District duo in hunt for third Falls bass title

Lucas Punkari

They’ve been, far and away, the most consistent pairing in the previous six editions of the International Falls Bass Championship.
And heading into their seventh appearance at the event, which gets underway this Friday morning, two-time champs Jeff Gustafson and Scott Dingwall of Kenora are looking to bag another victory.
“We are in it to win it,” Gustafson noted.
“These type of events are always hard to win, and we don’t expect it to be easy for us,” he stressed.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure a few things out in the pre-fishing that’ll get us on the right quality of fish, and we are going to go and try to catch some big fish that’ll hopefully help us win the tournament,” he reasoned.
“No one’s won this event three times, and we are shooting to be the first,” added Dingwall.
Gustafson and Dingwall got off to a great start in the inaugural year of the tournament back in 2005, which they entered shortly before the competition began, reeling in a two-day total of 27.73 pounds to capture the title.
“I think we showed up a night or two before the event began,” Dingwall recalled.
“I remember that we brought two boats down for the weekend,” he added. “One was a 14-footer with a 25 horsepower motor to run in the river that we borrowed from Jeff’s dad, and the other boat was a 19-foot Ranger walleye boat that I borrowed from my dad to use on the lake.
“We went up to the dam on the very first day, and on our very first cast Jeff caught a 20-inch smallmouth that was close to about five pounds right off of the bat.
“Once that happened, we had a pretty good idea right away that it was going to be a really good week.”
The Rainy River also ended up being the key location for Dingwall and Gustafson last year. They had a strong showing there on the final day to accumulate a two-day total of 30.05 pounds to become the first team to win multiple titles at the tournament.
“There was a lot more stiffer competition last year than when we won the first time, so I’m a little bit proud of that,” Gustafson noted.
“The fishing on the river for the first few years was very good, as it was pretty easy to catch five nice bass,” he remarked. “But in the last couple of years, we have really struggled on the river.
“Last year in the pre-fishing, I had a couple of spots way down the river, which ended up being something like a 30-mile boat ride, where I had caught a couple of really nice fish,” Gustafson continued. “So we took a gamble and decided to head down there on the Saturday.
“We made it down to those two good spots, and we ended up getting the biggest catch of the tournament in about a 15-minute span, so it all paid off for us,” he enthused.
In between the two tournament titles, the Kenora duo always has been among those contending for the win come Saturday. They had three-straight third-place showings from 2006-08 to go along with a fourth in 2009.
When asked what’s made them such a successful tandem at the International Falls event over the years, both felt their good showings come from having similar personalities and styles both on and off the water.
“I think we’re both on the same page as far as how we want to fish,” Gustafson said.
“We both like to fish very fast and cover a lot of ground when looking for active fish,” he explained. “We go and make a few casts and if there’s active fish on that spot, hopefully we’re going to catch them.
“But if there is not, we just go and carry on.
“We’ve never had an argument in the boat about where we are going to fish in all of the years that we have fished together, and that’s important because you want to have fun with who are you are fishing in these events because that makes you a better team,” Gustafson stressed.
“I’m always optimistic when I am in the boat with Jeff,” added Dingwall.
“He’s a very good fisherman, and he’s better than anyone I know out on the water, and he also seems to have that little bit of lucky that you need in order to win,” he noted.
“When we are together, good things just seem to happen it seems.”
Gustafson and Dingwall planned to head down to International Falls earlier this week in preparation for the event, with the key focus of their attention being the Rainy River, which anglers have to fish during one of the two days of the tournament (in addition to another day on the U.S. side of Rainy Lake).
“From what I understand, the water is very low right up there so I don’t know what we are going to do,” Gustafson admitted.
“We probably won’t run my big boat if it’s really low, so there’s a good chance I might bring down my 14-foot Lund to run on the river so that we can go where we want to go,” he explained.
“I think fishing on the lake should be pretty good as long as the weather stays relatively warm,” noted Dingwall.
“Speaking with a few of the locals, they have been saying that the water levels are very low on the river and that’s going to be a challenge navigating the river, but you never really know until you get there.
“Usually it ends up being something completely different than as to what you think it’s going to be on the water,” he reasoned.