Jeff Gustafson and John Peterson entered the giant tent at the Sorting Gap Marina atop “Gussy’s” tournament boat. They were the last team to weigh in for the third and final day of the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship (FFCBC).
As the two-time champs tossed candy to the audience, somehow Gustafson’s contagious smile didn’t transfer to Ian Waterer and Motei Demers who sat in the hot seats. A pair of dead fish penalties weighed heavy on them as Gustafson and Peterson hoisted up big bass after big bass to show the roaring crowd.
Then as the four remaining anglers stood on stage, everyone did the math. Gustafson and Peterson needed a 17.78-lb. bag to take home the trophy. The dominant anglers had exceeded that weight in both previous days already, earning 20.27 lbs on day one, and 19.58 lbs on day two.
While five Rainy Lake smallmouth thrashed in the clear bin on the scale, almost every set of eyes sat fixed on MC Shane Beckett, waiting for the announcement. Waterer and Demers watched the stage floor instead.
Demers wiped the side of his forehead. Waterer pumped the air. They did it.
“I’ve never been on the lake, so this is a pretty outstanding outcome,” Demers said with a chuckle.
On day one, the young team earned the tournament’s biggest bag since 2003 with 21.72 lbs. But after a 16.2-lb. bag on day two, they had an uphill battle to close out the tournament.
“Today we had a lot of pressure,” said Demers. “We knew we had a lot of ground to make up.”
Going into day three, Waterer and Demers sat two spots back of first and almost a full two pounds from the top of the leaderboard.
“After the first day, we thought we were untouchable. After day two, we thought we couldn’t find a fish in SeaWorld,” said Waterer. “Today we were down and out, but we bounced back at the end of the day — we caught two really nice ones and saved the day. We hugged, but we had no idea what had just transpired.”
With multiple top-tier fisherman coming through the tent with big bags, and a pair of dead fish penalties costing the boys a quarter pound each, Waterer said they evaded many challenges.
“We dodged bullet after bullet,” he said.
Waterer said they use ice and other fish-care tactics, but since the bass had been hooked quite deep, they couldn’t be saved.
“It was first thing in the morning, so getting over that emotionally was the biggest hurdle of the day,” said Waterer.
He mentioned during weigh-ins that it was his first time fishing a tournament where he just wanted the day to be over.
For the first two days of tournament fishing, teams had to deal with strong winds, and on day three, lots of rain.
Waterer said they were catching bass in two feet, and in 42 feet. Demers said with far less weed this year, that might have helped push the fish out deeper.
Waterer, a Winnipeg lad, has fished the FFCBC twice before, while Keewatin-born Demers had his first taste of Rainy Lake fishing this past weekend.
Their 57.63-lb. three-day total earned them a $9,000 cheque. Demers said their first-place winnings will go to gas money for next year.
The pair also won the Kenora Bass International (KBI) last year, which is regarded as one of the biggest bass tournaments in Canada. They are set to compete in KBI again next Thursday.