And they’re off . . .

Shielding their eyes against the early-morning sun, about 200 people braved a cool wind on the government dock at Pither’s Point to watch anglers take off for the first day of 2001 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship on Thursday.
Before the first flight departed at 7 a.m., spectators scanned the 130 bass boats in Sand Bay looking for familiar faces.
“Where’s Barny, where’s Barny?” asked one youngster as many looked for the familiar Mercury that carried Denis Barnard and Clint Barton to victory in last year’s tournament.
After all the anglers stood in their boats for the U.S. and Canadian national anthems, sang by local resident Melanie Bodnar, Barnard and Barton–Team #1–roared off towards the North Arm to kick off this year’s derby.
But already, one team, Jeff Steinke and David Hyatt (Team #34), had to be towed in late Thursday morning with motor problems after having caught two fish.
Their day was done.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of speculation as to what else will happen between now and Saturday afternoon’s final weigh-in.
Many residents a rooting for the local champions to win again while others are rooting for two-time champions, and last year’s runner-ups, Jim Moynagh and Joe Thrun.
Still others are betting on Al and Jim Lindner (Team #3) of In-Fisherman fame, last year’s Kenora Bass International (KBI) winners Jeff Gustafson and Perry Dubchuk (#23), or Northwestern Ontario’s “fishing team of the year” Joe Pritchett and Hiram Archibald, who won the Shoal Lake tourney and came second in the KBI last year.
Other teams to watch for include writer and radio personality Gord Pyzer and his partner, Dave Smith (Team #122), and Norm Lindsay (Team #4), and Dave Lindsay (Team #10), who were paired up to win the FFCBC in 1995 and 1997.
They now have split up. Norm is fishing with this year’s Shoal Lake winner, Jess Swenson, while Dave in on the water with young angler Colin Gluting.
There also are strong local teams Rod Kitchingman and Rob Ferens (#83) and the young duo of Trevor Clinker and Jason Cain (#113), a.k.a. “The Underdawgs,” who have brought in some good baskets in the past.
Organizers are hoping some records will be broken this year.
“Talking to anglers this year, we’ve heard about some big fish,” noted Linda Plumridge, director of angler services.
“Scott Gobeil [#25] said he caught one over seven pounds,” she added.
“If they’re finding them in pre-fishing this year, there’s a good chance we’ll see them coming in and that would be pretty exciting. That’s a big bass.”
The three-day record for the tournament was set in 1998 by Moynagh and Thrun with 15 fish weighing 58.62 pounds. Barnard and Barton won last year with a total of 55.40 pounds.
The record fish for the tournament, weighing 5.94 pounds, was caught in 1998 by Mark Raveling and Mike Luhman.
Last year’s big fish, weighing 5.48 pounds, was caught by Randy Paishk and Francis Kavanaugh.
On shore, there also is plenty of excitement as the crowds at the Sorting Gap Marina will continue to grow throughout the day with thousands expected for the weigh-ins and evening concerts.
Hundreds more taking part in kids’ games and day-time activities and entertainment under the big tent.
“I just think it’s a whole lot of fun, everyone’s excited,” said Plumridge. “There were people there at 4:30 in the morning putting their boats in and there’s so much to do at the tent. . . .
“At this point, there’s a festive kind of feeling.”