"I know I can lead"
Chris Lane is experiencing his first lead in a CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series event, but the Florida rookie is very aware of the skill level of anglers who are nipping at this heels.
He is a little more than a pound ahead of the 1998 Bassmaster Classic champion and 15-time tour winner Denny Brauer.
"It's a little intimidating to have a man of his caliber breathing down your neck," Lane said. "I've been watching him on TV for 20 years thinking, man, wouldn't it be nice to be in his shoes — fishing for a living."
A win here at the Champion's Choice on Lake Champlain would mean a lot to Lane. Not only does he have his third child on the way, but he would also receive a much-needed shot in the arm.
"It would be a huge confidence builder that would tell me that I really can compete with these guys at this level. I've had a few moments this year where I've questioned myself. Not really doubt, but more of a question of can I afford to keep doing this.
"But win or lose, I've gotten a lot out of this week. Win or lose — I know I can lead for three days. I know what that feels like now. I might not win this, but you can bet I will give it my best shot."
"I haven't changed my britches or shaved in three days." — Stephen Browning on his superstitions
"This is my third cut in eight tournaments. Maybe I'm back on track." — Marty Stone
"I went to the same spot that I caught 50 fish from yesterday and never got a single bite. It's hard to believe how this lake changes." — Ken Cook
"Those guys behind me are legends in bass fishing.
It's gonna be hard to hold them off. — Rookie BASS Elite angler, and leader Chris Lane
"I can't wait to go fishing tomorrow. — Mark Tyler, currently in 8th place
"I'm so tired of throwing a jerkbait, my arms are
dragging like Shaquille O'Neal.
— Gerald Swindle
"Kevin Wirth and I have been fishing about 10 feet
apart, and catching fish in a spot about as big
around as my boat. We both caught 60 or 70
fish. — Aaron Martens
"Well at least I made the top 50, made 10 grand and
got part of my money back.
— Guy Eaker on his 37th place finish
"I took the frog I was throwing and wrote 'Bite Me' on
it. It didn't do any good.
— Ken Brodeur
"My fish ran out. I caught all of them and that was
it. — Mike Reynolds on not having enough weight to fish on
The piano is off his back
Randy Yarnall fished his first top-50 cut day Saturday on lake Champlain and the Pennsylvania angler feels good about finally being there.
In a season that saw him only finish higher than 89th one time prior to this week, he knew he was letting the mental aspect of competitive fishing get to him.
However, today he felt huge relief.
"It feels great," Yarnall said. "It's like the weight of a piano is off my back. I finally feel like I belong here."
Yarnall said that his friends and competitors Lee Bailey and Charlie Youngers had given him a lot of counsel over the past six months to not let the mental side of the puzzle get to him.
It is not uncommon for a professional angler to start a downward spiral that is extremely difficult to recover from.
"Lee and Charlie kept telling me to just go fishing," Yarnall said. "Previously I would have a great practice but couldn't execute on competition days. I kept trying to make the fish eat like they had been eating in practice. I couldn't adjust. The fish would move, but I wouldn't.
"The turning point came at Oneida last week. On the second day of the tournament. I just went fishing."
After more reflection, Yarnall explained that a higher force might have something to do with his change in attitude.
"I credit Jesus with helping me turn things around," he said. "I was saved at the Guntersville tournament. It took me a while to understand exactly what I went through and what was happening to me. But at Oneida it clicked. Now I know. I really do."
Aaron Martens and Kevin Wirth spent some up close and personal time on Lake Champlain when they fished within five feet of each other for at least two days.
The pros were catching smallmouth and when the bite would turn on, a feeding frenzy would develop. They actually relied on each other to keep the flurry alive while they landed or culled fish.
"When you catch a smallmouth it will tend to regurgitate several times while you are reeling it in," said Martens.
"That keys the other fish to start feeding around it as you're fighting it. While one of us was fighting a fish or culling we needed the other one to keep fishing so they would stay active."
The Elite pros were fishing holes in the grass that the fish were using as ambush points. The fish could lay in the hole where the current wasn't as strong and watch for baitfish being carried in the current above them.
"We were in what I call a funnel area," said Martens. "These places set up so that bait is constantly being funneled by."
Wirth said that the area held so many fish there wasn't any conflict at all between the anglers.
"Once you get these fish keyed and they started eating … it was on," Wirth explained. "You really wanted the other one to keep fishing while you culled to keep it alive. It kept the fish worked up.
"We'd wear them out in one spot and both of us would ease off to look for more. When one of us found another spot, we'd wave the other on e back over."
Wirth said he caught so many fish that he went through seven packages of Gulp Sinking Minnows today. Each package contains 20 pieces of plastic.
Avid Bassmaster fans may remember that veteran pro and five-time Bassmaster winner Zell Rowland had health problems in the offseason that resulted in two surgeries.
When he went in for a spinal injection for his nagging back problem, his physicians discovered a heart problem, as well.
"I had a heart rate of about 30 beats per minute," Rowland said. "The good thing was that after the stress test the doctor told me that I was on of the healthiest heart patients he had ever had. The fact that I had this problem and had no symptoms was just incredible."
Only a month after the heart surgery, Rowland had a spinal procedure done to correct a herniated disk, an ailment that is more and more common among professional anglers..
According to the East Texas Medial Center in Tyler, Texas, Dr. Paul Detwiler, of Tyler Neurosurgical Associates, PA, and a member of the ETMC Neurological Institute, performed the surgery using a new procedure that allowed Rowland to walk and even go home the next day. Rowland heard of Dr. Detwiler through Denny Brauer who also had back surgery under Detwiler's care.
"They took a tube the size of a crochet needle and inserted it into a half inch incision in my back. There's a guide wire in the tube and the tube holds the muscles out of the way. After the tube was inserted they ran that wire in there and removed a disk fragment."
Rowland has high praise for the surgeon and the procedure that allowed him to get back on the tournament trail. He says that his surgeon has called him at least once a week to check on him since the procedure. While he's happy to be able to compete so quickly after surgery, Rowland also has to follow doctor's orders.
"I tried to fish both the BASS and FLW Tours this year. When my doctor heard that he said, 'Absolutely not,'" Rowland said.
"So I had to drop the FLW. Then in all the tournaments I've fished this season I haven't been able to run more than 15 miles from the takeoff. It's made it tough.
"For example, here at Champlain I really was considering making that long run down south. This can be one of the roughest lakes in the country, you know. I was sitting there at the takeoff thinking about it and Gary Klein idled up beside me and said you're not going to do it are you? When I told him I was considering it he said he'd give me a spot where he knew I could catch a limit if I wouldn't go. So I stayed here."
Although Rowland may have felt hemmed in by those restrictions he has made the top 50 cut in every event this year except one — in his home state of Texas on Lake Sam Rayburn. And he feels cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season.
"I'm really looking forward to fishing the Potomac River and Lake Wylie. Table Rock could be rough. And the Arkansas River might be tough since we can't lock through too far."
Not being able to lock through may force the anglers to fish a little closer to home. But that's what Rowland has been doing all season and he's won a lot of money in the process. Fifteen miles from the takeoff seems to suit him just fine.