Young duo capture inaugural bass tourney

At 20 and 22 respectively, Scott Dingwall and Jeff Gustafson’s combined ages amount to less than the total number of years of fishing experience held by some tournament anglers, so perhaps it was appropriate that such a young team should emerge victorious in the youngest bass tournament in the area.
Last weekend, Dingwall, from Dryden, and Gustafson, from Kenora, bested a field of 32 teams to take the inaugural International Falls Bass Championship with a two-day total of 27.73 pounds and took home the first prize of $5,000 US for their efforts.
Steve Mattson of Nisswa, Mn. and Travis Peterson of Bemidji were a close second with 27.11 pounds, while third-place honours went to the local duo of Dale LaBelle of Devlin and Karl Howells of Fort Frances, who bagged 25.78 pounds.
Dallas Mosbeck of Emo and his partner, Mike Wilson of International Falls finished a respectable seventh with a total weight of 21.57 pounds.
Two other local teams didn’t fair as well, however.
Doug McBride (who along with Steve Ballan won the Emo Walleye Classic back in May) and his partner, Tom Forstrom of International Falls got off to a good start on Friday and found themselves in third place, but came up empty on Saturday to wind up in 23rd place.
Dwayne Pihulak of Fort Frances and Jason Kasprick of Keewatin managed to find fish on both days, but not enough big ones to mount a challenge. They wound up in 28th place.
The unique format of this event proved to be a challenge for many anglers. The field was split into two groups with each group spending one day on Rainy River and the other on Rainy Lake.
As events unfolded, it became apparent that the river was consistently yielding the bigger bags, so the key to success was mastering the fickle waters of Rainy Lake.
It was here that Dingwall and Gustafson showed their mettle. After bringing in 13.74 pounds on Friday, they found themselves in fifth place and the only team in the top 10 who fished the lake that day.
The others had spent the day on Rainy River and had to contend with Rainy Lake on Saturday, where gusty winds and rain squalls appeared to turn off the bite.
But the river was less affected by the weather so Dingwall and Gustafson had no trouble finding fish, bringing back 13.99 pounds. It was not the largest haul off the river that day, but combined with their Friday results, was enough to edge out Peterson and Mattson by a mere .62 pounds.
“We were pretty lucky,” Gustafson acknowledged after accepting the winners’ plaque on Saturday. “We had never fished on this water before. We just came down and had a good weekend,” he added.
“It was really close, though.”
Despite their relative youth, the Dynamic Duo are no strangers to tournament angling. Both have competed in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, and Gustafson is fresh off a second-place finish in the Kenora Bass International on August 6.
This was, however, only the second time they had fished together in a tournament—their only other pairing being in a one-day event at Falcon Lake, Man. earlier in the spring.
What makes their accomplishment even more noteworthy is the fact they had spent so little time prefishing.
In fact, they did not even register for the tournament until last Tuesday because they had originally planned to fish in the Morson Bass International, which also took place last weekend.
With only two days to prepare, their decision to focus most of their limited time on the lake proved to be the correct one as they quickly found a winning pattern.
“We were relatively happy with what we got off the lake yesterday (Friday), Dingwall noted, adding they caught about 15 fish that day.
The river, however, was a different story.
“There was a ton of fish in the river,” Gustafson remarked. “Not just bass; there were walleye, lots of northerns. There were sturgeon jumping all over the place. We even caught some suckers.
“Combined all species, I bet we caught 75 fish.”
Two different bodies of water required two different techniques. On the lake, they concentrated on structure and fished for the most part in depths of 10 feet or less. The fish were spread out and required them to cover a lot of water to find them, but find them they did.
“Out on the lake, we fished mostly top-water baits,” said Gustafson. “We were runnin’ and gunnin’, hitting as many spots as we could.”
On the river, they stayed close to the dam and worked the bottom with heavy jigs and tubes.
Like Dingwall and Gustafson, LaBelle and Howells recognized early on that the tournament would likely be won or lost on the lake, so they too concentrated their prefishing efforts there and again, the homework paid off.
“It was a tough bite (on the lake), but we had confidence,” LaBelle remarked. “We prefished the lake mostly because we had talked to others who believed the lake would win it because everybody would get fish on the river,” he explained.
LaBelle and Howells were over two pounds off the pace on Friday, but an exceptional day on the river Saturday vaulted them into third place.
Like Dingwall and Gustafson, they too fished shallow on the lake but stayed shallow on the river as well, where they were farther downstream than the champions.
The champions are automatically entered into next year’s Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, but since both Dingwall and Gustafson are already in (with different partners), the spot reserved for them will instead go back into the draw to be held in early October.