Trolling for the favourites

Trying to nail down a prediction on who will win the 2014 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship is far from an exact science.
You could think you’ve found the right formula. But, as the tournament hits its 20th anniversary this year, there’s no question one bad day or even one bad afternoon of fishing for whatever team you select and the whole experiment could blow up in your face.
But I stand behind the concept of nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Besides, what’s the fun in this job if you don’t lob out a few predictions from time to time so, when they go horribly wrong (see NFL predictions, 2013), people can smash them back in your face like a Milos Raonic serve.
So, for your enjoyment/analysis/ridicule, and following in the footsteps of my legendary predecessor, Lucas Punkari, here are my five teams to watch in this year’s FFCBC:

1. Jeff Gustafson/John Peterson
I know, the limb I’m going out on with that choice isn’t likely to break anytime soon.
But the fact is the champions are the champions until someone proves otherwise, so Gustafson and Peterson have to be considered a contender.
True, only two teams have ever repeated as champions (Joe Thrun and Jim Moynagh repeated and then later threepeated, while James and Bill Lindner also won twice in a row), so it’s no leadpipe cinch to win back-to-back years.
But Gustafson has been fishing probably the best of his competitive career over the past two years and he and Peterson were a constant presence in the top 10 for four straight years before winning it all last year.
As Thrun and Moynagh showed, it is possible to figure out The Big Lake on a consistent basis and once you’ve got it figured out, you cement your status as a serious title threat for many years.

2. Joe Thrun/Jim Moynagh
Go ahead, discount the chances of the most dominating dynasty team this tournament has ever known.
Talk about the 11th-place finish last year and the fact, as a tandem, the two haven’t been inside the top 10 on the final day since they finished their remarkable run of three straight titles in 2009 (Thrun teamed with Ben Miller to finish ninth in 2011).
Make your arguments about how the time has passed when Thrun and Moynagh could hang with the big dogs and find the jaw-dropping fish.
Then remember this—after their wins in 1998 and 1999, it took eight years before they got back to the top.
It took three more years for anyone to knock the duo off the top of the mountain.
An unmatched five championships and three more trips into the top 10 say it all—as long as Thrun and Moynagh can cast a line and steer a boat, they will have the rest of the teams looking over their shoulders.

3. Nathan Brigham/Brett Meyers
Rainy Lake is not Lake Despair, so one needs to be careful on how much faith to put in what is technically the hottest team in the field after their win at Castin’ for Cash two weeks ago.
But lest anyone forget, the Emo combo showed they have got the chops to handle the mighty Rainy last year, as they are the reigning kings of the International Falls Bass Championship.
That’s two significant victories in less than a year for a young team which is brandishing skills not possessed by FFCBC veterans 10 and even 20 years their senior.
Brigham and Meyers can both reel them in, which takes the pressure off of one team member having to carry the load for both partners.
The pair would love nothing better than tack the phrase “FFCBC Champions” to their quickly-growing resume.
They have the tools and the desire to get the job done.

4. Lauren Ras/Chuck Olson
You get the feeling the longer this Bemidji duo keeps knocking on the door, the better the chance they will have someone let them into the hall of FFCBC champions at some point.
A heartbreaking second place in 2009 only because Thrun and Moynagh fished the lights out to win by almost eight pounds. Two solid fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2011 and a seventh last year, with all of those years seeing them within seven pounds of top spot each time.
Ras and Olson didn’t hit the top 10 that many times in a six-year stretch without having an excellent grasp of the challenge presented to them and an efficient strategy to solve that challenge.
They are talented, they are hungry and they are motivated to escape the close-but-no-cigar category.
Forget seven—Ras and Olson’s lucky number just might be 20, as in the 20th FFCBC.

5. Richard Rud/Jon Austin
Every year, some team comes out of nowhere to surprise the field and take a decent run at the tourney crown.
But if Rud and Austin make their presence known at the top of the leaderboard, it won’t exactly fit the description of “out of nowhere”.
The International Falls tandem is back together after Rud teamed up with Leroy Wilson last year, finishing 26th in Division 2.
But you don’t have to look too far back to recall how lethal Rud and Austin can be.
A fifth-place finish in 2010 was followed immediately by a championship victory in 2011.
The pair are around the lake all the time and have shown they can figure out where the hotspots are on Rainy Lake and where to steer clear.
Count on them being reenergized in their reunion campaign—and a strong bet to make it title No. 2 come Saturday afternoon.