If you would have told Bryan Gustafson and Brian McNanney at the beginning of last week that they would be the champions at the 24th-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship, they would have said you were dreaming.
But sometimes dreams do come true—as the duo found out late Saturday afternoon when their Day 3 haul of 18.5 pounds was the biggest bag of the day and vaulted them into first place and secured the $20,000 winner's cheque.
They also dethroned back-to-back champs Troy Norman and Jay Samsal in the process.
It was the first-ever FFCBC title for Gustafson, a former local resident who now lives in Kenora, and McNanney, who hails from Sioux Narrows, as their three-day total of 51.57 pounds topped the 94-team field.
“Beginning of the week, we thought [we had] no chance,” Gustafson admitted.
"Going into the last day four-and-a-half pounds back, no chance.
“Even at the docks, we kept saying no chance,” he recalled.
“We were hoping for third place/fourth place but, wow, unbelievable,” Gustafson enthused.
After back-to-back fourth-place finishes the previous two years, the taste of a hard-earned victory was even sweeter for the pair.
They previously had been victorious at other tournaments, such as the Kenora Bass International (KBI), but are thrilled to add an FFCBC crown to their résumés.
“This is one I've wanted for a long time," McNanney remarked. ”Me and Bryan have been fishing together, I mean, this is our fourth year.
“The last couple of years we've been kind of lucky to get a couple of fourths, and kind of been close,” he conceded.
“To get this one off the 'bucket list' is pretty awesome.”
Five-time FFCBC winners Joe Thrun (Annandale, Mn.) and Jim Moynagh (Carver, Mn.) were the runners-up, finishing with a three-day haul of 51.28 pounds, less than half-a-pound behind Gustafson and McNanney.
The duo previously had won the tourney back-to-back-to-back in 2007-09 and also back-to-back in 1998-99.
“I didn't even get up here [to Fort Frances] to practice at all, so just to be up here is a pretty good situation for me, I'd say that for sure,” noted Thrun.
“We had some nice fish today," Moynagh chimed in. ”It was a lot of fun; we didn't really make too many mistakes today.
“There was maybe a couple of chances we had for some bigger fish but if they don't eat the bait very good, they just don't eat it good,” he reasoned.
"So they got away.
“I just want to thank the Town of Fort Frances for hosting this and all the people who showed up today,” Moynagh added.
“It makes it real special for all the fishermen, so thank you.”
Taking third place was Jason Cain and Wayne Howard of Fort Frances (50.33), who held the lead after Day 2 but only managed 12.88 pounds on Day 3.
“This is my 20th year fishing this tournament and we had two really good days of fishing,” an emotional Cain said.
“On Thursday at 9:23 [a.m.], we had 19.20 pounds in the tank, so we kind of had to manage our fish and drove away from them,” he noted.
"And then we went back to the same area the next day and we had 18-and-a-quarter pounds by 9:13 [a.m.] or something like that.
“But we fished it out," Cain stressed. "We went to a different area this morning [Saturday] and dumped two that probably made a difference here.”
Dean Smith of Sault Ste. Marie and Jay Kelly of Thunder Bay wound up in fourth place (49.87) while former FFCBC champs Glenn Leroux and Trevor Zimak of Thunder Bay rounded out the top five (49.31).
Kurt Johnson and Pat Jeffries finished sixth (49.05) while Richard Rud of International Falls and Jon Austin of Blaine, Mn. wound up in seventh (48.26) after holding the Day 1 lead.
Caleb Cowell of Green Bay, Wis. and Tim Klug nabbed eighth spot (47.64), followed by Larry and Todd Bollig in ninth (47.04) and Stuart and Diane Neniska of Kenora in 10th (46.68).
Norman and Samsal just missed out finishing in the top 10, winding up in 11th place with a 46.61-pound total.
They admitted it was tough fishing over the course of the three days, but relished the time at one of their favourite fishing tournaments of the year.
“We tried to scrounge a few fish to salvage the day but it was a fun weekend [on the] water, the weather was great,” Norman enthused.
“We're happy with our results even though, obviously, we could have done better but we also could have done worse,” he reasoned.
Former champs Jeff (“Gussy”) Gustafson (Keewatin) and John Peterson (Bemidji, Mn.) wound up in 13th place overall with 46.26 pounds.
They had been sitting in fifth place after Day 1.
Ryan Hyatt and Karl Wolff of Fort Frances reeled in an impressive haul of 16.85 pounds on Day 3 to win the Second Division title for the second-straight year, along with a $1,000 prize.