Our weekend on Rainy Lake

The 20th-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship took place this past weekend on Rainy Lake.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the tournament started thanks to a group of people in Fort Frances who saw the great smallmouth fishery that exists on Rainy Lake and made it into a world-class fishing event.
In my column last week, I talked about my love of the event and the lake. I’ve had a lot of great memories over the years and look forward to the tournament all year long.
It and the KBI both are at the top of the list for me.
Last year, my partner, John Peterson from Bemidji, Mn., and I had a great tournament and managed to win thanks to an awesome final day in some tough weather.
This year, we managed to win it again but it probably was even more special because we had a pretty tough pre-fish. We knew the area we were fishing had the right quality—we just had to figure out where to catch them.
I pre-fished for four days and really struggled for the first three. On the final day of practice, we ended up getting the boat way back in a shallow bay, found a little bit of rock mixed in with the bulrushes and lily pads, and discovered some fish.
The numbers were not good but the size was right.
We caught a couple of four-pound fish on topwater baits, then cut the hooks off so we could see when a fish hit and mark its location on my GPS, but not actually catch it.
These were single fish living on a single rock or boulder, and we were hopeful they would be there for the next few days.
When the tournament started last Thursday, we were able to catch a pretty good limit the first day, including several of the fish we had found the day before.
We were in second place at the end of Day 1—a pound-and-half behind leaders Bryan Gustafson and Brandon McMillan.
Day 2 proved tougher but we managed to put five good fish in the boat before the end of the day doing the same thing—fishing fast in shallow water with topwater baits.
We weighed 18 pounds for the second-straight day but dropped to fourth place. The Day 1 leaders, meanwhile, increased their lead to almost three pounds, so we figured we probably were fishing for second.
One Day 3, we took a gamble and started fishing in an area that has been good to us in the past. We had pre-fished it but did not catch anything—but that was before we had figured out how shallow these fish actually were.
We ended up catching a couple of big four-pound plus fish, which was huge. We then spent the rest of the day fishing the area that had been good to us the first couple of days and just caught five good ones again, but they were big.
Day 3 was our best day of the tournament, so we figured we might have a chance to win if our buddies, Bryan and Brandon, slipped up a little bit. Our 20.20-pound catch put us in the lead when we weighed in and we were very lucky to barely squeak out the win by a quarter-pound.
Talk about a tight finish in a three-day event!
For the weight that we caught, it probably looked like we caught a lot of fish but that was not the case. We did know we had the potential for these big weights fishing the way we were, though, and that we probably would get six or seven chances per day to catch the big fish it would take to win.
We stuck to our plan and in the end it worked out. However, it was not without many tense moments wondering if we would ever get that fifth good fish, especially on Days 2 and 3.
We could have fished other parts of the lake and caught good numbers of fish, but we just didn’t feel like we would get the right quality in those areas.
Many thanks to the volunteers and organizers of this event—it truly is a world-class bass tournament. It really is awesome how the people of Fort Frances support these community events; it really makes it what it is.
I can remember when I used to play high school hockey and how good the support always was for their home-town team.
Finally, I know how bad my buddy, Bryan Gustafson, wanted to win this tournament and we did feel bad that it ended up as close as it did. But I also know he’ll get the chance to win it in the near future.
Thank you to his parents, Greg and Shelley, for making dinner for all the anglers who stopped in at their place on their way off the water every night during the pre-fishing days and for always offering up help in any way for everybody.
I can’t wait to get back down there again for next year’s tournament, it really is an awesome lake and event.
For full results from this year, visit www.canadianbass.com
Next week, the Kenora Bass International takes place on Lake of the Woods so starting this weekend, my partner, Chris Savage, and I will be getting ready for that.
Next Tuesday at 6 p.m., there will be a boat parade through downtown Kenora. I encourage as many teams as possible that can find the time to take part in the boat parade to do so, and for folks to bring their kids out for this event.
There will be lots of goodies thrown out by all the boats and it’s a lot of fun for everybody.