Mark Raveling and Mike Luhman probably have heard enough about silver linings right about now.
This year’s runners-up at the 16th-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship were in a similar position in both 1998 and 2002.
For Raveling, of Spring Park, Mn., and Luhman, hailing from Deer Park, Mn., this year’s 53.26-pound haul landed them their fifth top 10 finish at the FFCBC and a respectable rebound after an 80th-place showing last July—the third time they had found themselves in the 80s.
Raveling said the reason they yo-yo so much is that they take a high-risk, high-reward approach to the tournament.
“We target big fish,” he explained. “And either we’re going to do real well or we’re not going to do very well.”
However, the risks are well-calculated ones. They make a point of putting in as many hours as possible on the lake, before the competition begins, trying to find those lunkers.
This year, Raveling and Luhman felt a little unsure of how things would play out following a brutal pre-fish.
“We’re up at 5 a.m. and we’ll fish until 9 p.m. [during pre-fishing],” noted Raveling.
“Each night we’d get in and [people ask], ‘How many did you catch today?’ And we’d go, ‘Two, three.’
“We really were not expecting too much this year in the actual tournament,” he admitted.
It was on Thursday—the first day of competition—that things really began to turn on, at least in terms of size.
“We actually had our best days of fishing during the tournament,” Raveling enthused.
“We didn’t get a lot of bites [but] we didn’t lose any,” he noted. “We didn’t know if we could get five each day.
“We didn’t know if we could catch three,” he joked.
Sitting in third place after Day 2, Raveling and Luhman bumped Jeff Gustafson and John Peterson from the “hot seat”—then held onto it when three-time defending champs Joe Thrun and Jim Moynagh managed just three fish totalling 8.14 pounds on Day 3.
That left only Dorian Lindholm and Bill Wilcox, the leaders after Day 2, still to weigh in.
“It’s exciting. That’s right where you want to be—in the hot seat with only one boat to go,” said Luhman.
“From being out on the docks, we knew that they had a good bag and had been catching good fish,” chipped in Raveling.
Raveling and Luhman credited their success this time around with being able to adapt to changing conditions, noting they ran the gamut of locations and baits to complete their five-bass limit all three days.
“It seemed like one bait would work on one day, and it would not work the next day, and we kept altering our baits, and that’s why we caught what we did,” Raveling said.
“We were versatile enough to move areas and spots and baits,” he stressed.
Even though the duo didn’t hoist the trophy Saturday, they still were pleased that they were able to outfish the Moynagh and Thrun juggernaut, who had vaulted into second place thanks to a 21.21-pound bag on Friday.
“Our goal was to beat Moynagh, and after Day 2, we just gasped and said, ‘Here he comes again,’” Raveling recalled.
“When he pulled out those three little fish the last day, it was like, ‘Wow, we still have a chance.’”
The pair took a backseat to Moynagh and Thrun during their first FFCBC title in 1998, ending up being edged out by only 0.64 pounds.
In most other years, 57.98 pounds would have done the trick. But that year, Moynagh and Thrun set the tournament record with 58.62-pound total.
Then in 2002, Raveling and Luhman found a school of monster bass that led to the greatest single-day haul in FFCBC history (22.28 pounds), but Norm Lindsay and Jess Swenson survived that challenge over the course of the three days.
“We were on an amazing school of fish,” Raveling recalled. “We got them the second day we were up here [pre-fishing].
“About every third day, we’d go there and just throw bait around to see if they were still there, and they were.
“We pulled up there the first morning and just caught four huge fish, and we had one 2.5-pounder in there, and we just decided to save the fish for the next day,” he continued.
“We moved to a different area 40 miles away just so people would see us in that location as opposed to where we were at.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime type thing,” Raveling concluded.
That bass utopia disappeared in 2003, however, and has not made itself available in any year since.
“There were hundreds of fish in that area, if not thousands,” reminisced Raveling. “They’d been there for two weeks, and then they just packed their bag and left, and they haven’t been back since.
“We check it a couple times every year, right when we get here, and they just have not been back.”
Even though that paradise was lost, Raveling and Luhman have found themselves returning often, praising the town and their host, Ed Taylor of Taylor’s Cove at Bears Pass.
“The town treats us very well. The town is great,” lauded Raveling.
“That’s why we can treat it like a vacation, too—all the hospitality that we get.”
Both also said they have been recognized around town, although they downplay being famous in Fort Frances.
“There were people going by on jet-skis saying, ‘Hey, it’s the guy from the bass tournament!’” said Luhman.
“Some little kid was hollering, ‘I know that guy!’”