“Somebody will figure it out—somebody always does.”
These words were spoken outside Room 24 of the Bayview Motel here on a humid Friday night by a man that did “figure it out” back in 1996.
That man was Gary Lake, who claimed first prize at the second-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship back in 1996 with partner Randy Amenrud.
“It was very sweet,” reminisced Lake, whose FFCBC victory was the third tournament win he had in a span of 11 days that year.
“I was on a roll—probably the best roll I’ve ever been on.”
Lake also still remembers that fateful day when he was given his first break in the world of tournament fishing.
It was the early 1970s, when long hair was the style and Led Zeppelin was the choice for the stereo. It was at the Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington, Mn. where Lake, Kenny Rustad, and Wayne Ecklund drove to meet representatives for Lindy Little Joe in hopes of becoming representatives for the heralded fishing tackle company themselves.
“They were looking for a field staff and the two guys that recommended us were Gary Roach [otherwise known as “Mr. Walleye”] and Al Lindner,” said Lake.
“I remember us getting the call and we were meeting the rep, and we were driving over and acting like kids in a candy store saying, ‘Oh man, we’re going to be part of the Lindy fishing team,’” he recalled.
“Oh man” is right.
Lake calculated he has fished in more than 450 tournaments since the ’70s and his success is evident just by looking at the companies that have attached their name to his.
Companies like Mercury Marine, Ranger Boats, Northland Tackle, Rapala, MinnKota, and Vexlar, who have been key in Lake’s success as a fisherman.
“If you look up and down this parking lot and take a boat and put a vehicle in front of it, then you’re looking at $100,000 [U.S.], so having those sponsors is huge,” Lake stressed.
In fact, without those sponsors, Lake could not make his way here from New Prague, Mn. to the tournament he loves.
“This is my favourite time of year,” he enthused. “This is my favourite tournament and I look forward to coming every year, and I’ve made a lot of friends through this tournament.”
Lake will be fishing with Ted Kapra, who he calls “one of the best fishermen in Minnesota.” But the two ultra-competitive anglers have had difficulties during their pre-fishing on Rainy Lake so far.
“We’re just not on the fish and that’s the truth, but we’re not giving up,” vowed Lake. “We’re here to win and I’m fishing with one of the most competitive guys you’ll ever meet.”
When Lake makes such a statement, people listen.
The man has characteristics that remind one of Santa Claus. He has a radio voice that would make Howard Stern listen. He also is both intriguing in his conversation and attentive with company, but Lake admits he is of a “different breed.”
“Most of the time I’m thinking about fishing. Us tournament fisherman really live it and breathe it,” he remarked.
It all started for Lake back in 1956 when he was living around the Daytona Beach area in Florida. He would trek a few miles on his bike to the Indian River, put some shrimp to a line, “and catch whatever swam.”
Because his dad, Douglas, worked with the New York Gas Company, the Lake family would frequently relocate (in Grade 5, for instance, Lake, who was born in Lansing, Mich., attended five different schools in different states).
The family eventually moved to Minnesota in 1964, where they stayed.
Lake was married at 18 that same year, and after high school started paying his bills through the cement business. Years would pass and Lake eventually would start his own cement contracting company.
He did that for 30 years, and believes “the only reason why I started up my own business was so that I could go fishing.”
“I always said that if I wasn’t a tournament angler, I would’ve made a lot more money because I would’ve stayed home and worked,” said Lake. “But I don’t believe I would’ve been a happy man.”
Did we forget to mention he’s got a sense of humour? Did we also forget to mention he’s got two sons in the FFCBC?
Brent and Ryan Lake have been part of the local tournament for a few years and it would be a dream come true if Gary could see the Lake name in the top 10 this year.
“That would be really special,” he said.
Brent, who made the top 10 last year with Ted Krause, is used to being in the upper echelon—having teamed up with his dad in 1999 to capture third place.
Ryan, meanwhile, is paired with Mark Anderson as Team #113 (having had to get into this year’s field through the draw).
But while it would be nice to see all three Lakes in the top 10, Gary would prefer to see his name above his sons’.
“There is that competitiveness between the three of us—it’s there, believe me,” said Lake. “But if they could allow three people in the boat, I’d choose them both and we’d be a pretty tough team to beat.”
So who does Lake see as the favourites this year?
He rhymed off names like two-time winner James Lindner and then Al Lindner.
“He [Al Lindner] hasn’t won it yet, but you can’t look past him,” said Lake. “Or even this guy walking up to us right now, Dean Kapra, who without a doubt can win any tournament he fishes.”
But Lake said anyone with the right know how—and luck—can win the FFCBC crown.
“Everybody has learned so much in 10 years about this lake that you really need to have some luck,” he remarked. “I’ve always said that without luck, you won’t get nothing.”
Fishing for Lake, like for most anglers, has become a release from the daily stresses of ordinary life.
“It’s without a doubt a release for me, but it’s also like a job,” he stressed. “The fun and games happen at the hotels, but on the lake, it’s all business.”
So what kind of person would Lake be without fishing?
“Good question, and I don’t know if I have an answer for that one,” the 59-year-old admitted. “It’s been such a big part my life for the past 30 years.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done without fishing.”
Are you saying you would’ve been lesser of a man?
“No, I don’t think so,” he replied.
But you would have been a richer man?
“Yeah,” Lake chuckled. “I would’ve made a lot more money if I would’ve put my nose to the grindstone, but I don’t know if I would’ve been happy.
“Money don’t make you happy. Fishing has made me happy.”
“Somebody will figure it out—somebody always does.”