Home, sweep, home

Judy Ballan took the stage during the 2001 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship prize ceremony Saturday night and let it be known that her sons’ victory would live out to be one of the most memorable moments of her life.
“It’s just wonderful,” said an exuberant Mrs. Ballan, after Steve and Kent reeled in 52.92 pounds to lead all 130 teams at the three-day live release derby.
“This is my proudest moment, next to them being born. But right now, this takes the cake,” she added.
Both hometown brothers were near-speechless–both after the final weigh-in and during the $25,000 cheque presentation.
“I don’t know if I have anything to say. Exhausted is an understatement,” said Kent Ballan after professing he and Steve had eight hours sleep between them during the tourney.
It wasn’t only the Ballan family’s proudest moment, but one for the host town of Fort Frances as the top three teams overall top weight were all from the district.
The father-son Devlin combination of Doug and Zack McBride (Team #104) finished second with 52.14 pounds and the $15,000 prize, followed by Harry Bell of Fort Frances and Havelock’s John Maffei’s (#24) with 51.87 pounds, good for $10,000.
Minnesotan teams of Gene Boyer and Larry Hullett (Team #28) and Randy and Duane Anderson (Team #16) followed behind with weights of 50.64 and 50.62 to round out the top five.
The Ballans were the first brother team to win the championship since Norm and Dave Lindsay turned the trick twice in 1995 and 1997.
In addition to top honours, they won the Top Rendezvous Trail Team, the Top MinnKota Team and top finishing team who fished the Kid-Pro tourney–prizes of $1,000 each.
The title also gives one of the Ballans the opportunity to fish at the 2002 Chevy Mercury Classic at a location yet to be announced. Their next stop will be next weekend’s Kenora Bass International tournament at Lake of the Woods.
Steve told the crowd he had taken his daughter Jessica on a pre-fishing excursion the Wednesday afternoon before the derby and caught a four-pounder.
“Once we caught that, we left,” he said knowing the spot would come in handy later on.
“We knew the pattern would hold. But we wouldn’t know if our boat would hang on long enough with the wind,” he added the following Monday. “As long as we could hold in the wind, we knew those other fish were there.”
The actual weigh-in was anything but spiteful between the finalists as the McBrides and Ballan families had been close friends for many years.
“If we couldn’t win it, I really wanted them to win. We’re friends, we’re partners,” said Steve Ballan, who had fished with Doug McBride for several tournaments, including the KBI last summer.
Doug and Zack started off with the big catch for Thursday at 19.76. He admitted they stayed in the same area for most of the three days, venturing out once to the south arm late on Saturday to do some culling.
“If you want to do good for three days, everything has to be working for you. It’s very hard to get three good days in a row,” said Doug McBride.
“[Steve Ballan and I] spent our whole evening [Friday] night talking about how close it was going to be,” he added.
Meanwhile, third place finisher Bell reached his highest place at the FFCBC since 1996 when he nabbed 12th spot with long-time angling partner Don Cumming, who had taken the year off.
“The fishing was great for us. We threw back a ton of big fish,” said Bell, who helped reel in Friday’s big catch with 18.40 pounds. “We were on the same pattern and it worked really good.”
It became apparent a local team would walk away with the title for the second year in a row when Boyer and Hullett, dubbed “America’s last hope” by emcee Lional Robert, were short of a pound from taking over first place before the McBrides and Ballans were paraded into the Sorting Gap tent.
“They have more time up here,” explained Hullett on the strong local presence in the top ten. “But we had figured out a pattern I have not seen anyone else doing. I can run the lake now without looking at a map.”
“When the wind was blowing, that was our bite. When it slacked today, our bite was off so we had to readjust,” added Boyer.
The Andersons made an enormous push on Saturday to vault themselves from 11th place to fifth by throwing 20.04 pounds, the eventual tournament-high “big catch”, on the weigh scale.
“If we would have had a better day one, we would have given the local boys a better run for their money,” said Duane Anderson. “I didn’t think we would hit 20 pounds, but it was fun to watch it on that screen.”
The three angling days of this year’s FFCBC saw a variety of climate conditions. Thursday was sunny yet windy while Friday and Saturday were cloudy and wet. That last day saw a lot of action in concentrated areas as majority of the contenders were seen hovering around Reef Point and Sandpoint Island on Saturday afternoon.
Robert continuously thanked the American anglers for teaching the Canadians how to fish bass. It was a statement which rang very true for Steve Ballan.
“In the first five years of this tournament, the Americans were coming up here from Minnesota to Texas, and have been bass fishing for 20 years,” he explained. “They were two and three years ahead of us in terms of baits and lures. Overall, a lot of the local guys should be able to compete with these guys who fish 20 tournaments.”
Defending champions Denis Barnard and Clint Barton struggled throughout, finishing with 22.54 pounds–well behind money winners at 88th place.
On Thursday, the locals had clearly made their mark when it was announced after day one that three local teams (the Ballans, the McBrides, and Ted Beck and Ray Ducharme of Team #69) were in the top six for the first time in the tournament’s history.
“Big fish” winners were the Ballans with a 4.58 pound fish on day one, Ted Krause and Jimmy Bell (Team #5) found a 4.86 pounder on day two, and Kenora’s Mike and Aaron Causyn (Team #29) claimed the honour for day three–and the tourney–with a 5.18 pound bass.