Three-time Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship (FFCBC) winners Troy Norman and Jay Samsal are going into the tournament in full swing, saying they’ll consider themselves lucky if they can bring a fourth trophy home.
Norman and Samsal have been fishing together for most of their lives, developing a keen awareness and understanding as a team. They’ve had the taste of sweet victory — first in 2016, then again in 2017, and once more in 2021 — but that wasn’t always the case. When they first started competing in the FFCBC back in 2005, the pair came dead last. But throughout the years, Norman and Samsal have stayed consistent in their mindset as they set out on the lake.
“I feel exactly how we felt since day one, we’re gonna go in and try to come out on top. Even if we were in last place, we still felt the same as we do now. We always went in there full swing,” said Norman.
“I always feel like we always have a shot there every year,” said Samsal. “Nothing’s ever easy. Any year that we’ve done well and been lucky enough to win, we’ve always had a few things that just gone right for us. Now, with a little bit of luck this year, we can maybe have some things go right. It’s unpredictable. But we’re gonna work our butts off to try and put ourselves in a good position on Saturday.”
Knowing each other since kindergarten and developing a passion for hunting and fishing around the same age has bonded Norman and Samsal like no other hobby could. Whether it is as fishing partners on the water or as best man at the altar, the two are able to communicate and understand each other like brothers.
“I was the best man at his wedding. He was the best man at mine,” Samsal said. “We work well together because we can disagree but we can also agree on things and we’re able to communicate well on the boat together and feed off of each other’s ideas and energy and it just always seemed to work really well. I mean, we’re not brothers, but we’re as close as brothers could be.”
“It’s not all roses out there, we fight like we’re brothers,” said Norman. “But we always seem to get a collective game plan together and make something work out… He knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking all the time. More times than not, we’ll come to a spot, and we’ll look at the water, look at the wind, the weather, look at the structure. And we’ll both go down to grab the same rod, you know, whether it be a topwater or jerkbait, always in sync with what the water is telling you.”
Samsal recalled their earlier competition back in 2005 when they didn’t know as much about the lake and how to fish and attributed a large portion of their success to fortunate circumstances and their friendship with “some of the best fishermen not only around here, but in North America.”
This year, team entries are higher than normal with a total of around 115 boats.
“I think that’s a good thing. Because it seems like we get some more American teams back. And in the last couple years there have been some pretty solid weights coming in each day. I think people are excited to get back in and fish Rainy again. So that’s good for the town, it’s good for the event, and we’re looking forward to it,” Samsal said.
No doubt, the FFCBC has been the number one thing on this team’s mind. Preparation never really ends, Samsal said, whether it is looking at maps or thinking about the next undiscovered “hidden gem” on the lake.
“I actually haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I go to bed thinking about it,” Samsal said.
Norman advised new anglers to “not get stuck in the memories.” He learned that being open to trying new techniques, areas, and to paying attention to what the water and fish is telling you will help anglers put together the puzzle and make it easier to tackle it every year. “You got to just fish the day for what it is,” he said.
The FFCBC tournament has become a highlight of the summer in the Rainy River District. Many families vacation together and enjoy a host of activities such as the boat parade which takes place prior to the competition.
Norman and Samsal say their kids always look forward to that part of the event. Inheriting their fathers’ passions for fishing, it won’t be long before the little ones are on a boat fishing in the FFCBC tournament too.