Jeff was fishing in it because I wanted to beat his rear end,” grinned McMillan, who has clashed rods with both Gustafsons on the FLW professional tour in the past.
“But only by a little bit,” he added.
“Bryan reminded me I had said that when we were coming in for the top 10 parade today [Saturday].”
The pair first met when Bryan was competing recently in a tournament on McMillan’s home lake.
“I didn’t know at the time he was the big stick on the lake,” noted Gustafson, who immediately formed a connection with the Floridian, with whom the FFCBC marked their competitive debut as a team.
Gustafson, who topped Division 2 last year with then-partner Jamie Bruce, said he had to deal with a significant role reversal while sharing the boat with McMillan.
“Up here, in this tournament, I usually always do the fun stuff, the chunking and winding, and leave the finesse fishing to my partner,” he explained.
“But [McMillan] came up here and didn’t even have a spinning rod,” Gustafson added.
“So I got stuck on finesse duty this time around.”
McMillan lauded Rainy Lake for its copious quantities of bass, although he’s used to catching bigger fish on average down south.
“It’s hard to compare the two lakes but catching a six-pounder down there is like catching a four-pounder here,” he remarked.
Finishing third was Rene Cadene of Atikokan and his brother, Morgan, who now calls Cranbrook, B.C. home.
Their total of 54.36 lifted them from seventh place entering Day 3.
In fourth place was the all-Fort team of Denis Barnard and Scott Gobeil at 53.70 pounds, with Barnard maintaining his streak of having fished in all 20 FFCBC events—joining Bill Godin of Devlin and Karl Howells of here in that elite club.
Rounding out the top five was David Doty (Cottage Grove, Mn.) and Troy Ostby (Hudson, Wis)., whose bag of 15.89 on Day 3 took them out of contention for the title after they entered Saturday in second place.
Their final total was 53.66 pounds.
Troy Norman of Fort Frances, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, landed in sixth with partner Jay Samsal of Kenora at 51.79, followed by the Minnesota duo of Chad Johnson (Rogers) and John Janousek (Nisswa) at 51.32.
Another sibling tandem, Steve Sandberg (Coon Rapids, Mn.) and Scott Sandberg (Maple Grove, Mn.), moved from outside the top 10 into eighth place at 51.29.
Glenn Leroux and Trevor Zimak of Thunder Bay, the 2011 co-champions, were ninth at 50.85.
Capping the top 10 was the International Falls duo of Jason Pavleck and Bill Walls, who struggled on Day 3 with a catch of just 13.62 after consecutive days over 18 pounds to wind up at 50.44.
George McDonald and Kevin Erickson of Minnesota captured Division 2—open to all those teams outside the top 40 after Day 2—with a haul of 18.70 pounds.
The big fish on Day 1 went to Scott Bonnema (Forest Lake, Mn.) and Mark Fisher (Anoka, Mn.) with a 4.59-pound whopper.
But that took a backseat to the big fish of Day 2—and the entire tournament—reeled in by Leroux and Zimak, which weighing in at a massive 5.08 pounds (the first fish caught in the last three years that topped five pounds).
The Sandbergs had the big fish Saturday (4.85).