Reigning champs can’t defend title
There is only one guarantee heading into this weekend’s International Falls Bass Championship: Jeff Gustafson and Scott Dingwall will not repeat as the event winners.
The pair, who have won the last two IFBCs and also captured the inaugural tournament back in 2005, won’t be registered this year as Gustafson will be competing in a FLW Tour Open event on the Detroit River.
“I’m feeling a little bit like I’m in over my head before heading down,” he admitted.
“But I felt the same before I went to Florida earlier this year and once I got there, everything was all good, so I’m sure it’ll be the same this weekend.
“I guess I’m just comfortable with Rainy Lake and the Rainy River,” Gustafson reasoned. “So I have some mixed emotions there.
“But we will definitely be back for the I. Falls tournament next year,” he vowed.
Dingwall, who lives in Dryden, originally was planning to be a co-angler with Gustafson in Detroit, but now is looking to try and land one of the slots for this weekend’s tournament in International Falls.
“I have a couple of friends who mentioned that they would be interested in fishing the tournament,” he noted.
“If I’m lucky enough to get a spot at the last minute, I’ll talk to them and see who can make it.”
But while the defending champs won’t be joining forces this time around, this year’s field still will be very strong, with a full slate of 60 boats set to launch Friday morning.
“We have a mix of local anglers along with anglers from out of the area, with guys coming from Missouri, Wisconsin, and southern Ontario,” said IFBC president Gary Potter.
“We have a lot of new anglers this year, which should make things interesting, but I still think the competition will be very stiff,” he added.
Last year, Gustafson and Dingwall easily were the class of the field. They set a new record with a two-day total weight of 31.44 pounds, which gave them a 2.77-pound cushion over runners-up David Beckman and Ron Gerdesmeir.
“We had a great tournament last year, and an especially incredible day on the lake,” Gustafson recalled.
“We set the tournament record for a one-day catch of 19.25 pounds on the Saturday, and it was just one of those days where we caught a bunch of big fish and most of them were big ones,” he noted.
“I know on my end, that is a day I will never forget,” Dingwall remarked.
One of the things that makes the IBFC an unique event is the fact that during the two days of the tournament, half of the anglers will set out onto Rainy Lake while the other half venture onto the Rainy River, which presents some interesting challenges for all involved.
“The key to doing well in this tournament is not totally bombing on one body of water,” Gustafson stressed.
“That has been the secret for Scott and me over the years,” he said. “We spent an equal amount of time on both bodies of water, and learned both the best that we could.
“What happens to a lot of teams is that they are strong on one water but weak on the other, and we’ve been lucky enough not to have a lot of ‘total crashes’ at this event,” Gustafson admitted.
Although it’s hard to say what the winning combination will be, Dingwall feels some big fish will be brought to the stage during the weigh-ins, which will take place at 4 p.m. at Smokey Bear Park both Friday and Saturday.
“On average this year, the tournament weights have been higher than usual, and this could be the result of an early spring or all the hot summer weather that we’ve had,” Dingwall said.
“My prediction is that the winning weight be around 30 pounds if the weather stays nice, and around 28 pounds if conditions get tough,” he added.