Gamble pays off for FFCBC winners

Mark Libitka and Dave Bennett took a big gamble this past weekend at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, hoping it would pay off in the long run.
It did—to the tune of $50,000.
Libitka, of Kenora, and Bennett, of Sioux Narrows, stumbled onto a great school of fish during their pre-fishing on Rainy Lake and stuck with it throughout the three-day event to capture the 12th-annual FFCBC title.
However, instead of simply sitting on the school for three solid days, both Libitka and Bennett made a conscious decision to only fish their spot until noon on Days One and Two in the hopes of saving some fish for the final day.
“We hoped we weren’t making a mistake trying to save those fish but it turned out they were still there,” Bennett said minutes after hoisting the FFCBC trophy on stage in front of a packed house under the big tent at the Sorting Gap Marina.
The decision to save some fish for the final day was undoubtedly a lesson learned from last year’s tournament.
Libitka and Bennett led the rest of the field heading into the final day of competition a year ago when they became obsessed with catching “the big one.”
Their obsession ended up costing them the tournament as they faltered on Day Three, finishing behind both the teams of Bill Godin and Norm Lindsay and the eventual champions Dave and Lee Lindsay.
Although Libitka and Bennett weren’t leading heading into the final day of competition this year—that distinction belonged to Godin and Lindsay—they were within striking distance.
The pair occupied second spot with a two-day combined weight of 36.41 pounds—only half a pound behind the leaders.
As they had the two previous days, the angling duo set out Saturday morning for the spot that had yielded so many good fish.
Despite a slow morning, they stuck it out with the belief the fish would eventually start biting.
It was then that irony struck.
Bennett saw a big bass boil on the surface near their boat and immediately cast his line into the area.
According to Bennett, what had to be a five pound bass took the bait.
“I set the hook and it (the bass) skyrocketed and threw that hook back at me,” he said. “I just about got sick to my stomach.”
After spending all of Day Three last year searching for “the big one,” Bennett had not only found it but hooked it as well, only to lose the fish moments later.
Bennett was crushed but Libitka was quick to reassure his partner that they weren’t about to endure a repeat of last year’s final day.
“Mark said, ‘Listen, there’s more of them here’,” Bennett said. “Then he caught another one right away after that which calmed us down.”
Both anglers spent the rest of the afternoon catching bass and improving the weight in their live well.
By the time they were due to return to the Sorting Gap for the weigh-in, both Libitka and Bennett felt confident they would be among the leaders.
Then came the wait.
As the second place team heading into Day Three of the tournament, Libitka and Bennett were scheduled to be the second last team weighed-in on the final day.
“It was a hot, nervous wait,” Bennett said. “Sitting out in that line up for so long of course you get a few whispers floating around sooner or later. We knew it was going to be really, really close.”
Finally it was their turn to be towed under the big tent while sitting in their boat.
Morgan Cadene and Doug McBride stood onstage eagerly awaiting Libitka and Bennett’s arrival and wondering if their weight was going to hold up.
The crowd cheered as the latest team to enter the big tent pulled their sizable catch out of their live well.
Two minutes later, the verdict was in.
Libitka and Bennett had overtaken Cadene and McBride for first place courtesy a 17.82 pound bag.
Their three-day combined weight of 54.23 was now the mark to beat with only the team of Bill Godin and Norm Lindsay left to weigh-in.
Godin and Lindsay repeated the now familiar routine of being towed under the tent while throwing goodies to fans both young and old.
Once they took their fish from the live well, Godin and Lindsay made their way onstage for the final weigh-in of the day.
The crowd hushed in anticipation and seconds later confusion reigned.
Emcee Paul Morrison, who up to that point hadn’t made a glaring error in two-plus days hosting the event, misannounced the final weight.
Morrison announced Godin and Lindsay’s weight at 18.60 pounds when in reality it was 16.80 pounds.
The crowd erupted in cheers for Godin and Lindsay and then were taken aback as Libitka and Bennett hoisted the trophy.
The only people who knew the true winners were all standing on stage.
“We saw the scale and we knew we had it,” Libitka said afterwards.
There they stood, Bennett with tears in his eyes and Libitka holding his child in one arm, the trophy in the other as Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blared out of speakers.
Afterwards, both anglers did their best to express how they were feeling.
“It’s a dream come true,” Bennett said.
“I’ve been fishing tournaments for the better part of 10 years. You dream of taking the number one spot,” he added. “To do it on the biggest stage in Northwestern Ontario, or probably in Canadian bass fishing, it’s just incredible. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
“It was sweeter (than last year’s third place experience) because we were a lot more relaxed,” Libitka remarked.
“Last year we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants. Today we knew where they (the fish) were,” he added.
The gamble had indeed paid off.