Minnesota bass derby swims north

A local resort owner and fishing derby organizer is upset that an annual International Falls bass tournament is moving into Canadian waters this year.
Dale LaBelle of LaBelle’s Birch Point Camp on Northwest Bay said Edina, Mn. resident Denny Nelson, organizer of Denny’s Super 30 Rainy Lake Invitational coming up Sept. 12-14, is charting unwelcome waters by holding his U.S.-based event north of the border.
“I’ve heard from several fishermen that they’re not happy that someone from Minnesota can come and hold a tournament up here, and charge entry fees in U.S. dollars,” said LaBelle, who is co-organizer of the Rainy Lake Fall Bass Classic derby slated Sept. 28-29.
“I don’t think I could go to Minnesota and hold a tournament charging Canadian money for the entry fee,” he remarked.
“I know why he’s doing it. It’s because there’s more fish here, and because he thinks he’ll get more teams to sign up if he holds it here,” LaBelle charged.
Nelson admitted the higher quantity of fish on the Canadian side was an attraction, but added he isn’t doing anything he didn’t get permission for.
“I called officials at Pither’s Point Park and they said the area [near La Place Rendez-Vous] was available for us to do our weigh-in for the competition,” said Nelson, whose three-day, two-person team tournament is offering almost $11,000 (U.S.) in prize money.
“I’m not trying to turn this into some huge event. We had 27 or 28 teams two years ago, and only 17 teams last year,” he noted. “We’ve only got 12 or 13 right now, and we’re shooting for 20, although if we get more than that to sign up, we’ll take them.”
Fishing hours are from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. each day, with the daily limit being five bass per team. Entry fee is $600 (U.S.) per team for the catch-and-release tournament.
To compete in the Super 30 series, you have to pay a membership fee. But Nelson will waive that fee for Canadian anglers who wish to compete in the derby.
Anglers competing in the derby will need a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit and a Ontario fishing licence if they stay in Minnesota, Nelson said.
But LaBelle is worried about whether Nelson’s tournament follows immigration guidelines, and said a dangerous precedent could be set by allowing next week’s event to take place in Canadian waters.
“We don’t want to have 10 tournaments a year in the summer up here, with U.S. fishermen coming from Minnesota and even Missouri,” he said. “I don’t think it will have an impact on our tournament, but it might have one on the [Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship].”
Nelson decided to move his tournament to Canada after the International Falls and Rainy Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau withdrew its sponsorship after three years.
Bureau director Shawn Mason said Tuesday the move was strictly financially motivated.
“Denny’s a fine gentleman, and we think he has a lot of integrity,” said Mason. “But we had to look at the annual sponsorship fees we were paying in relation to the amount of benefit we were receiving.
“We only have so much in the budget for marketing and what put the most heads in beds in the town. [Nelson’s derby] just wasn’t bringing in enough people to make the final cut,” she explained.
Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Roberta Oliver said Tuesday she wasn’t aware of the Rainy Lake Invitational derby, but added it should have a positive impact on the community.
“The [FFCBC] held here every year always brings in good revenue for the town. It’s an encouraging sign that such events are coming here,” Oliver remarked.