Remembering a true ambassador of fishing

He was not a citizen of the community nor district, yet he won the hearts of Fort Frances, Emo, Rainy River, and every other community that hosted a fishing tournament.
Lionel Robert passed away suddenly Dec. 27 at the age of 54.
He arrived in Fort Frances in 1995 to play emcee to the first Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship and continued to play an active role in the three days of tournament action.
The last two years found Lionel down on the docks to check the live wells of the top 20 teams.
Lionel was a true ambassador of competitive fishing. When he first arrived in Fort Frances, no one had any idea of what a competitive fishing show was all about.
Lionel, in his first year, began an educational process for the community and district.
Competitive bass fishing was an unknown sport. Bass fishing was equally unknown among local residents, who from time to time may have locked hooks with a bass while chasing the much more prized walleye species that was disappearing from Rainy Lake.
That first year, Dave and Norm Lindsay brought in a three-day total of just under 42 pounds. The watching crowd was amazed—but the amazement was cunningly built up by Lionel.
Over those first three days, he began questioning the anglers about bass fishing and the techniques they were using. He took the audience to bass fishing school.
When the last fish was lifted on stage, Lionel had the crowd cheering.
No one saw the homework that Lionel did before the tournament, nor the hours he spent joking with the fishermen before and after tournament hours. Those bits and pieces of information went into his books, his mind, for later recounting in front of the audience.
Tournaments always were a family affair and his daughters, Lynn and Jocelyn, along with his wife, Lise, often accompanied him to the tournaments across the district.
Lynn, and occasionally Jocelyn, often could be found handling the fish to be released back into tournament waters in Emo and Rainy River. Lynn and her band competed in the “Battle of the Bands” here in Fort Frances.
As the FFCBC kept growing, Lionel managed to daily get the crowd into the weigh-in by getting them to guess if a basket of bass was bigger than anything previously weighed.
On the final day, he built up the suspense of the weigh-in to the end. Even he never knew how it would end.
Yet even for fishermen outsmarted by the frisky “pices,” Lionel made them feel good about their day of fishing. His “I know it was a difficult day out there today, but I know you are too good of a team not to rise in the rankings” gave every team a shot at winning.
Or it might have been “I know this year was tough, but we’ll see you back here next year” on the final day that changed the mood of fishermen.
During his stage show, he managed to create nicknames for anglers that became their trademark. Lil Pihulak became the “Walleye Queen” after brining in the biggest walleye in the first hour of the first Rainy River Walleye Tournament.
Following the 2004 FFCBC, Lionel let it be known that a back degeneration was taking place and he no longer could put the long days together for Fort Frances.
But that didn’t stop him from being the emcee at shorter tournaments, or volunteering to come to Fort Frances to be the dock host on the final weigh-in and interviewing anglers.
He went head-to-head with Jimmy Klick and managed to get his head shaved to raise funds for cancer research.
It was all in fun, and his big laugh and sense of honour and gentlemaness will be missed. He showed Northwestern Ontario how to be an emcee for a fishing tournament weigh-In.
It is a lesson that will be part of his legacy.

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