By Todd Ceisner
That's how many top-10 finishes Bobby Lane had accumulated in Florida across B.A.S.S. and FLW competition since 2002 without a victory. He'd been 2nd on five occasions, finished 3rd four times, but had never been the top dog in his home state. Not winning was getting old.
His wait finally came to an end last weekend with a dominant, wire-to-wire victory at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes Bassmaster Eastern Open. He sprinted to a massive lead on day 1 behind a tournament-best 31-07 stringer, then delivered 28-09 over the final two days to win by more than 12 pounds with a total of 60-00.
Lane has won an Elite Series tournament (2009 Kentucky Lake), two FLW Series events (2007 and 2009 at the Potomac River) along with two Major League Fishing titles and the PAA Corporate Cup, but he had badly wanted to win a Bassmaster Open and finally notch a victory in his backyard. To get both accomplished at the same time made his triumph all the more sweeter.
"This one has a motto all its own - 'It's about time,'" Lane said. "I've been 2nd twice and 7th there so it's good to be back in the winner's circle. The goal every year is to win one. As pros, we like to have a to-do list and the more can you check off that thing, the more you feel like your career opens up and has a brightness to it. I still have a couple more things on that list."
Lane referred to his decision making and execution all week as "flawless," as he employed a multi-pronged and multi-lake approach to the tournament.
"I had a game plan and it came off perfectly," he said. "That doesn't happen too often. The icing on the cake was (Saturday). From KVD to the rookie starting this year, we all have goals and to finally seal the deal on one in your home state with 210 people in the field - a lot of people were all around them. I never felt secure until my fish hit the scale, so it's just nice to finally bring this one home."
Here is the rundown of how he came out on top.
It took Lane only a half day last Monday to find the fish that, ultimately, won him the tournament. He went back for a bit on Tuesday and spent only two hours on the water Wednesday. He estimates he spent the equivalent of two days practicing for the first Open.
His focal point was locating areas with the ideal vegetation where spawning or pre-spawn bass would be holed up and that were protected enough from potential effects of the wind. He wound up with a milk run of spots spread across three lakes - Kissimmee, Hatchineha and Toho.
The final, and possibly most important, variable played right into his hands.
"Of course, you always wonder what boat number you get and how long it'll be to get through the locks from Toho to rest of the chain," he said. "That's the biggest decision everyone faces, not only going down but coming back."
Water clarity played a role in his game plan as well.
"Toho was clean on the banks because there's so much vegetation," he said. "Kissimmee was a washing machine with the wind blowing out of the south, east and north. That kept those fish unstable."
His most productive spots were in 2 to 4 feet of water with an ample amount of hydrilla growing off the bottom, but not matted out.
"There had to be room and holes where the fish could get around," he noted.
He was able identify several such areas in practice using his Raymarine electronics.
"I could eliminate miles of water with no hydrilla," he said. "It was perfectly clear on the screen. When I'd come through an open area that had hydrilla, it was obvious I needed to try that spot."
He said the fish in the hydrilla were reluctant to leave because it provided safe harbor for spawning and protection from the wind.
"It secured the fish better and as the water temperatures dropped, those fish stayed put," he said.
> Day 1: 5, 31-07
> Day 2: 5, 10-09
> Day 3: 5, 18-00
> Total = 15, 60-00
Lane was boat number 5 on day 1, a bonus in a 210-boat field. He knew he'd be among the first to the locks heading out and coming back.
"It was the perfect draw," he added. "I knew where I was going to start and was able to make the perfect milk run with the time allotted."
He started by making a long run to the south end of Lake Kissimmee, before stopping in Hatchineha and Toho on his way back. He targeted a variety of vegetation in addition to the hydrilla clumps and tallied roughly 20 bites. His eye-popping bag was anchored by a 9-pounder and he capped his day by upgrading with a 3-pounder in Toho before checking in.
"They were all pre-spawn and spawners," he said. "The big one I caught flipping I can guarantee you wasn't spawning. Most of them were probably on bed. I just couldn't see them."
He mainly threw a swim jig and a topwater toad-style bait in Kissimmee, relied on a soft stickbait casted to gaps in hydrilla while in Hatchineha and flipped a beaver-style bait in Toho.
His 31-07 stringer was roughly 10 1/2 pounds bigger than that of Garrett Rocamora, the only other competitor to crack 20 pounds on day 1, and it set him up nicely for day 2. Lane took off in the final flight, but knew he'd again have an easy time locking back through in the afternoon.
"I knew I didn't have to come back to the locks until 4:30 when half the field was already weighing in," he said. "I had no pressure on me that way."
But the fish were far from cooperative, a product of a looming cold front. He started in Toho and caught what he weighed in before he even made a cast in a different lake.
"I never bettered my stringer," he said. "It was frustrating until I got to weigh-in and saw I was still leading."
His 10-09 bag was a paltry total compared to the previous day, but his lead actually swelled to 12 pounds after day 2.
"What surprised me the most was that I had the lead after day 2 with numerous stringers caught between 15 and 18 pounds," he added.
Wanting to finish with a flourish and not coast to a win with so many friends and family in attendance, Lane put the hammer down on day 3 with an 18-00 stringer that gave him a 12-05 margin over runner-up Brandon Lester.
Because of a shorter competition window on the last day, Lane opted against running to Kissimmee. Instead, he scored a few fish in Hatchineha before moving up to Toho around noon and catching three good keepers.
"It was so wonderful having my family and friends there and taking the win," he said. "I told everyone that I'd dragged them over here for four years and finished 2nd twice, so it felt so good to take in that moment with everyone. It was special."
Provided he competes in the other three Eastern Opens, Lane will qualify to compete in the Open Championship, scheduled for Oct. 18-20.
Winning Gear Notes
> Flipping gear: 7'6" heavy-action Abu Garcia Villain casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX LH casting reel, 65-pound Spiderwire Ultracast braided line, 1 1/2-oz. FlatOut Tungstens worm weight, 5/0 Laser TroKar Monster flipping hook, Berkley PowerBait Maxscent Creature Hawg (green-pumpkin).
> Worm gear: 7' medium-heavy Abu Garcia Villain casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, same weights (1/4- and 5/16-oz.), 5/0 Laser TroKar Big Nasty offset worm hook, Berkley PowerBait Maxscent The General (Junebug).
> Lane noted that casting the worm into holes was effective, but so was dragging it slowly on the bottom.
> Swim Jig/Toad gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod, Abu Garcia Revo ALX and MGX casting reels (8.0:1 ratio), 50-pound Spiderwire Ultracast braided line, 1/4- and 3/8-oz. 4x4 Jigs swim jig (hand-tied black/blue/purple), Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw trailer (black blue flake), 6/0 Laser TroKar Monster flipping hook, Berkley PowerBait Maxscent Rib Toad (watermelon red or black).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success - "Local knowledge helps a lot with those conditions - it was 50s and 70s. That's not warm, so having an open mind and looking in more general areas than I normally would was key. I realized Kissimmee was not the best choice, too. It was a good choice, but I figured there had to be somewhere else where they're biting because I was going to die there if I tried to win it there."
> Performance edge - "It comes down to the boat and motor and everything on it. The Power-Poles were 100 percent key, especially on the final day when it was blowing 10 to 20 out of the north. I ran 44 gallons of gas on day 1 in my Phoenix 920 with a Yamaha 250 SHO. I cannot be more excited about that."
> Lane knows a short memory will be key if he's to carry over the good vibes from his win to the Elite Series opener at Lake Martin this week. It'll be a 180-degree change in terms of venue and fishing style.
"I need to forget about what happened and put it behind me because it's not relevant to where we're going," he said. "Knowing the Elite is 10 times more important, there are no excuses. I can't say, 'I'm tired' or whatever. I have to get out there and get to work on what the fish want on Lake Martin."
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