Strategy or trash talking? Anglers playing ‘psyche’ game leading up to derby

After days–if not weeks–of pre-fishing, it’s now do-or-die time for the 130 teams hitting the water Thursday morning in the seventh-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
But while pre-fishing may have helped anglers find the hot spots, or at least discover fishing patterns they can use during the real thing, the days leading up to the tournament also is a time of gamesmanship between the competitors.
“The BS is flying pretty heavy. The psyche games are on,” said former FFCBC champ Gary Lake on how the fun trash talking among the anglers has begun.
“That’s all part of it. We have as much fun in the motels and restaurants in the evening as we do out at the lake,” he added.
But for Steve Luhman, a 26-year angler who will be making his fourth FFCBC appearance with partner Glen Getschel, pre-fishing is serious business, saying it accounts for 95 percent of a team’s weight in the tournament.
“If you don’t spend an adequate time out there, learning where the fish are and what they’re doing during the day, you’ll be in trouble,” he warned.
Luhman admitted their pre-fishing brought average results, adding weather is the key to how the three-day derby will shape up.
“We’re concerned about the cold weather coming in but it’s mostly dropping in the 70s [F] next week and it’s been in the 80s and 90s all [this] week,” the Deer Park, Wis. native said Sunday morning.
“It’s gonna be a big reflection on how the bite goes.”
Rick Jansen, making his second FFCBC appearance after finishing 15th last year with Scott Schinderle, said safety also is a big reason to pre-fish.
“There’s so many rocks and stumps out there that aren’t marked on the map and don’t have buoys on them, so if you don’t know the water, you may end up in trouble.
“It’s important to learn the water,” he said.
Schinderle admitted they’re still getting a handle on Rainy Lake’s patterns, checking in every weekend from their home in Hibbing, Mn. to find those key spots.
“We’ve been up here every weekend for the last four weeks and it’s been different every time,” he noted. “We’ll get average bags of fish and a couple of times really nice bags.
“They’re a little slower than what we’d like but we’re hoping it’ll turn on for us later,” he said.
Defending champs Denis Barnard and Clint Barton were the first local team to capture the FFCBC crown. But despite their recent low pre-fishing outputs, Barnard said there’s no need to panic.
“I’ve been exploring new areas of the lake. I’ve found it quite tough. We’ve been getting fish but nothing to write home about,” he said. “The bass are in a transition period from their spawning grounds to summer grounds and I think come Thursday, they’re going to be home.
“What we’re doing in these last few days will be really important,” he stressed.
Among the more veteran teams is the uncle-nephew duo of Al and James Lindner. They make their living off the sport as producers of “In Fisherman” on TNN and are well-travelled, competing in tournaments across the continent throughout their careers.
Al Lindner had quite an elaborate take on how pre-fishing will affect the tournament.
“The biggest thing facing us now—and we’ve seen this every year since the tournament started—is that everybody’s learned how to fish up and down these systems,” he said.
“These fish start to get conditioned after intelligent fishing patterns. This is going to be more of a presentation thing than a location thing.
“They get hooked three or five times, they get conditioned to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to hit that thing any more.’”
But Lake prefers not to dwell too much into the detailed aspects of pre-fishing.
“When it comes to fishing, I don’t keep notes or logs. I just remember spots,” said the 30-year tournament veteran. “Most anglers can go back to a lake 10 years later and just remember spots just like their own living room.”
“Most of the stuff I have on Rainy Lake I keep in my head,” agreed Barnard. “The fish change so much from day to day so what I have learned today is in my head and it’s stored there until tournament day.”
For his part, James Lindner isn’t buying memory as an advantage here. He agreed with his uncle that as long as you know the lake, five to seven days is an adequate amount of time to pre-fish.
“A lot of local anglers tend to live on memories and the thing is you can’t do that in a tournament,” he explained. “You’re better off to do what was going on in the past two or three days and erase all previous knowledge of the lake.
“That’s why [at] these tournament, pros can come in and beat these guys on a consistent basis.
“[For] the guys who win this, luck has nothing to do with it. Whoever wins did their homework and made some right decisions. There’s no luck,” he stressed.
Luhman, whose best FFCBC finish was eighth in 1998, revels in the competition this tournament—with its large field—provides.
“Believe it or not, we’re not here for the money,” he remarked. “It’s the thrill of the competition and a lot of people don’t understand that. For somebody to do well for a career, that’s hard to do consistently.”
Lake has competed in every FFCBC, winning the second one in 1996 with Randy Amenrude. And he admitted he just can’t get enough of his favourite tournament.
“This is, bar none, the best tournament I’ve fished,” he enthused. “The community is behind it. You walk into a grocery store and they’re talking about it.”
Al Lindner said this tournament is something all the anglers—included he and James—take extremely seriously.
“We’re staying focused even though we’re having a lot of fun,” he said. “But believe me, our intention is to win this thing. I didn’t come here day in day out to say, ‘I like the weather. I like the lake. I like the community. I like the people.’
“I like to win, baby,” he laughed.
“We’ve got three wins between us at Lake of the Woods [Kenora Bass International] and haven’t won this one yet,” Lindner continued. “We’ve been second, third, fourth, you name it.
“We really want to pull this off. I want to win Rainy Lake just once!”