FFCBC may prove tough bite

All was relatively quiet at the Sorting Gap Marina on Saturday afternoon, save for the dull noise of stage construction under the big tent in preparation for this week’s eighth-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
“It’s just neat to think about how many people will be packing this place [for the final weigh-in this Saturday],” said FFCBC chair Gary Rogozinski while scanning the area from the parking lot.
“Everyone is getting pretty excited. We’re hoping for a big week.”
But a big week may not include big bags of fish. In their chase for the $25,000 first prize, some of the 134 teams competing here experienced their share of woes since descending on Rainy Lake for pre-fishing last week.
“We’re having a difficult time,” said Larry Hullett (Team #4). “One day we can catch fish and then the next day, even though it’s the same kind of day, we get nothing.
“If someone gets 50 pounds, they’re a good bet to win it. You’re going to see teams coming in with one, two, three fish only,” he predicted.
The changing weather and conditions—from the high water levels in June to the intense humidity to the forecast of rain and possible thunderstorms during the derby—could play the biggest factor.
“It’s seems like it’s a little more spotty than normal,” said two-time co-champ Joe Thrun (Team #57). “That’s expected with the water being so high and the late spring.
“We’re seeing some nice fish but they aren’t as grouped up as we’d like.”
Despite the odds, Dean Howard (Team #28) said the savvy anglers will find a way to succeed.
“It’s been a little bit slow but you know there’s a lot of good anglers at this tournament,” he remarked. “Some of them will figure out the fish regardless and you’ll see some big bags coming in.”
“It hasn’t been bad, a few good days. We’ll see who gets the right good days, though,” echoed Theo DeGroot (Team #82)
Others are taking the more cool, confident approach.
While most anglers were on the lake Monday afternoon, Harvey Cochrane and Ed Morrison (Team #116) wrapped up their pre-fishing efforts the previous day.
“We’re averaging 15 pounds a bag so far in some secluded places,” said Cochrane, who won the inaugural Emo Walleye Classic on Rainy River with Oliver Gibbons back in June despite having not pre-fished at all.
“It’s just a matter whether they’ll stay there into the weekend.”
It’s this kind of gamesmanship—giving away some tidbits but not a lot—that Kent Ballan (Team #1), the defending champ with brother, Steve, enjoys the most.
“It’s always fun. Rumours are always flying, it gets the blood pumping a little quicker,” he noted.
Hullett said the success of the Ballans (who bagged a 52.92-pound total over the three days), and runners-up Doug and Zach McBride (Team #2), enjoyed around Reef Point will be hard to duplicate.
“Everybody is going into Reef Point,” he said. “You’ve got boats piling up around there all the time. The pressure can disturb a school.
“Besides Jim [Moynagh] and Joe [Thrun], I don’t know a spot that has produced a champion two years in a row here,” he added. “Every year it changes.”
Denis Barnard and Clint Barton, the 2000 champs who enjoyed success in the south arm but then fell to 88th place last year after trying the same strategy, agreed, adding they’re taking a whole new approach this time around.
“We’re taking a whole new look at the picture and see what we can find. I’m optimistic that once we get going, we’ll be all right,” said Barnard.
“Over the years, I think we’ve been all over the board, from the top to the bottom,” he noted. “No one is looking at us this year and hopefully no one is looking at our spots and we’ll bring in the big fish.”
Thrun, who won the 1998 and 1999 crowns with Moynagh, will look to learn from last year’s experience when they fell to 57th.
“I wouldn’t say we’re starting from scratch,” he said. “We have too good of a foundation.
“After last year’s finish, we have a good feeling for what we should have done. It makes us that much better fishermen.”
The assault on their main holes is no surprise to Ballan.
“We’ve tried a quite a few of the same spots and they’re not biting as quickly as they were last year. We have to really work at it this year,” he said.
“[But] I’m sure every spot the past winners have won on are always going to get hit [during pre-fishing] the most. I wouldn’t say there are a lot of untapped spots that we had.
“There’s always a ‘Plan B.’ Just hopefully we won’t have to use it,” he added.
The first flights launch each day at 7 a.m. starting Thursday, with the Day One and Day Two weigh-ins getting underway at 3:30 p.m. under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina.
The final weigh-in Saturday starts at 2:30 p.m.