DECATUR, Ala. — Good things and bad things have happened to Bobby Lane at Wheeler Lake.
“Wheeler’s been an interesting place for me,” said the pro from Lakeland, Fla., on the eve of the June 16-19 Dixie Duel, the season finale of the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series regular season.
The good: he won his first Elite Series qualification and an entry into his first Bassmaster Classic at the October 2007 Bassmaster Open on Wheeler. The bad: he returned to Wheeler the next year for an Elite event and bombed.
“I think I weighed in the smallest five-fish limit of the tournament on the first day.” He winced as he related the fact.
For the record, his 5 pounds, 11 ounces, for five bass in that 2008 Elite event wasn’t the lightest limit of the first day, but the second lightest. Lane ended up in 72nd place on that trip, a sharp contrast to the fourth place that brought him in 2007 to the Elite party.
Since then, he still hasn’t whipped the fishery, but he likes Wheeler, even though its grass is gone, a turn that’s hard for a pro weaned on Florida fisheries to negotiate.
“All in all, I have no complaints about this place,” he said. “It’s been outstanding to me. The Ingalls Harbor facility makes the logistics so easy — it’s the best of any place we go — and it’s where my B.A.S.S. (Elite) career started.”
Baring a competition catastrophe for Lane, he’s very likely to stay high enough in points at Wheeler Lake to end up with his fourth consecutive Classic qualification.
No bad karma there.
Edwin Evers, the pro from Talala, Okla., who is No. 2 in points, would welcome any good vibes coming his way; he has the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year contest on the line here. Last season, he ended up second to Kevin VanDam in the crown race. Going into the Dixie Duel, Evers trails leader Kevin VanDam by just 55 points for the 2011 title.
Evers’ Wheeler history is a mixed bag. He was 13th in the 2008 Elite competition, but made a fatal error when the tour returned in 2009. On the final day of that event, sitting in eighth place, he inadvertently switched off his livewell and all five of his Day Four bass perished.
“Bad mistake,” was his succinct understatement at the time. He incurred the standard 8-ounce penalty for each bass. He ended in 26th place.
After three days of practice this week, Evers was ready to attack Wheeler again and make his own good karma.
“All I can do is the best job I can,” he said. “If it’s good enough, I’ll be really excited. If it’s not, then there’s next year.”
The 2009 Elite winner on Wheeler, Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., said that there’s absolutely nothing he can use from his win to help him on this one.
“It’s a completely different time of year, and different conditions. Sure, it makes me feel good to know that last time I competed here I won. Wheeler’s always been good to me, it’s a lake I Iike,” he said.
Biffle has a lot at stake this trip.
“I’ve got to win this one to make the Classic, so that’s what I’m fishing for,” he said.
He’s hoping to cash in on the Elite Series’ new-for-2011 rule that awards a Classic berth to each event winner. Ranked 78th in the Classic-determining Angler of the Year standings, Biffle can’t get into the Classic via the Elite points route.
The pro who chased Biffle across the 2009 finish line, Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., said he’s been dreading the 2011 Wheeler Lake tournament. Not because his performance on the Tennessee River impoundment will determine whether he makes the postseason cut, but because summer conditions are trying to push him offshore.
“I hate offshore with a passion. I cannot stand it,” he said. “I knew when I saw the 2011 schedule that this would be my worst tournament of the season.”
Ashley said he planned to shun the Decatur Flats and its ledges. The area will be crowded, he predicted.
“I’m going junk fishing,” he declared. “That’s my best chance this time.”