Local team tops Falls bass tourney

A record-setting 18.68-pound bag on Saturday propelled Dale LaBelle of Devlin and Karl Howells of Fort Frances to top spot in the third-annual International Falls Bass Championship.
The five-fish haul they brought off the river on the second day, which eclipsed the 17.01-pound record they themselves had set last year, bolstered a meagre 11.45 first-day total from the lake to earn the $10,000 (U.S.) top prize.
“We knew we were going to stay in the running,” LaBelle admitted. “We’ve been consistent every year . . . each year we had between 10 and 11 pounds on the lake.”
LaBelle said one of the keys to their was that there was “no pressure” from other anglers eyeing their spots on the river. “We fished three times on the same spot,” he noted.
Another key was Howells’ first cast on the lake on Friday. He quickly got a bite and reeled in his line—and discovered to his surprise that he had two fish on his hook, each weighing more than three pounds.
“It just felt heavy, I know that,” he noted. “I told [LaBelle] that right away.”
“We knew we had our spot on the river,” LaBelle added.
Rounding out the top three were Dave Genz of St. Cloud, Mn. and Larry Bollig of Ham Lake, Mn., with a 28.82-pound total, and Scott Dingwall of Dryden and Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, with 27.06 pounds over the two days.
Fans packed the tent at Smokey Bear Park over in International Falls to cheer on the 58 teams during Saturday’s weigh-ins, enjoyed some of the tournament-hosted entertainment, and frequented the carnival-style booths dotting the site.
The split-format tournament, in which teams fish one day on Rainy Lake and the next on the Rainy River, sees its share of casualties, with many duos struggling to find consistency and score big on the river, which holds more bass than the American side of Rainy Lake.
The challenge of adapting to two fairly different bodies of water over the course of the weekend sets the tournament apart from the others across the region, and is favoured by many participating anglers, tournament president Gary Potter said.