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Nelson ‘confused’ by derby flap

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The American organizer of a bass derby being held this week in Canadian waters of Rainy Lake can’t understand why it has sparked the wrath of local sportsmen, conservationists, and political figures.

“I don’t understand what the problem is,” said Edina, Mn. resident Denny Nelson about the Denny’s Super 30 Rainy Lake Invitational, which runs Thursday through Saturday.

“I’m confused as to what’s taking place here. I’m not breaking any laws and we’re bringing business to the town,” he said Wednesday night.

“If the laws and rules change [regarding U.S.-based tournaments being held in Canada], then I’ll follow them.”

Nelson was responding to comments made earlier in the week from opponents to his catch-and-release derby, including NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton.

Critics say the tournament could set a dangerous precedent that would allow other U.S-based derby organizers to flood the region with future competitions that could drastically affect the present stocks of bass.

“If we were coming up with 50-100 boats, I could understand the concern,” said Nelson. “But I’ve only got 12 teams right now.

“I know who runs the fishing tournaments in Minnesota and when they see I’ve only got 12 teams taking part, I don’t think they’re going to come up here.”

Another issue brought up by opponents of the derby is that because of the time of year, any smallmouth bass removed from their fall resting area will have a difficult time finding their way back to the spot after they’ve been caught and released.

But Nelson pointed to the upcoming Rainy Lake Bass Classic on Sept. 28-29 being staged by local organizer Dale LaBelle, who said earlier he was expecting 64 teams to take part in his derby.

“He’s doing [a fish derby] later than me, with five times as many boats,” said Nelson. “But no one’s talking about that.”

Linda Wall, Rainy Lake area supervisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources here, had said Tuesday that to the MNR’s knowledge, Nelson was abiding by all present regulations.

Those include U.S. participants needing a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit and an Ontario fishing licence.

Henry Miller, president of the Fort Frances Sportmen’s Club, had said Monday that his group would have boats roaming the competition area “just checking to see what’s going on.”

He added an official protest at the event was a “possibility, but not a certainty.”

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Nelson said about facing a potential demonstration. “I don’t know what to expect.”

Nelson held the tournament in the International Falls area the past two years, but said he decided to move it north of the border because of the higher quantity of fish available in Canadian waters.

Now what seemed like a good idea at the time has Nelson having second thoughts.

“I probably wouldn’t have [held] it if I knew it was going to cause such a stir,” he said. “I didn’t do this to make people mad.”

The only Canadian entrants Nelson could confirm taking part in the derby were the team of Steve Ballan of Fort Frances and Devlin’s Doug McBride, and Thunder Bay resident Danny Fontenot, who will pair up with an angler from International Falls.

“I’m anticipating a good, competitive tournament, with beautiful weather the whole time,” said Nelson, who will have almost $11,000 (U.S.) in prize money up for grabs during the three-day event.

The weigh-ins are scheduled to be held at Pither’s Point starting at 4:30 p.m. all three days.

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