DETROIT -- Make no mistake, Chris Lane is driven.
The 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ wants to qualify for the 2014 Classic because it’s on his adopted home water, Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. Winning the Aug. 22-25 Plano Championship Chase and the Classic berth that comes with the event title is his best chance to get on the list for Guntersville.
The Florida native, who now lives in Guntersville, Ala., made the most of that chance by landing the first-day lead in the Chase on Thursday. His weight of 22 pounds, 9 ounces led Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., by 8 ounces. Davis took second place with 22-1.
In third place with 21-14 was Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala. In the No. 4 spot with 21-2 was Michael Simonton of Fremont, Ohio. Fifth place was a tie at 20-7 between Kotaro Kiriyama of Moody, Ala., and Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho.
The competition is north of Detroit, Mich., on Lake St. Clair, the fishery that’s No. 1 on Bassmaster Magazine’s 2013 list of 100 Best Bass Lakes. Adjoining rivers and Great Lakes are also fair playing grounds.
The pros are competing for $100,000 as well as the entry in the 2014 Classic. The Chase is also their last chance to earn points through this season’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year competition. Points count toward Classic and postseason qualifications.
Lane said having a clear goal helped him to focus.
“I feel calm, I have been sleeping great, because I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to have a big bag each and every day. That’s all I can do. If it works out, I’m going to be a happy man,” he said.
Lane began to boat smallmouth bass as soon as he settled onto his first spot of the day, far out into Lake St. Clair.
“I caught two of the big fish I thought were there — probably 5 1/2, 6 pounds each —then laid off of them,” Lane said. “Then I ran to the other side and caught two or three 3-pounders.”
Lane said he switched from dropshotting in deeper water to a shallow water spot, where he caught a 4 1/2-pounder.
“That reaffirmed my backup plan,” he said. “That was a key moment for me. It was just a good day, but we’ve got three more to go.”
Lane’s heaviest smallmouth weighed in at 5-12. It became the the top contender for the Chase’s Carhartt Big Bass award of $1,000 plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel. Lane also set the mark for the Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the Chase’s best five-fish limit.
Like Lane, Davis is motivated by the carrot of a Classic berth.
“To win would be icing on the cake. I really want to make the Classic,” he said.
Davis made the call to spend valuable time running to Lake Erie’s smallmouth.
“I ran about 90 miles, which is uncharacteristic for me,” Davis said. “It’s such a hard run.”
Davis said he lost two “good fish,” boated a 5-7, but was never able to cull a 2-pounder.
“If I had one of those bigger ones, I’d really have had a good stringer,” he said.
Simonton tapped into his experience on Chase waters for his bag of 21-2. His home in Ohio is about 60 miles as the crow flies from Lake St. Clair, so he has fished the lake and adjoining Lake Erie often over the years. His grandparents had a home on St. Clair, and he spent many an hour fishing there as a kid.
“In practice, I didn’t have to run around and find fish. I had spots from past years to go to,” Simonton said.
Thursday he ran to Lake Erie — a two-hour trip against 4-foot waves. On one of his spots, known by him as the home of 3-pounders, he discovered larger smallmouth bass.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God, they’re bigger now,’” he said.
Later in the day, the smallmouth really started biting for him.
“When the sun comes out and water gets slicker, for whatever reason they bite better here,” said Simonton, who also is gunning for a Classic entry through an Elite win.
After Day 1 of the Chase, a flip-flop occurred on the leaderboard for the most coveted award of the Elite season — the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., dropped behind Alabama pro Martens. If the Elite season had ended Thursday, Evers would have lost the lead he’s held tightly after five consecutive events.
The upset happened when Martens posted in third place Thursday to Evers’ 79th place.
While visibly disappointed, Evers did not throw in the towel.
“It’s not a one-day fishing event,” he said.
Martens claims not to be concerned about the AOY prize. He’s looking for a good showing, and perhaps the win, at the Chase.
“I’m just not thinking about it,” Martens said about the crown.
Martens won it in 2005. Evers is looking for his first AOY title. It comes with a prize of $100,000.
In the season’s Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race, Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., took the lead by 27 points over former leader Cliff Pirch of Payson, Ariz.
The 2013 ROY will win an entry in the Sept. 27-29 postseason, the Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship out of Muskegon, Mich. The ROY will join 13 other Elite pros for that event.
All Elite pros are striving to earn enough points during the Chase to qualify for the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville out of Birmingham, Ala. — home of B.A.S.S.
Classic berths will be awarded to the Top 29 on the AOY points list after the Chase ends. Double-qualifiers — Elite pros who also qualified through a Bassmaster event win in 2013 — will push that number higher when all 2013 Bassmaster circuits are complete. The new Bassmaster Wild Card on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in December will add one more Classic qualifier.
The full field of 99 Elite Series pros will return to the water Friday for the second round of the four-day Chase. They will launch their boats each morning from Lake St. Clair Metropark at 6:30 a.m. ET. They’ll bring their catches back to the park for a 3:15 p.m. ET weigh-in. (GPS help: The address of the Metropark is 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Township, MI 48045.)
At the park on Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon, the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will showcase sponsors’ products. Two free concerts are on tap: The Sun Messengers, the official band of the Detroit Pistons, will take the stage at noon Saturday. On Sunday at noon, the band Purdy Good will perform.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive, daily coverage of the competition. Features include live blogs and BASSCam videos from the water; live, streaming video of the weigh-ins; a real-time leaderboard; and extensive photo galleries.
Saturday and Sunday, the online coverage ramps up with BASSTrakk catch data coming straight from the water, Lowrance War Room analysis and interviews, and the live show Hooked Up! with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona from the Toyota Hooked Up! stage.
There’s no admission to Bassmaster events. Access to online features is also free.
Local sponsors of the Chase are the Detroit Sports Commission and the Lake St. Clair Metropark.
ESPN2 will air The Bassmasters coverage of the Plano Championship Chase Aug. 31, 7-8 a.m. ET. Fans can catch the same show again that day on ESPN Classic at 9-10 a.m. ET.
The show will reair Sept. 14 on ESPN2 at 6-7 a.m. ET, and Sept. 15 on ESPN Classic at 8-9 a.m. ET.
NOTE: The Bassmasters television program covering the recent Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown on the St. Lawrence River, which failed to air on ESPN2 on Sunday, Aug. 18, as scheduled, has been rescheduled for 8 a.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 25. It will follow a special presentation of the AutoZone Winning Ways program highlighting the most successful techniques from the Bassmaster Elite Series; it airs at 7 a.m. ET.