PALATKA, Fla. — You’d think with a 12 1/2-pound lead, you could relax.
Not in a Bassmaster Elite Series competition. Not when it’s on a big-fish factory like the St. Johns River. And not if you’re Chris Lane.
“I have to go out there and do the very best that I can,” said Lane, the 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ from Guntersville, Ala. “Anything can happen on the St. Johns River. There’s no safe lead here.”
Lane, who jumped from 15th into first on Friday after producing a monster bag of five bass weighing 37-9, brought in 19 pounds, 9 ounces Saturday for a three-day leading total of 75-13.
Lane’s 12-8 lead was over runner-up Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., who weighed 24-13, Saturday’s largest catch. It beefed up his total to 63-5, moving him into second place from 10th.
Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., anchored in third place with 61-7 over three days. Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas, was fourth with 60-9. Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas, who won the 2012 Elite event on the St. Johns, rose from eighth place into fifth with 59-4. First-day leader Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., was sixth with 58-14.
Those six head up the 12 finalists who will compete in Sunday’s final round for $100,000 and a 2015 Bassmaster Classic berth. Notable jumps into the Top 12 were Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, from 20th to 10th with 54-13, and David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., who rose from 17th to be last man into the 12-cut at 54-3.
Lane’s 12-8 lead was one of the widest margins in the Elite Series’ nine-year history. The largest was 12-15 by Idaho’s Brandon Palaniuk at the 2011 Bull Shoals event in Arkansas after three days of competition. (Palaniuk won by 12-14.)
Lane was not entirely pleased with Saturday’s conditions.
“I still caught quite a few fish today, but to me the bite was off,” Lane said.
While he had a productive St. Johns lake to himself for two days, where he’s been flipping and pitching into vegetation, he had company Saturday. Lane said they were recreational anglers who showed up to fish what was probably their favorite place.
Other factors came into play too.
“It’s shallow where I am, and the water was murkier. One of my areas I didn’t even get to fish today because the wind was blowing so hard out of the west, making that water difficult to fish,” Lane said.
Lane weighed a 9-10 as his largest bass of the day.
“I’m going to concentrate on my area tomorrow and see if I can’t put enough weight in the boat to bust this thing out, maybe get five of those 9-pounders,” he said.
Lane said he wants to hit the “century” mark, or 100 pounds in one event. Twenty-five pounds would get him there. And once he had 25 pounds, he’d come back to the docks, he said, even if hours were left in the competition day.
Hite was in second place on Day 1, then plunged to 10th on Day 2. He recovered nicely to recapture second on Day 3, thanks in part to an 8-0, his largest of the day.
“I caught a lot more fish, and I lost a nice fish or two, and still had almost 25 pounds,” he said. “I think tomorrow I can catch 30 pounds. I would not have said so yesterday, but now I feel like I can. Chris did it yesterday.”
Hite said he’s boating prespawn bass and postspawn bass. He said he caught about 20 keepers Saturday.
Is Lane’s 12 1/2-pound lead insurmountable?
“No, not here,” said Hite. “Sure, things have to go right. When you get those big bites, you have to put them in the boat. That’s why I fell behind yesterday. If things go right for me, and not for someone else, I can catch him.”
The big fish of the day was a 9-14 brought in by Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark. But the 10-10 on Day 2 by Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., held as the frontrunner for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass bonus of up to $1,500.
For his 37-9 sack of Day 3, Lane remained the top contender for the event’s Berkley Heavyweight bonus of $500.
The dozen pros in Sunday’s competition will takeoff at 7:30 a.m. from Palatka’s Riverfront Park. The weigh-in, at the same location, will begin at 4 p.m. Fans are invited to watch and follow the pros progress at Bassmaster.com, where live streaming video of the weigh-in will begin at 4 p.m. ET.