Infatuation with ‘big one’ costs pair

Chapter 132 of the fabulously-written tale, “Moby Dick,” begins with the line, ‘It was a clear steel-blue day.” And it was Mark Libitka and Dave Bennett who were following Herman Melville’s storyline.
That chapter is labelled “The Symphony,” and it seemed surprisingly orchestrated that Libitka and Bennett would be the leaders heading into the final day of the 11th-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship on Saturday.
Sure, they were fishing well, but they had managed only a 32nd-place finish last year in their inaugural appearance at the FFCBC.
“I don’t really consider ourselves a surprise team,” said Bennett, who hails from Sioux Narrows and came 11th with Libitka at the Kenora Bass International (KBI) three years ago.
“We’ve been fishing tournaments for quite a while and the last couple of years we’ve been consistently placing in the top 20 percent of the field every time.”
But here were the friends waking up Saturday morning leading the 136-team field, including “the man of the tournament” in two-time defending champ James Lindner.
“We knew that one of these days that things were going to work right and I do admit that I am surprised that we’re in first place,” Bennett remarked.
Having the lead is great, but having the lead includes dealing with butterflies in the stomach.
“Last night we had nerves—lots of nerves,” Libitka said Saturday, adding they didn’t go to sleep until 1 a.m. and woke up at 5 a.m. “But this morning we just went fishing and that was cool.”
Having the lead heading into the final day also means receiving attention from other anglers that isn’t always positive.
“You get a lot of people grilling you, and we’re not used to this because we’ve never been in first place before,” Libitka said while waiting with the other top six boats for the final weigh-in at the Sorting Gap Marina.
“The Lindners and Lindsays have been here before and they know how to deal with it,” he added.
So how does it feel being docked next to some of top anglers like this waiting to go through the “big tent”?
“It’s intimidating,” Libitka admitted. “You look at Lindsay and Lindner over there and it’s intimidating, and it puts pressure on you.”
This is where the “Moby Dick” analogy kicks in.
Because of the pressure of winning, the pressure of bringing in that “one big fish” engulfed the team’s minds for a bit on the lake, which is something they later regretted as they finished third—1.36 pounds behind Dave and Lee Lindsay and just 0.07 pounds behind runners-up Bill Godin and Norm Lindsay.
At around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, and with a few good fish already in the live-well, Bennett saw “the biggest bass I’ve ever seen before.”
That bass was two inches away from his bait, but unfortunately just wouldn’t bite. So the pair went back to the spot twice to try and catch it.
“All I could think about was getting that one fish. I wanted to get that one fish to show the crowd,” said Bennett, who recently started his own guiding service in Sioux Narrows.
But that fish never came.
“Drink, ye harpooners! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow—Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!”
Now the scene at Northeast Bay, which is where the team was fishing, may not have been as dramatic as Chapter 36 of Melville’s classic, but it was dramatic nonetheless.
“I wanted that Moby Dick to show the crowd and maybe it ended up hurting us in the end because we didn’t try and get a good mid-size one,” admitted Bennett. “I wanted to get that one big one.”
Because of the team’s lack of knowledge of Rainy Lake, compared to the other anglers who have been at the FFCBC since the start, the two friends that met 10 years ago while guiding at Totem Lodge, decided early in their pre-fishing to play the part of medical specialists rather than emergency doctors.
“We don’t know the lake that well, so we found an area and dissected it as opposed to running around,” reasoned Libitka. “So we tried to do that and I think it worked.”
That it did. And though they weren’t able to claim the $50,000 first prize, they did take home a cheque for $12,000. But they also garnered something else with their strong performance—making a name for themselves.