Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson
The ninth annual International Falls Bass Championship took place over the past weekend on Rainy Lake and the Rainy River. The IFBC has a unique format that puts anglers on the water for two days—one day is spent on the U.S. side of Rainy Lake and the other is spent on Rainy River. Fishing two bodies of water in two days is a stiff test for anglers because it is much harder to put together two strong days.
My buddy Scott Dingwall and I have fished this event since the first year in 2005 and have been fortunate to win the tournament three times. I missed the event last year because of a conflict with an FLW Tour event at the Detroit River, but Scott represented, fishing with our friend Kalan Wagner from International Falls, and finished in third.
Since we’ve fished the event for several years, we have compiled a number of spots on both the river and the lake where we knew we’d like to spend our time. I spent three days prefishing for this tournament—one day on the lake and two days on the river. Traditionally, we are a lot stronger on the lake than we are on the river, so I thought I would try to put in as much time on the river as I could. Part of the reason the river is such a challenge for us and other anglers is that it is constantly changing. In the three day span last week between prefishing and the tournament day, the river dropped about two feet, leaving some boulders that I caught fish on in practice completely dry and out of the water.
As things turned out, I ended up having five great days in the International Falls area. The weather was great all week, which has been tough to come by this summer, and fishing was excellent on both bodies of water.
We were happy when we learned at the tournament rules meeting that we would be fishing the lake on day one of the tournament. The weather looked a little bit better on day one, with bright sun and light winds forecasted. Over the years, one thing we’ve learned about Rainy Lake Smallmouths, on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the lake, is that they love sun and heat—when you get these conditions a lot of big fish move into shallow water.
We had a great first day of the tournament, catching one of our best limits ever on the lake at 17.50 pounds. We caught our fish on a variety of baits, including a Jackall SK Grande popper, a new prototype Northland Impulse tube (green pumpkin) and a Northland Bugaboo Jig. Once the sun got up, we casted our jigs at as many shallow boulders as we could, plucking fish off here and there to cull up to our final limit. We ended the day in third place and had a little bit of catch up to do on the river.
The next day on the river we felt like we would likely need to catch 16 pounds or more to win the tournament. Our friends Dave Skallet and Mark Fisher from Minnesota brought in a monstrous 19.40 pounds from the lake on day one, so the ball was in their court. In second place after day one were local River studs, Nathan Brigham and Brett Myers, who are typically really strong on their home water.
On day two, Scott and I had a great day on the river, catching 15.20 pounds, to take the lead when we weighed in. Unfortunately we came up a little bit short in the end—getting beat by the local boys by about a pound to end up with a 2nd place finish in the tournament.
We caught all of our fish on the river on the Impulse tubes rigged with ¼ oz Gamakatsu jigs—again plucking most of our fish from boulders along the river bank. During practice I caught quite a few fish on spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwaters; but during the tournament, the fishing was a little bit tougher and we had to slow things down to get bites.
The IFBC is one of the premier bass events in Minnesota, you can find all the information you want on this event at the tournament website – www.ifallsbass.com. Maybe you could join us on the waters during next year’s tournament!