By Todd Ceisner
Chris Lane took one look at Lake George during practice for the St. Johns River Elite Series and decided it wasn't the place for him.
Sure, he knew the potential tournament-winning fish were likely swimming in those waters, but there were a few factors that influenced him to steer clear of the second-largest freshwater lake in Florida.
First of all, sight-fishing or various forms of it, isn't among his strengths. Secondly, fishing in a massive crowd isn't his cup of tea. And lastly, he knew there had to be other locales outside of George that held winning-quality bass, especially since it appeared the fish were a bit behind in their spawning ritual, meaning there were loads of fish up shallow or holed up in the grass flats.
It took the 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion all of one day to locate such a place in Lake Dexter, a small lake south of George. He didn't make a single cast or pitch in George during competition. Instead, he opted to cast to clumps of lily pads with a worm or pitch to them with a big jig. His decision to bypass the crowds proved to be a sound one as he had Dexter mostly to himself all week and averaged better than 22 1/2 pounds a day to post his second win in the last three regular-season Elite Series events dating back to last season.
His 90-13 total included a massive haul of 37-09 caught on day 2 and was more than 14 pounds better than runner-up Dean Rojas. The win earned him $102,000 and an automatic berth in next year's Classic at Lake Hartwell.
"I prayed all week to stay calm and stay focused," he said. "On Thursday and Saturday, I didn’t fish good. On (Sunday), 15 pounds was really my goal and that's what I got."
Here's how he did it.
Lane opted to start his practice in Lake Dexter amid the heavy downpour and thunderstorms that greeted the field last Monday. He said there were big fish literally everywhere and they were biting.
"I found them in the monsoon with thunder and lightning," he said. "I debated whether I should even be out there. I just stuck with it and the bites I got I wish I could've set the hook. I had fish literally ripping the lily pads in half and I didn't even have a hook on. I tried to stay focused the whole time because I knew what Lake George could produce and I didn't want to get overexcited too early."
He set the hook once that first day and landed a 12-pounder, which would've dwarfed the biggest fish he caught during the event, even the ones that made up his day-2 stringer.
"It would've been another day I wouldn't have forgotten, but I had to shake those fish off because if I'd caught them, I knew I probably wouldn't be able to catch them again," he said. "From that aspect, it was a normal practice day, but man, I wish I could've set the hook on all of them."
He was convinced that day that George would be an afterthought for him.
"I did it because of the sheer fact that I'm not a big sight-fisherman," he said. "I went in there on the second day of practice and saw the amount of boats in one area. I said, 'There's no way I'd be able to do that.' Hats off to the guys who did. That takes some serious brain strength and I don't have that."
> Day 1: 5, 18-11
> Day 2: 5, 37-09
> Day 3: 5, 19-09
> Day 4: 5, 15-00
> Total = 20, 90-13
Despite bringing in a respectable 18-11 to start the tournament, a total that put him in 15th place, Lane wasn't satisfied with his level of focus on day 1.
Lane targeted clumps of lily pads in Lake Dexter all week to catch his fish.
He more than made up for it on day 2, when he weighed 37-09, the heaviest bag of his pro career.
"I caught a 6 and a 7 on that jig and I really got dialed in on where those big fish were setting up," he said. "It didn't matter where I went on the lake, I'd get that big bite. I didn't want to come back for weigh-in because the big fish were just chomping. I had a 3 1/2-pounder sitting next to a 9 and I said, 'Man, that thing looks small.' All of my other ones were about 6 1/2. I said, 'I want to get that thing out of there,' but I don't have much time left so I hit one last stretch of pads on my way out and I caught that 9-15.
"When I look back to day 2, not quitting was a big factor, especially when you're dialed in like I was in. I was dialed in that day. I would've loved to have stayed out and fished the last 3 or 4 hours of that day because you only have those days once in a great while."
The pads he was fishing were small clusters with less than 3 feet of murky water under them.
"I didn't look at one fish I caught all week," he said.
There were several pad clusters that produced multiple fish for him, but Dexter is a fraction the size that George is and he feared the supply of big fish was going to start to run thin as the tournament wore on.
He returned to Dexter on day 3, this time as the tournament leader by nearly 9 pounds, and came away with a stout 19-09 to extend his lead to 12 1/2 pounds.
His key fish that day was another 9-pounder that ate his jig in a backwater lake off of Dexter.
"On day 3, catching that 9-10 when I thought I may have pulled on her too hard," he said, reciting one of his memorable moments from the event. "When I set the hook, she started heading hard back to the pads and I pulled on her hard not to go back that way. I figured I was going to lose her so for that Stren (braided) line not to break was huge.
"That was 10:40 a.m. and it was my second bite of the day. That was a big moment and it just got me to slow down and concentrate more once I realized there were still plenty of fish in there."
Leaving the dock on the final day with a sizable lead, Lane said he was gunning for the 100-pound mark, but in reality he was more concerned about keeping his focus and reading the situations like he did on day 2. He had a small limit by mid-morning and made several upgrades later on to get to 15 pounds.
Entry to the century club will have to wait. He was more than satisfied with the victory.
Winning Pattern Notes
> Lane said the reasoning for which pads he fished is embedded in his DNA and he followed his instincts mostly. "It's just something you learn from living in Florida," he said. "I can't really explain it. When I found the right ones, I'd just put my Power-Poles down and pick them apart pretty good."
Winning Gear Notes
> Worm gear: 7' medium-heavy All Star ASMicro casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo Rocket casting reel (9.0:1 gear ratio), 15-pound Stren Brute Strength monofilament line, 1/8-oz. Reins Tungsten worm weight, unnamed 5/0 worm hook, 7.5" Luck E Strike original ringer worm (black blue shad).
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action All Star ASMicro casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo SX casting reel (6.4:1 gear ratio), 65-pound Stren Sonic Braid line, 1-oz. homemade jig (black/blue), unnamed chunk trailer (black/blue).
> Lane also threw a Texas-rigged 7" soft stickbait that's being developed by Luck E Strike. He caught a 9-pounder on day 2 on it, while the majority of his other big fish came on the jig.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Staying focused. It was a hard thing to do. It was one of those deals where being able to mentally stay in the game was a big thing for me."
> Performance edge – "My rod, reel and line. These new All-Star rods are great. I've never had people ask me so much about my rods. I don't know if it's the color or what, but they work. I'm really happy with those rods. The Revo Rocket was also key because when you’re having to make 50-yard casts and I have 2 yards to get a bite, I could reel it back the other 48 yards much faster and was able to make more casts that way. The Stren Sonic Braid held up well, too. I caught 37 pounds on that on day 2 and I was pitching into the heaviest, strongest pads I could find. Getting them out of there was a big key."
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