For Troy Norman and Jay Samsal, the 2013 Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship is one they’ll look back upon with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, the pair led the tournament heading into the final day of angling and were the last team to come through the tent at the Sorting Gap Marina.
Plus, they happened to be on the stage when their close friend, Jeff Gustafson, officially was crowned as this year’s winner with partner John Peterson.
“Any time you get to go through a tent with a crowd like that, it gets your heart pumping,” enthused Norman, who lives in Fort Frances.
“That was the highlight of my fishing career so far,” echoed Samsal, who grew up with Norman in Dryden but now calls Kenora home.
“I’ve always wanted to be on the stage with ‘Gussy’ as the last two boats of the tournament, and there is no one else that I would rather see win this event than him if we weren’t able to do it,” Samsal stressed.
But while their third-place showing was the duo’s best result since their first-ever appearance at the FFCBC in 2006, the fact they had a chance to capture the title was something they were disappointed to miss out on.
“Anytime that you can place in the top five in a tournament like this one, you’re going to be really happy,” Samsal said.
“But we fish so many tournaments throughout the year, and over the last few years we have had a lot of top-fives and top-10s.
“You have no idea how badly we want to win,” he stressed.
After finishing in seventh place last July, Norman and Samsal got off to a solid start this year as their 17.89-pound bag on Thursday put them in eighth position heading into Day 2.
“Every day of the tournament our plan was to just keep our head in the game,” Norman remarked.
“We didn’t want to stray too far from our program, and we would get one fish here and one fish there to put together our bag at the end of the day,” he reasoned.
That approach allowed them to haul in 18.14 pounds on Friday, which put them atop the standings heading into the final day.
“To be successful in tournament fishing, you have to make good decisions out on the water,” Samsal noted.
“We didn’t have a fish that was over three pounds in our livewell by noon yesterday [Friday], but we made a few decisions that really paid off for us,” he said.
Their Friday showing also gave Norman one heck of a 28th birthday gift as he and his partner found themselves with a chance to take home their first FFCBC title the next day.
“That was a pretty awesome present,” Norman smiled.
“It was a surreal feeling, actually, and it was like a dream come true to be that first boat to leave in the morning and to be the last boat to come into the tent,” he added.
With the pressure of being the top team in the standings heading into the final day already weighing on them, the duo also had to deal with some adverse weather conditions Saturday that made things a bit more difficult.
“Today was a little tougher for us,” Norman admitted.
“It almost seemed like a lot of our spots were blowing up hard and we couldn’t fish them productively, and that can mess with a guy’s head and it makes it harder to keep your mind focused,” he explained.
“We made one bad decision in the morning,” said Samsal. “But besides that, we stuck to our gameplan and we caught some solid fish.
“We were missing a few big fish that could have helped us out but that’s fishing, man,” he reasoned.
Although the pair caught 15.60 pounds on Saturday, which gave them a three-day total weight of 51.63, Norman knew their five fish wasn’t going to be enough if they wanted to win the tournament.
“The anglers that fish in this tournament are among the top anglers in North America in my eyes, and these guys know what they are doing out here,” Norman said.
“They are all really good anglers and a 15-pound bag wasn’t going to cut it.
“It was too close of a race and we needed a bigger bag, and they [Gustafson and Peterson] were able to do it,” he added.
Norman and Samsal won’t have long to wait before trying to nab an elusive tournament trophy. They’re currently getting ready for the annual Kenora Bass International on Aug. 8-10.
“This one hurts and it leaves you with a really bad feeling,” said Samsal.
“But we are gunning to change that around,” he pledged.
“We are going to be coming in hard for that one [the KBI],” Norman agreed.