PARIS, Tenn. — Throughout two competition days, Bobby Lane has taken it fairly easy on Kentucky Lake, and it's debatable as to whether the Lakeland, Fla., pro has broken a sweat.
But don't let that fool you. Lane, with 54 pounds, 7 ounces after Day Two on Thursday, has employed a cunning strategy at the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph, managing a "special" spot for a fraction of his day while employing a tight defense as he leads the field heading into the final two days of competition at the sixth regular-season Bassmaster Elite Series event.
Thursday was a perfect illustration of Lane's dilemma. He boated all of his weight — a limit of 24 pounds, 9 ounces — in his first eight casts. After that, Lane made a two-pronged decision that he hoped would pay off twofold. First, he protected his spot from other competitors, and second, he gambled on preserving the area so that he could make it a factor throughout Saturday's final day.
The 35-year-old estimated he has fished the prime spot for less than 1 1/2 hours in the past two days, leaving more than 15 hours on the table. Could the decision backfire? Certainly, but Lane, in his second Elite season, was confident after Thursday's competition that he had made the correct decision.
"Obviously, I'm fortunate to have found this spot," said Lane, who was 31st in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings heading into this event. "It's all about fish management though, and I'm just dying to get to the last day so I can fully exploit the area. Someone could probably come out of nowhere and knock me out of the lead, but I know this is for the best."
On Wednesday, Lane was lamenting past tournaments he had here and some unfortunate luck, but by Thursday, he was poised for his first BASS win. While he has kept quiet on the specifics of his pattern, Lane did say that he has been landing fish on a variety of baits. The two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier also said he noticed a fundamental change with his area Thursday.
The forage in the area seemed to be getting bigger, and Lane said he would make the adjustment to increase the size of his baits. While Lane does have two other spots he believes could yield quality fish, he has not checked on them during the tournament and said he would rely on them only as a last resort.
So for the leader, it's sink or swim with strategy.
"Today, I saw a school of about 100 bass that were all in the 4- to 5-pound range," Lane said. "They were just wrecking anything that you threw out there. I'm not sure why this area is special, but it certainly is."
While Lane has had an impressive two days, his advantage — just more than 4 pounds — is certainly not insurmountable. Especially when four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam is breathing down his neck.
VanDam, with a two-day total of 50-4, tapered off a bit Thursday but was very upbeat after weighing in.
"I feel really good," said VanDam, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "Like Bobby, I really managed my fish today. Perhaps I shouldn't have laid off so much, but Friday I'm going to really get on them."
VanDam continued to work his customary pattern, a Strike King crankbait in sexy shad color, to small, precise areas. While VanDam continues to notch top finishes, he can't seem to shake 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion Skeet Reese in the Angler of the Year standings.
Reese is right behind VanDam at Kentucky, in third with 48 pounds, 9 ounces. VanDam holds a scant lead over Reese in the AOY race.
With this and two more regular-season events remaining, the two will continue to duel heading into the inaugural Bassmaster Elite Series postseason, the Toyota Trucks Championship Week, which will be played out Sept. 10-18 on Alabama's Lake Jordan and Alabama River featuring the top 12 anglers in the AOY standings.
After Thursday, the field was cut to the top 50 anglers. Notables who advanced to Day Three included 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mike Iaconelli (16th), Guntersville Elite champion Aaron Martens (17th) and Guy Eaker of Cherryville, N.C. (33rd).