District anglers second at bass tourney in Falls

Dale LaBelle and Karl Howells are hoping the third time is lucky.
The pair of anglers, from Devlin and Fort Frances, respectively, were the runners-up at the second-annual International Falls Bass Championship that wrapped up Saturday—an improvement of one spot from their third-place finish in the inaugural event a year earlier.
“We’re moving up,” Howells said shortly after the awards presentation late Saturday afternoon. “I hope we get there [first place] next year.”
LaBelle and Howells finished the two-day tournament with a total weight of 28.57 pounds—a definite improvement on their 25.76 total in 2005.
However, their catch was not enough to hold off John Janousek and Chad Johnson, who finished atop the leaderboard with a tourney record-setting catch of 30.75 pounds.
While finishing in the top three for a second-straight year was quite an achievement, both LaBelle and Howells couldn’t help but be a little disappointed they didn’t win.
“It’s disappointing but that’s fishing,” Howells reasoned. “We just wait for it to happen [another team coming along with a heavier basket] and hopefully it doesn’t.”
The International Falls Bass Championship is unique in that half of the 60-team field fishes Rainy Lake on the first day while the other half fishes the Rainy River.
The two groups then switch venues on Day 2.
LaBelle and Howells spent the first day fishing Rainy Lake—widely regarded as the tougher of the two locations in terms of finding good-sized bass.
“We fished the lake the first day, which is always tough, but we got some decent fish that we were happy with,” LaBelle recalled.
The duo caught a total of 11.56 pounds on the lake to put them in 15th place—within striking distance of the leaders heading into the second day of competition.
“Today we had the river and we had a real good time on the river,” LaBelle said Saturday afternoon. “We caught a lot more fish.”
Howells, in particular, had an outstanding day.
Several of the teams that had weighed in prior to the eventual runners-up on Saturday afternoon, and who happened to be fishing near them, made a point of telling the crowd that Howells had had a huge day—and that they could expect a show when it came time for he and LaBelle to take the stage.
And they did not disappoint, bringing in the single heaviest one-day catch in the tournament’s brief history (17.01 pounds).
“I had one of those days where you throw it out there and the fish are there every cast,” Howells said. “It just happens once in a while, but it’s the first time it ever happened to me that good.”
The impressive catch propelled LaBelle and Howells into first place with only three boats left to weigh in.
“We were sure the guys on the lake probably weren’t going to beat us,” LaBelle recalled thinking as they waited for the final teams to make their way under the tent at Smokey Bear Park.
“We were waiting for John [Janousek] and Chad [Johnson] to come through,” he noted. “We thought they were the guys that were probably going to beat us and they were.”
The pain of being defeated when they were so close to realizing their goal was assuaged somewhat by the $5,500 (U.S.) prize for second place.
Afterwards, both LaBelle and Howells joked about their plans for the winnings.
“We’ll probably buy a few beers later,” LaBelle quipped.
“I have to phone my wife and daughter,” Howells explained. “They’re in Duluth, so I may not have any winnings.”
LaBelle and Howells also won $500 (U.S.) for netting the heaviest bag on Day 2 of the competition.
Janousek and Johnson, meanwhile, took home $10,000 (U.S.) for being the tournament champs.
They also earned an automatic berth into the 2007 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship.
The defending champions, Scott Dingwall and Jeff Gustafson, put in a strong performance again this year, finishing third with a two-day combined weight of 26.62 pounds—netting them $3,000 (U.S.) in prize money.
Mark Fisher and Scott Bonnema finished fourth with a total weight of 26.50 pounds and took home $1,900 (U.S.)
Rounding out the top five was the team of Duane and John Peterson, whose two-day total weight of 25.53 pounds earned them $1,300 (U.S.)
Dave Genz and Larry Bollig pocketed $500 (U.S.) for netting the big bass on Day 1—a 4.31-pound lunker. Dave Skallett and Steve Ladany had the big bass on Day 2 with their tourney record-setting fish of 4.82 pounds.
Mike and Ryan Teigen won $500 (U.S.) for having the big bag on Day 1 (16.71 pounds).