By BassFan Staff
Chris Lane left the dock this morning with the thought that finishing with 100 pounds or more was realistic. It was hard to argue with his reasoning after the blistering pace he'd set through 3 days.
While he came back with his smallest stringer of the week, dashing his hopes to join the century club, the 15-00 sack was more than enough to put the finishing touches on a brilliant week at the St. Johns River. Lane, a native of Florida now living in Alabama, won his second Bassmaster Elite Series event in 7 months, finishing with 90-13, more than 14 pounds better than his closest challenger.
Lane, the 2012 Classic winner, became the 18th angler to post six career B.A.S.S. victories and it's his fourth win in Florida. The $102,000 winner's share also pushed his career B.A.S.S. earnings past the $1.5 million mark.
“To win here in Florida is something special for me. This (the trophy) is for my family who got up at 3 o’clock and drove all the way from Guntersville,” he said.
He did it by going against the grain, opting not to prod bass out of eelgrass flats as many in the field did all week. Instead, he made cast after cast to lily pads in Lake Dexter, a mile-long lake situated south of Lake George, where the majority of the field was stationed during the event.
Dean Rojas started the day in 9th place, his third Top-12 at the St. Johns, and parlayed the day's biggest bag – a 21-10 limit – into a runner-up finish with 76-09. Mark Davis held onto 3rd with a 13-13 stringer that gave him 75-04. He'll also leave Florida with the lead in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year standings.
Alton Jones, the 2012 St. Johns Elite Series winner, caught 15-03 today and advanced one spot to finish 4th with 74-07. Davy Hite managed just 9-14 today and slipped from 2nd to 5th, closing with 73-03.
Here's a look at how the rest of the 12 finalists finished up:
6. David Walker: 71-13
7. Randy Howell: 71-12
8. Keith Combs: 70-03
9. Justin Lucas: 69-10
10. Todd Faircloth: 68-09
11. Jason Williamson: 65-00
12. Paul Elias: 63-13
The river kicked out much better weights than it had the previous two times the Elite Series stopped in Palatka, Fla., likely because of the cooler temperatures throughout the winter in the Southeast that have the fish spawning a bit later than usual. In 2012, there were three 70-pound totals; same in 2011. This week, there were eight. In 2011, it took 20-06 to draw a paycheck. A year later, it was 23-04. This week, the Top-50 cut was 28-14.
The event started as a sight-fishing shootout with most eyes focused on bedding fish in Lake George. It ended with a winner who never made a cast in George all week. While sight-fishing was the dominant technique for the top finishers, it wasn't the typical see-the-fish-pitch-to-the-fish approach that worked. With the water clarity sullied by shifting winds, most of the best fish were caught by blind pitching or casting to light spots or bare spots in clumps and fields of eelgrass.
The Elite Series is off this week – the FLW Tour stops at Sam Rayburn Reservoir later this week – and gets back to work at Table Rock Lake on April 3-6.
Lane Fished His Strengths
> Day 4: 5, 15-00 (20, 90-13)
Coming off a 34th-place finish last week, Lane was thrilled to find the fish at the St. Johns lagging a little behind in their spawning process.
"I went out there and did what I knew how to do in Florida, which is cast to lily pads in early spring, and it worked out," he said. "I knew there were giant crowds of fish everywhere, so to fish how I like to fish and win was a blessing."
He had a decent number of bites today, but lost two key fish that he thinks would've pushed his bag close to 25 pounds.
Dean Rojas caught the lone 20-pound bag on the final day.
"I did everything I know how to do. I just didn't get those fish in the boat," he said.
Not reaching the 100-pound mark didn't take anything away from his triumph, he said.
"I want to get there at some point. I really, truly do," he said. "But I feel like that takes 4 days of complete focus and I don't feel like I fished good Thursday or Saturday here. On Day 2, I fished good and felt good and today, I had 15 pounds, which was my smallest bag, but I fished good and felt good and was focused the entire time. To catch 100 pounds, everything has to go just right."
Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the following days.
2nd: Rojas Revved Up
> Day 4: 5, 21-10 (20, 76-09)
For 3 days, Rojas watched just about everybody else in the Top 12 tote 20-plus pound stringers to the stage while he hung around with 17- to 19-pound bags.
Today was his turn in the big-bag bonanza and it allowed him to climb seven spots and notch his third runner-up finish in the Elite Series.
"Aside from a 2nd place I had at Rayburn (2006) fishing with my frog, this was the funnest 2nd-place finish ever," he said. "Coming up from 9th like I did and catching a bag like I did today was a lot of fun. I felt like a lot of guys ahead of me were going to catch them like I did, but that didn't happen. Chris had such a big lead. I knew it would be difficult to catch him, so I'll take it."
He didn't make any major adjustments today. He just stayed with his game plan and it finally paid off.
"I did the same thing in the same area. Today, I just got three big bites," he added.
He said the wind that started to blow yesterday afternoon and picked back up today knocked out one of his areas on Saturday, but upon returning there this morning when it was mostly calm, he caught his biggest fish.
"You just have to play the conditions and what the situation offers you," he said.
3rd: Davis Delighted
> Day 4: 5, 13-13 (20, 75-04)
Davis' previous finishes at the St. Johns were 39th (2011) and 83rd (2012) so he was more than satisfied to head home to Arkansas with a pair of 3rd-place efforts to start the season.
"The St. Johns has never been my favorite fishery so to get out of here with a Top 5, I'm happy with it," he said.
His key area on the east side of Lake George didn't hold up too well against the northwest wind today.
"It was wiped out today," he said. "I did catch three fish over there, but there wasn't much else going on. I had to try to improvise and come up with something else."
Mark Davis emerged from the first two Elite Series events as the leader of the AOY race.
He made a move to the west side and caught three more, including a 5-pounder, but never got into a groove of any kind.
"I did catch three today swimming a worm," he said " I had to make long casts with light sinkers and I fished it like a spinnerbait. I just did that to get some in the boat."
4th: 8-Pounder Saved Jones
> Day 4: 5, 15-03 (20, 74-07)
Thanks to an 8-03 bass today that weighed more than his other four fish combined, Jones came away with his third Top-4 finish at the St. Johns.
"I feel very fortunate," he said. "We've been here about the same time of year each time and I seem to catch them a little differently every time. This place just fishes to my strengths."
After finishing 6th in last year's AOY points, he's off to another strong start as he sits in 4th through two events.
"I do feel good about the start," he said. "One thing people don't often talk about is points are just as important early on in the season as they are late in the season. Later on, everybody's watching to see who's going to make the Classic and who's not. Every bass I can catch now is one I don't have to catch later. I'm thrilled to have had a good start and get a good jump on the points."
His day was made tougher by the northwest wind that kicked up Saturday afternoon and continued through today. It muddied up the water on the east side of George where he'd been having success.
"It shut those fish off yesterday and I thought it would settle down overnight, but it didn't," he said. "I caught five, including my big one over there, but I had to scramble around later and culled a couple of times."
5th: Bite Slowed for Hite
> Day 4: 5, 9-14 (20, 73-03)
In his previous two trips to the St. Johns, Hite finished 83rd and 86th, respectively, so coming out of Florida with a Top-5 suits him fine even though he was a little frustrated that he didn't execute on a few opportunities to move up.
"It's hard to think like that because when you fish on Sunday, you want to win," he said. "I need to feel real positive about a much better finish this time.
"I fished with a lot of patience and confidence this week. You have to do that in Florida. I haven't done that in the past, but I did it the last 2 weeks."
He's not exactly sure why the action was slower today, but he didn't get near the number of bites he'd been getting.
"The weights were down overall and the mood of the fish had definitely changed," he said. "There are so many factors when fishing tidal waters like the wind, tide and moon, especially on Florida waters where a little bit of wind can mess up the water and move it around.
"I don't have the answer as to what happened. All I know is that the bite was way off and nobody had a real chance to catch Chris."
> Day 4 stats – 12 anglers, 11 limits, 1 four.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. Chris Lane -- Guntersville, AL -- 20, 90-13 -- 100 -- $102,000
Day 1: 5, 18-11 -- Day 2: 5, 37-09 -- Day 3: 5, 19-09 -- Day 4: 5, 15-00
2. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 20, 76-09 -- 99 -- $25,000
Day 1: 5, 17-15 -- Day 2: 5, 19-07 -- Day 3: 5, 17-09 -- Day 4: 5, 21-01
3. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR – 20, 75-04 – 98 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 18-03 -- Day 2: 5, 26-07 -- Day 3: 5, 16-13 -- Day 4: 5, 13-13
4. Alton Jones -- Lorena, TX – 20, 74-07 – 97 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 18-01 -- Day 2: 5, 21-11 -- Day 3: 5, 19-08 -- Day 4: 5, 15-03
5. Davy Hite -- Ninety Six, SC – 20, 73-03 -- 96 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 24-01 -- Day 2: 5, 14-07 -- Day 3: 5, 24-13 -- Day 4: 5, 9-14
6. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 20, 71-13 -- 95 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 14-07 -- Day 2: 5, 20-01 -- Day 3: 5, 19-11 -- Day 4: 5, 17-10
7. Randy Howell -- Springville, AL – 20, 71-12 -- 94 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 27-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-02 -- Day 3: 5, 11-09 -- Day 4: 5, 12-14
8. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX – 20, 70-03 -- 93 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 14-12 -- Day 2: 5, 28-02 -- Day 3: 5, 17-11 -- Day 4: 5, 9-10
9. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL – 20, 69-10 -- 92 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 19-12 -- Day 2: 5, 24-15 -- Day 3: 5, 13-04 -- Day 4: 5, 11-11
10. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 20, 68-09 -- 91 -- $11,500
Day 1: 5, 12-11 -- Day 2: 5, 21-02 -- Day 3: 5, 21-00 -- Day 4: 5, 13-12
11. Jason Williamson -- Aiken, SC – 19, 65-00 -- 90 -- $11,000
Day 1: 5, 17-14 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 5, 19-14 -- Day 4: 4, 10-09
12. Paul Elias -- Laurel, MS -- 20, 63-13 -- 89 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 19-05 -- Day 2: 5, 24-14 -- Day 3: 5, 13-04 -- Day 4: 5, 6-06