PALATKA, Fla. — Focus, slow down, try a different lure. Above all, follow your instincts.
That’s what Chris Lane said he did Friday. The result was a five-bass limit that weighed 37 pounds, 9 ounces. It was the largest one-day weight he’s ever achieved, said Lane, a five-time Bassmaster event winner, including the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.
And it was more than enough for the pro from Guntersville, Ala., to take the lead in the Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Johns River after two of the four rounds of fishing. Lane climbed from 15th place into first with a two-day total of 56-4.
Lane’s lead was an ounce shy of 9 pounds over first-day leader Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., who dropped to second place with a 47-5 two-day total.
Third place was taken by Elite rookie Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Ala., who rose from 12th place on the strength of his Friday bag of 24-15 for a two-day weight of 44-11.
Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., brought in 26-7 to make his total 44-10 and move him up from 17th into fourth place. In fifth place was Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., with 44-3.
Lane said he was frustrated after the first day, and upset that he, a Florida native, had not fished to his potential. He made himself fish more slowly. He sharpened his focus on the game. He tried another lure.
The adjustments worked. By early afternoon he had about 30 pounds in his livewell, he estimated, including an 8-15. He thought about checking in early.
“But I had a 3 1/2-pounder I wanted to get out (cull for a larger bass),” he said. “I just felt like today was the day when the big ones were biting. I stopped on a stretch of pads and caught a 4-pounder and culled. Then I caught a 5-pounder and culled the 4-pounder. And then I caught the 9-12, and culled the 5-pounder.”
“I knew I was done after that,” Lane said. He headed toward the check-in point in Palatka, about an hour’s drive by water from his hot spot, and arrived about 45 minutes early.
“When you have a day like I did today, you just want to get back in,” he said.
Lane said he has not been sight fishing at all over the two days of the event, but flipping and pitching into vegetation.
“I’m fishing exactly how I want to, and I’m having fun,” he said.
Howell said the spawning beds that yielded 27-3 to him on Day 1 are almost depleted of bass, and that too many competitors drifted closer to his best spots. He is considering abandoning that area.
“I will go somewhere else unless something crazy happens overnight and a lot of new fish move in,” he said. “I was just grateful to catch 20 pounds out of that area today.”
Howell brought in a 7-14, but despite searching, could not find the second kicker he needed.
Lucas, who is competing on the St. Johns River system for the first time, decided to quit the spawning areas at about 10 a.m. He had nothing in his livewell. He moved to another area, and by 2:30 had about 6 pounds.
Then, he said, he “stumbled on an absolute honey hole.” On his last cast, a 10-2 came back to him. In an hour and 10 minutes, he had gone from 6 pounds to 24-15.
The field was cut to 50 for Saturday’s semi-final round. The cut fell at 28-14, the two-day weight produced by local favorite Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla. On Sunday, only the Top 12 will compete for the first prize of $100,000 and an automatic berth in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Lane won the Day 2 Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500, and became the top contender for the event’s Berkley Heavyweight bonus of $500.
Lane also won Friday’s Rigid Industries Jackpot award of $500 for being the angler registered for the bonus who weighed 25 pounds or more. The first-day bonus of $250 wasn’t claimed, so it rolled over to Day 2, boosting the Friday award to $500.
The big fish of the day, a 10-10 by Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., bested the biggest of Thursday, a 10-2 by Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C.
Hackney even outdid himself: In the 2012 Elite event on the St. Johns, Hackney won big-fish honors with a 10-9. Friday’s giant helped push Hackney from 11th into sixth place. He also became the frontrunner for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass bonus of up to $1,500.
The field of 50 pros will takeoff Saturday at 7:30 a.m. from Palatka’s Riverfront Park. The weigh-in, at the same location, will begin at 4 p.m.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon Saturday and Sunday. The Expo, which features Elite Series sponsors’ products, includes activities for fans. People ages 14 and up can sign up for free demo rides on Nitro, Triton or Skeeter boats powered by Mercury Pro XS or Yamaha VMAX SHO engines. The Expo’s locally sponsored activities include a kids zone open until 6 p.m.; food vendors (all day); displays and cooking demos from 1 to 4 p.m. by First Coast Technical College; merchandise vendors; giveaways; free play on bean bag games, plus signup for a Sunday competition with cash prizes; Bike Florida; and a concert and block party from 5 to 9 p.m.
Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Crystal Cove Marina’s waterfront pavilion, the second episode of Costa’s new video series, GEOBASS: The World’s Greatest Bass Fishing Adventure, will premier. The address of the marina is 133 Crystal Cove Drive, Palatka, FL 32177.
There’s no admission charge for any of the activities.
The local host is the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.
ESPN2 will air coverage of the St. Johns River event on The Bassmasters, Sunday, April 6, at 8 a.m. ET. A reair is scheduled for Sunday, April 13, also at 8 a.m. ET. Fans can catch the episode again on The Outdoor Channel on May 19.