The crowds, loud music, and potential drama for an exciting finish all were under the big tent Sunday for the final five weigh-ins of the third-annual Rainy River walleye tournament.
Unfortunately, the fish were not.
The top two boats from the first day Saturday failed to catch any fish on Sunday, leaving the door open for Dale LaBelle and Wayne Angus to catapult from 16th place to first with a total weight of 17.3 pounds.
The Devlin pair weighed in just 5.26 pounds on Saturday but bounced back with a 12.04-stringer Sunday to capture the $15,000 top prize.
Dick Byrnes of Fort Frances, who with partner Fred Foulger of Rainy River had a one-pound lead heading out onto the water Sunday, could only hold up a piece of driftwood—generating a disappointing and chuckling reaction from the crowd.
“I don’t want to go through the tent any more like that,” said Byrnes, who settled for 10th place with their 11.58-pound total. “[But] the fishing was spotty. It was up and down all weekend, but I’m pleased with how we did.”
Fishing their good spots on day one didn’t pay off again Sunday, he added.
“We went back to the same spots. The bites just weren’t there,” Byrnes remarked. “We caught all our fish from 1:30 to 3 p.m. [on Saturday] and didn’t want to leave that spot today and it cost us.”
Meanwhile, LaBelle was confident in his team’s catch on Sunday, including the 7.24-pound “big fish” of the day for an extra $500, and just played the waiting game as the weigh-in wore on.
“We’re happy. We caught that big one at 10:30 [a.m.] and just relaxed after,” he said. “We knew it was a tough bite so we knew that everybody had to beat us.
“ [The top five teams] didn’t beat us and that’s what happened.”
Even though he and Angus had settled into the crowd to watch the final five boats, emcee Lionel Robert called them up to see if they could challenge for top spot.
“We heard rumours about who had what. But you know, everybody likes to talk a lot at these tournaments,” LaBelle said.
The duo also took home the “cool under pressue” award — and $1,000 — for posting the most improved weight from day one to two.
Former Rainy River resident Wendy Gubersky and her husband, Rick, who now live in Edmonton, had been in second place after Saturday with 10.54 pounds before also getting skunked Sunday to finish 14th overall.
Floyd Gibbins and Shawn Hartnell dropped from third to 12th with their second day catch of just 2.47 pounds while fourth-place contenders Mark Chapman and Kent Christianson could only muster 0.67 pounds and fell to 19th.
The father-son duo of John and Ethan Swentik were the only top five team from Saturday to hold on to a high finish—reeling in 8.24 pounds both days to take second place (16.48).
Pete and Sandra Hapka finished third with 13.9 pounds, followed by Dave Byrnes and Mike Graham in fourth (13.5 pounds) and Mike Vacura and Marni Korpi in fifth (13.42).
The big fish of the first day was a 6.22-pounder weighed in by Byrnes and Foulger, earning them $500. Derek Ewald and Mike Gate won $1,000 for reeling in closest to the 2.42 pound “hidden weight” mark.
LaBelle and Angus had an uneventful run of pre-fishing three days before the boats took off Saturday—and he had no problem with that.
“We never caught big fish pre-fishing,” LaBelle recalled. “[But] I never like catching big ones during pre-fishing because the chances of you catching one during the tournament get worst.”
He added their win was a solid way to finish the season—one in which he nabbed five previous top 29 finishes with partner Jody Shypit in the region’s bass derbies.
Defending champions Kevin Marchuk and Thatcher Haggberg finished 23rd overall with a total of 5.08 pounds—including only 0.627 on Sunday.
“There was a lot of fish but they were small. You had to work for the good catch,” said Marchuk, whose team won the title by mere ounces last year.
“The weather is too warm. The fish aren’t moving here, we needed some nasty weather to get the fish in.”
Brian Ney and Dan Stier, winners of the inaugural derby in 1999, wound up 13th overall this year after reeling in 11.06 pounds in total.
This year, boats were numbered according to who paid their registration first. But next year, the top finishers will have the opportunity to leave the dock first on the opening day.
For complete results on the tournament, go to www.rrwalleye.com