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How much longer can Phil Bangert go?

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With the 25th-annual Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship coming up July 18-20, 80-year-old Phil Bangert once again will be fishing in it.

Having competed in the bass tournament since its second year, Bangert said the FFCBC is a week of his summer he never wants to give up.

Here is a column his son, Dave, wrote four years ago for the LaFayette Journal & Courier about his experience fishing with his dad.

Phil Bangert told the Times that he hopes anyone reading this and thinking about signing up will find that buddy or family member and start a tradition that will really mean something.

We were on a tour last Saturday of Roger and Dorese Harrison's freshly constructed house—a bungalow to beat all bungalows in Fort Frances, Ont., a few blocks off the beautiful and massive Rainy Lake.

Downstairs, Roger invited my dad and me to test drive the assortment of leather recliners arranged in a basement entertainment area. And instantly, all of us were tempted to start sleeping off three long, windy days spent on the water in a smallmouth bass tournament that is the highlight every summer in the town just across the bridge from International Falls, Mn.

“How much longer can you go?" Roger asked my dad. "In this tournament. How many more years can you hold up like that out there?”

It's not as if my dad is ancient or anything. He's 76. And he's plenty strong enough, proving it again by standing over a trolling motor, holding the boat on rocky points in 20 mph winds all day.

But it wasn't an unfair question from a good friend who had just endured the same series of aggressive, nine-hour days of competition.

In fact, we'd come at the same question, the two of us, in various ways last week, in those days spent on Rainy.

And not just in terms of our future as a team typically best suited at rounding out the bottom flight of a 95-boat tournament field.

We've been partners for the past six years in a Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship that my dad has fished for decades.

I can get around on a bass boat, but my limited competence with a rod and reel compounds our chances of a dismal finish each year.

(Notions that fishing is just dumb luck get dumped quickly when the same guys with talent and practice under their belts make the most noise each year.)

But placing in the money has never seemed to be Job No. 1 for the annual trip.

Dynamics have changed in just six years, though.

Last week, there was less about lure selection and throw-to-that-spot urgency in our conversations than there was about the question Roger would ask at the very end:

How much longer can you go?

My dad shared stories about taking over his high school class' email chain and how, lately, it has turned into a conduit for obituaries and dire illnesses. Not completely, but still too much, he said.

We talked about what to do about stuff in their house—the clocks from abandoned central Illinois rail stations, furniture and the rest from a lifetime of accumulation—and how my brothers and I have been reluctant to call dibs on anything. So weird, so untoward.

(That follows the July Fourth weekend, when my mom showed the place behind their church in Sunrise Beach, Mo., where my parents someday would be laid to rest. “This is where we'll be if you want to find us,” she said.)

And we replayed the not-that-young-anymore moment from last Christmas when, spotting a granddaughter's clunky black boots, he decided that racing a 14-year-old to a neighbor's mailbox and back would be a good idea.

The pea gravel spread to combat ice on their rural road had other ideas.

And we spent the rest of the day picking his sprawled self off the pavement, cleaning out wounds and sitting in an emergency room.

(“No more races for me,” my dad told more than one fishing friend up North.)

It felt right to talk it out. Felt right to deal with it right then and there. Lord knows the fish, stubborn and uncooperative, were giving us plenty of time.

How much longer can you go?

That question still seems so unnecessary in so many ways. So far away. We made plans to be back in Fort Frances next year, after all.

But it beats one question I don't think we'll be resigned to some day down the line:

You know what we should have done?

If that means getting your backside creamed in a fishing tournament once a year?

I'd recommend it.

Dave Bangert is a columnist with the LaFayette Journal & Courier.

Contact him at dbangert@jconline.com.

Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.

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