Top anglers see tough bite, tougher competition

The crowd was indeed electric as the fanfare of the final weigh-ins for the top seven boats in the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship hit its high last Saturday afternoon.
This last round had close to everything: a tight race for first, the drama of which local team would hold on to the top spot, and the strong challenges by American anglers.
It was all capped off nicely by Steve and Kent Ballan’s stirring victory celebration which received rousing ovation after rousing ovation.
But 1996 champ Gary Lake stood behind the ribbon with some of his fellow American anglers including the Lindner clan. Norm and Dave Lindsay, top winners in 1995 and 1997, could not be found.
And the boat belonging to the ever-contending duo of Jim Moynagh and Joe Thrun, 1998 and 1999’s best, sat quietly among the sea of parked vessels as the Ballans and McBrides had their time to shine.
Indeed something was missing. Greats of FFCBC past were not in the run for the derby’s big money. Only three of the top 15 teams cracked the final 30 money winners.
And three of the top 10 from 2000–Ted Krause and Jimmy Bell (Team #5), Denny Nelson and David Smith (Team #7), and Dave West and Tom Zenanko (Team #8)–didn’t make the top 90 cut.
Al Lindner, who with nephew, James (Team #3), and has competed at every FFCBC, had a seat outside the weigh-in stage and glanced at the final leaderboard through the maze of people before the prizes were awarded.
“All of the guys who had very good bags last year–your Moynaghs, your Lindsays and Lakes, went down the drain this year,” noted Lindner, who finished third last year but could only muster a 17th place finish this weekend.
“I find that incredibly interesting on their fishing patterns, how they fished memories a little more than they should have,” he added.
Moynagh was both calm and accepting of his team’s 57th place finish after the derby’s last day, when they weighed in with only 10.44 pounds after a paltry 6.26 on Friday. He said the fact people are starting to learn Rainy Lake–and his team’s sweet spot–was what buried them so deep in the standings.
“There’s a lot of places where normally we’d usually have to ourselves,” he said after their 31.74 pound total placed them lower than second for the first time in the five years he and Thrun have competed here. “Now a lot of anglers are on to these areas and are doing quite well this weekend.”
For next year, Moynagh said they will simply have to be more aggressive on the lake.
“We used to be able to leave them and come back for them later. Apparently that’s not going to work anymore,” he said. “We need to get on the good fish and stay on them, stick with them.” Fourth place finishers Gene Boyer and Larry Hullett (Team #28) had their best result here. After competing with these other top teams in the Minnesota circuits, they noted their downfall was a simple case of tough climate throwing off their near can’t-miss strategies.
“Because of the wind, a lot of the good fishermen like [Lindner and Moynagh] that are real versatile and have good patterns on top water and drip bites weren’t able to use those because of the wind,” said Boyer. “They’re all definitely excellent fishermen, but that’s just the way it went this year.”
This year’s co-winner Kent Ballan didn’t have an answer and perhaps would like to keep it that way.
“It was very strange. The people that should have done well, didn’t. And those who didn’t, did. It was a complete flip-flop this year,” he remarked.
“Mind you, I’m not arguing,” chuckled Ballan.
Harry Bell, who teamed with John Maffei (Team #24) to grab third place, was too happy to explain why others failed, shrugging off any irregularity and attributed it to the simplicity of this sport.
“It was weird. But hey, that’s fishing,” he noted.
Clint Barton, who with Denis Barnard (Team #1) failed to defend their title after a disastrous first day 5.50 pound haul that led them to a FFCBC career low of 22.54 pounds, said a lot of them were a little stubborn when it came to adjusting on the lake–something the two had labelled as a key component of bass fishing just six weeks ago.
“The teams that usually have done well were depending on what they do from other years,” said Barton. “And you know what? It was a different year.
“That’s what happened to us. We made a lot of our efforts on what we did last year and made a terrible mistake. We scrambled all week,” he added.
The anglers who did finish near the top were hardly pushovers in their own right. Seventh place anglers Mike Luhman and Mark Raveling (Team #84) from Wisconsin were within a pound of taking the 1998 title from Moynagh and Thrun. Their 57.98 pounds that year is the tournament’s second all-time highest.
Rod Kitchingman of Winnipeg rebounded from a dreadful 2000 derby to finish in 25th with partner Brad Lapointe. He had placed eighth and second in 1998 and 1999 with Rob Ferens.
Lindner gave credit to this year’s top 15 and other money winners who found the bites and made the right decisions, adding all anglers–local or not–have just improved throughout the years.
“The talent gets better and better and better. The competition always gets keener here because guys just keep learning more,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun.”
“The local anglers are putting in their time out here,” agreed Moynagh. “The more they fish out here, the better they’ll be and the tougher the competition will be.”