Misfortune leads to opportunity for young anglers

Under ideal circumstances, this is a story that shouldn’t have been written. But the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship often sees less-than-ideal situations and this year was no exception.
It started around 2 a.m. on Friday when most of the anglers were fast asleep dreaming of bass being caught—or having nightmares of ones being lost.
But it was right then that anglers like Ted and Dean Capra, Joe Thrun, Gary Lake, John Craig, and Mike Schulz were about to face dire circumstances.
The first domino was knocked over in Room 24 of the Bayview Motel here when Ted Capra woke up Lake to say he had difficulty breathing.
“He was asking me to help him because he was having a really hard time breathing and got his son [Dean, who was also at the Bayview],” Lake recalled.
Things didn’t look good, but when Dean Capra and Lake suggested that Ted go to the hospital here, he wouldn’t hear it, saying he would only see his specialist in Minneapolis.
So they started packing and by 4 a.m., Dean put his dad in the passenger seat of the car and made their way back to the Twin Cities.
“He wanted to go home and said he would feel safer there, but he really should’ve went [to the hospital] here,” said Lake.
It’s not like Ted Capra came into the FFCBC healthy to begin with. A few days before the tournament, he started heading back to see his doctor after a couple of days pre-fishing on Rainy Lake.
But on his way, he made a U-turn back to Fort Frances.
“I was a little leery about that because I knew things weren’t going to get any better and they didn’t,” Lake noted.
So there was Lake, who had no weight after Day 1 and now was without a partner. And soon Thrun, who was Dean Capra’s partner, got the call that he would be solo, too.
“[Dean] phoned me to let me know what was going on and give me time to find a new partner,” said Thrun, who told some tournament directors of what had happened and then was assigned 16-year-old Bryan Gustafson.
Gustafson, whose family owns the Great Bear on Highway 11 just past Reef Point Road, got the call at about 5:45 a.m. and was at the tent at the Sorting Gap Marina ready to go by 6:25.
So that took care of Thrun, but Lake still needed a partner.
He headed over to the Harbourage Restaurant for breakfast, which he does every morning of the tournament, and hoped to find someone who might know what to do.
Instead he found Craig, who also was looking for a replacement after his partner, Schulz, woke up with a migraine that left him essentially motionless.
“I didn’t know what to do, but I decided to get all my stuff ready and came ready, and I knew they would find someone to fish with me,” said Craig, who was sitting in 89th place after Day 1 with 10.25 pounds.
Then a funny thing happened.
FFCBC weighmaster Paul Cousineau and his two sons, Chandler and Donovan, who have been coming to the Harbourage for breakfast with the anglers for years, showed up.
“Gary Lake comes up to me and says, ‘Paul, I need to ask you a favour—can your two boys go fishing today?’” recalled Cousineau.
“Donovan jumped all over it and went with Gary, and then John asked Chandler and he said, ‘You bet,’” added Cousineau.
But there’s more to it than that—Chandler is just nine years old while Donovan is only 11.
“At first I was apprehensive, thinking, ‘Oh man, it would be nice to have someone that can catch fish because it’s tough out there,’” said Craig.
But things worked out well for the pair as they were able to weigh in 13.35 pounds on Friday, which pumped them up to 61st place.
“I’ve fished with younger guys and older guys, but nobody could keep up with this guy,” Craig said as he put his hand on Chandler Cousineau’s shoulder.
“He never gave up all day, never sat down, and fished all day,” Craig added. “He’s nice to be with and he likes to talk.”
Nobody knows that better than Chandler’s mom, Lisa, who had said, “It’ll be interesting to see what John has to say on the day because Chandler loves to talk.”
“I almost caught one, but it was a 20-pound northern,” said the youngster. “I saw a tiny flash of light and started reeling up, but then I was like, ‘Where’s my hook?’ but the northern took it.”
At least Chandler Cousineau’s name won’t be lost, as he is now known as the youngest angler to have ever fished the FFCBC, which was a surprise to both the nine-year-old and Craig.
“I am? I thought there was a baby in the tournament,” Chandler queried.
“No, no. But that is great news,” said Craig, who hails from Prior Lake, Mn. “I’m 54 years old and to get in the record books with my name right next to the youngest angler, that’s not bad.”
Schulz would feel better come Day 3 on Saturday and the two original partners would finish in 56th place with a total weight of 35.99 pounds.
As for Lake and Donovan Cousineau, they also had a good day Friday by bringing in 12.18 pounds to move them to 120th place. But the day didn’t start out well as Lake was still thinking about the health of his partner.
“This morning was tough watching him drive away and knowing the condition that he was in,” Lake said after the weigh-in.
But what got Lake going was having a spotter boat make a special trip to relay the news that Ted Capra had made it to the hospital in Minneapolis at about 10 a.m.
“I fished a lot better after that because I was dwelling on it. You can’t help but think about it, he’s a good friend of mine,” said Lake.
When Capra got to the hospital, it was revealed that his heart was out-of-rhythm and had been since July 11, “and just slowly started to deteriorate,” Dean Capra said yesterday afternoon.
His dad had a procedure done on his heart on Monday, which seems to have worked. “His heart is back in rhythm, and he should be back to normal in a couple of weeks,” Dean Capra remarked.
After being relayed the news that the Capras had made it to the hospital, Lake then was able to enjoy the company of Donovan Cousineau.
“I take a lot of kids fishing and this was the most pleasurable experience I’ve had,” Lake said. “He’s probably the most well-mannered kid I’ve ever been around.
“And it was to the point where, ‘Hey just call me Gary—Mr. Lake isn’t cutting it any more.”
It wasn’t only Lake, who captured the FFCBC back in 1996, who had fun in the boat.
“Mr. Lake is an awesome fisherman,” said young Cousineau, having obviously not heeded Lake’s advice. “He worries about two people on the boat and not just himself, and he was a lot of fun.”
The two would go out again on Day 3 and net 8.33 pounds for a total of 20.51 (116th place).
Thrun, a two-time winner of the FFCBC, hadn’t fared very well on Day 1 with Dean Capra as they only brought in 1.33 pounds. But he managed to finish in 117th place with Gustafson with a total weight of 20.19 pounds.
“I learned so much from him,” said Gustafson. “He knows so much about fishing structure and things like that, and he’s a really good guy.”
So, three young anglers were able to be part of the “big show.” And though it was under less-than-ideal circumstances, it still was able to shine some light on situations that looked bleak at first.
“It’s a sad thing to happen,” said Paul Cousineau. “But like everything else, something bad happens to someone and that sometimes helps somebody else.”