Gibbins first to repeat as RRWT champions

Ken Johnston

After Day 1 of the 10th-annual Rainy River Walleye Tournament, it looked as though Team #16 was poised to win it all.
But what a difference a day can make!
John Blight and Sean Gaudry quit fishing at 11:15 a.m. on Friday after having 16.16 pounds of walleye in their live well. The pair said the main reason they quit was that the two big fish flipping and flopping around so much actually caused the live well to stop working.
Their one-day weight was big enough that they almost would have won the tournament in 2001, 2002, or 2006 when 17.3 pounds, 16.3 pounds, and 18.7 pounds were weighed in over two days to capture the title.
At the end of Day 1, Blight and Gaudry held more than a two-pound lead over former champion Doug McBride and his new partner, Zack McBride, who had 13.9 pounds. And just behind them were perennial local favourites Fred Foulger and Dickie Byrnes (13.8).
Rounding out the top five on the first day was Yogi McCormick/Tom McCormick (12.69) and 2004 champs Jason and Oliver Gibbins (12.59).
As tradition goes, the top five from Day 1 were held back until the very end on Day 2 on Saturday to create suspense and excitement—and boy did it ever. When 2006 champs John and Ethan Swentik weighed in 15 pounds in perhaps one of the biggest comebacks in RRWT history, the crowd wondered who else might be holding a big basket that was yet to weigh in.
The Swentiks catapulted from 58th position to the top of the pack with a total weight of 18.23 pounds (they eventually finished sixth).
Longtime RRWT anglers Jamie and Jeremy Westman ended up with the highest weight of the tourney before the top five were brought into the tent to be weighed. However, they held less than a four-pound lead over Blight and Gaudry.
The Gibbins were the first of the five to weigh in and they did not disappoint the crowd—weighing another solid basket (10.70 pounds) for a two-day total of 23.29.
The McCormicks then came through the tent but when they reached the scale, they only had one fish weighing .90 pounds, which saw them eventually finish 24th overall.
The McBrides also were nearly skunked on Saturday, only weighing one fish to add three pounds to their total, which dropped them to 11th place overall.
The next pair of anglers, Fred Foulger and Dickie Byrnes, traditionally have had great opening days at the RRWT and proof of that is the fact they’ve been in the top five boat parade five of the 10 years the RRWT has run. However, every year except for this year, some have said they have been “cursed.”
Well, the curse was broken this year as they had two solid days, weighing in three fish and adding 8.59 pounds to their total, which would see them finish second with 22.39.
First on Day 1, Blight and Gaudry were the only team left standing between the Gibbins and being the first team to ever win the RRWT twice.
While they had four fish on the second day, they only added 3.76 pounds and that sent the crowd into a frenzy as they realized the Jason and Oliver Gibbins were the first repeat champs.
While the top two teams only were separated by .90 pounds, their actual fishing experiences were completely opposite.
“We caught more fish in two days this year than in all the other years combined,” said Jason Gibbins, noting they caught almost 40 fish this year.
On the other hand, Dickie Byrnes said, “What we weighed in is what we caught.”
Had they caught one more fish, even a little one, they may very well have been the champs this year.
The Gibbins fished west both mornings and then east in the afternoons. Most of their fish they caught jigging, with Jason saying they switched up colours frequently between pink, orange, and silver.
“We only caught one good-size fish trolling with crankbaits,” he added. “We just could not believe there were as many fish in the river as there was given the warmer temperature of the water than the lake.”
When asked how it felt to be the first to repeat as champs, Jason replied, “The only reason we kept coming back is because people kept saying there is no way you can win it again.”
The Gibbins do fish many tournaments, but for the most part they fish bass competitions. “The only walleye we do is this one and the one at Wigwam [near Baudette, Mn.]”
This win was their first top finish of the year, with Jason saying most of the money they won ($15,000) will be used to pay bills for the entire summer. They did finish second at the Kenora Bass International and seventh in Sioux Narrows.
Byrnes and Foulger fished west of Rainy River the entire tournament and used lead head jigs for the most part. They caught two of their fish trolling and the rest jigging.
The biggest fish on Day 1 ($500) was caught by Kevin Marchuk and Jason Amundsen (7.67 pounds). The biggest fish on Day 2 ($500) was caught by Darren and Dave Armstrong (6.93 pounds).
Winners of the Rainy River Playschool raffle were Peter Gardiman of Fort Frances (boat), Bert Seguin and Randy Asselin of Pinewood (42” LCD TV), and Tim Mickle of Thunder Bay ($500 in cash).