DECATUR, Fla. — Pulling a five-fish limit of largemouth bass from the "Decatur flats" of Wheeler Lake, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., took the lead Thursday at the season finale of the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open out of Decatur, Ala.
With 19 pounds, 15 ounces, Lane put a 3-pound, 5-ounce cushion between him and Bassmaster Elite Series pro Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who brought 16-10 to the scales for second place. In third was another Elite Series pro, Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., who had 15-2.
Frank Ippoliti of Smithsburg, Md., was fourth with 15-1, and Ron Klys of Gainesville, Fla., secured fifth place with 14-13, a weight that included the Purolator Big Bass of the day, a 5-13 brute.
The full field of pros will compete again Friday, then cut to 30 for Saturday's final day. The winner will take home $6,000 in cash and a Triton/Mercury rig valued at $50,000.
Fishing fans can access real-time leaderboards and live, streaming video of the weigh-ins at www.espnoutdoors.com beginning at 4 p.m. ET Friday and Saturday.
Because the Wheeler event is the final 2007 Southern Open tournament, it wraps up the season's points race. The three pros who come out on top will qualify for berths in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C. The top five pros will earn eligibility for next year's Bassmaster Elite Series, the highest level of competitive bass fishing.
In eighth place in the points race, Lane is in contention for a Classic spot and Elite Series eligibility.
"It's my goal to make the Classic, for sure," said Lane, a 33-year-old full-time angler who's the brother of Elite pro Chris Lane of Florida, who quailfied for the Classic through the Elite Series.
Going into the Wheeler tournament, Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins, 38, of San Mateo, Fla., led the points race, but he weighed-in only 6-9 to tie for 98th place. Scroggins has already earned a Classic berth and requalified for the Elite Series, so the Southern Open's outcome doesn't affect his 2008 eligibility.
Charlie Hartley, 43, of Grove City, Ohio, another Bassmaster Elite Series pro, is gunning for a Classic berth through the Southern Open circuit. While he entered the Wheeler event second in the Open points standings, he tied for 15th place Thursday — still a strong position to capture a Classic spot.
Third in the points race is Mark Davis, 44, of Mount Ida., Ark., but his Thursday showing of 51st place put him in a precarious position to hang on in the top three.
In the co-angler division, Scott Reed of Cary, N.C., led in the competition for $2,000 cash and a Triton/Mercury boat rig valued at $32,000. Reed's catch of 12-2, bested Fred Hood of Monroe, Ga., who had 11-6. Lee Hannah of Grandville, Mass., was third with 10-9.
Friday and Saturday, launch will be at 7:45 a.m. ET at Decatur's Ingalls Harbor, where the weigh-in will begin at 4 p.m. ET.