By Todd Ceisner
There have been times when Bobby Lane has come into a new season not feeling like he was in tip-top shape – either physically or mentally. Maybe it was the so-so finishes of the previous year still weighing on him or some other factor. Whatever the case may be, it happens.
Following a career-best 4th-place finish in the Angler of the Year race a year ago and coming off a surging 12th-place effort at the recent Bassmaster Classic, Lane is feeling as though he's as close to the top of his game as he's ever been. With the first two events of the 2014 Elite Series season slated for venues that fall directly into his shallow-water wheelhouse, there's no reason to believe the Lane Train will veer off course any time soon.
Last season, he posted three Top-10 finishes and there were three other Elite Series stops where he placed in the Top 20. When factoring in his 4th-place finish at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic last fall, he's got six straight Top-20s to his credit. He's certainly feeling it.
"Physcially and mentally, I feel better than ever so I'm really looking forward to getting the season started out right with back-to-back tournaments in Florida and on the Florida-Georgia border," he said. "The way the weather's shaping up this year, it looks like there could be a lot of fish on or around the banks throughout a lot of our schedule. Except for Chickamauga, which might be an offshore bite, realistically, I think I have a shot to do really well in every single event we fish.
"It's probably been about 2 years since I've felt this good. Even after coming off a 4th-place finish last year, I was disappointed in myself for some of my practices. … I don't ever want to predict the future, but this is as good as I've felt in a long time."
Finding his Groove
Since coming on the Elite Series scene in 2008, Lane hasn't finished outside the top 35 in AOY points and he's made steady progress up the ledger each year since a 34th-place finish in 2009.
Part of the reason he's been able to improve his standing each season is he's narrowed his focus in practice and stuck with what he has the most confidence in.
"What I'd done was I'd locate some fish in practice and I'd fish through those fish too fast or I wouldn't come back or I'd get a little bit spun out," he said. "What I did last year, and I think it's because some of my practices were atrocious, is I just went to where I did because I didn't have anywhere else to go.
"It was kind of like this year's Classic. I had two areas where I thought I could catch some fish. The first day it didn't work and the second day I caught them real good, and the third day I caught them real good. I just kept going and back and forth between these two spots."
While the 2013 Elite Series season was marked by a series of drastic condition changes due to ever-changing weather, Lane was able to keep his wits and not over-adjust like others may have.
"Last year, I noticed that some of the tournaments I did the best in I just went to where I knew the fish were. What I did was I just stayed in those areas and milked them for everything they were worth," he said. "At the Mississippi River, I had one of the worst practices of my life and every time I came into the river, I'd catch a few fish late in the day. So I figured I'd just start the tournament in the river and it resulted in a 6th-place finish.
Lane was able to narrow down his focus at the Bassmaster Classic and rebounded from a slow day 1 to finish 12th.
"I think it was patience and understanding the water I was fishing and limiting myself to a certain amount of area. I didn't want eight or 10 spots to go to. I wanted two or three that I could rotate around. That's the way I fished last year and I'm really looking forward to fishing that way this year."
Ready to Wreck 'Em
Lane cut his teeth fishing the grass lakes of Florida, but he's developed into a well-rounded angler who's a threat just about anywhere. He'll have to be considered among the favorites at the first two stops on the schedule in March – Lake Seminole and the St. Johns River.
He has a win at Seminole from his Federation days and took 2nd at a BFL regional there in 2002, so he knows a thing or two about the lake on the Florida-Georgia border. It's expected to be a skinny-water derby with fish in various stages of the spawn.
"I've really had a lot of success there whether it's a win, a 2nd or right there near the top," he said. "It's just been a place where I've always been able to get dialed in. It's not an easy lake to fish. I've not been there in March, but I've been there in April and May and I think it's going to be absolutely phenomenal. It's like Dardanelle, which we're starting to hear a lot of great things about. I think the group of fish in Seminole, with the grass that they've let take over the last few years, has really made the fishing there awesome."
The Florida swing has Lane already thinking ahead to what could be a season of shallow-dominated events.
"Who knows what Seminole and Palatka will bring, but they will be shallow-water tournaments," he said. "Who knows – they might be spawning at Table Rock or right there on the edge. At Dardanelle, they live in the dirt and at Toledo Bend, they might not be too far along. It ought to be a good shallow-water anglers Angler of the Year. I don't think you're going to see a great pre-spawn fisherman win AOY this year. It'll be a guy who can make the right adjustments as the tournament goes on."
Coupled with his success of the last year, his solid Classic showing and favorable schedule to start the new season, Lane isn't alone is wanting to get the fuse lit on a new campaign.
"It's just a good time right now," he said. "Coming off the Classic, my brother called me and said, 'Man, all I want to do is get to Seminole. Enough of this Classic.' It was because of all the hoopla around the Classic. I told him, 'If you feel as good as I do, I think it's going to be a fun year for us.'
"He is ready to go and I think a lot of the guys who fished the Classic have that little advantage, whether they fished good or not. It just gives us that little upper hand in that we've already fished a major tournament and knocked the jitters, if there were any, out of our systems."