WETUMPKA, Ala. — Heading into this week, Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., just wanted to win a few boats.
He didn't see any plausible scenario where he could overtake Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. So, he fished void of worries and the carefree attitude helped him win the Ramada Trophy Chase on Lake Jordan, virtually Lane's home waters.
Now, the stakes have just been raised and Lane is within striking distance — just 5 points behind Reese in the AOY standings — of the most coveted award in bass fishing. He will again be working a fishery that he is ultra-comfortable with next week as the competition moves to the Alabama River for the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph.
"I just realized that winning the Angler of the Year is now a possibility," said Lane, 37. "I have to keep my head right and have fun and block out all the distractions. I can't control what anyone else does and I can't get wrapped up in thinking about what winning the Angler of the Year would mean."
Lane had a "crazy day" that included dropping his biggest fish off the side of the boat only to land it again and losing his rod-and-reel outfit to an aggressive spotted bass.
"That one hit right at the boat and was coming to the top really fast," Lane said. "My drag was set tight, it made a run at the last minute and my rod just flew out of my hand. I must have looked like such a goofball. I tried to pick up another rod and throw out there, but it must have been over 100 feet of water — it was gone."
Ultimately, good fortune and a hometown crowd — an armada of nearly 40 spectator boats stayed connected to Lane — carried Lane through, earning him his first BASS victory and a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $60,000.
Lane, who tallied a two-day total of 32 pounds, 3 ounces, had a distinct plan each day of competition that included searching for big bites early in the day and then moving to areas, after the current generation began at 11 a.m., where he was confident he could fill out his five-fish limit.
The four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier worked several deep-running crankbaits in addition to a Big Bite Baits worm, which enticed quality-sized spotted bass. As it was, Lane had a much more difficult time Sunday morning landing quality bites. By 9:30, he had zero fish in the boat.
"I could have panicked early," said Lane. "But I stayed calm all day long. That was the key to the victory: keeping calm."
The door was opened for Lane and a host of others because Reese had a disastrous day. He wasn't able to register a limit and lost three fish that would have helped him considerably.
"I'm pretty heated right now," said Reese, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion. "That was my toughest day of the season without a doubt. It is so frustrating and now I'm not in the best position. There are a lot of guys going into the next tournament with a shot and I don't like that."
Almost equally as disappointed as Reese was Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala. Martens finished second to Lane by 3 ounces in the event, but had the opportunity to win. He had fish care issues all day, which resulted in him absorbing a 24-ounce penalty to decrease his total of 32-0.
Beyond that, Martens made several blunders during the tournament day, tossing back quality, expiring fish which he was never able to match. The implications are endless for Martens. If he had won, he would be in second in the AOY standings instead of fourth. As is, Martens is still within striking distance, just 10 points back.
With all the drama, perhaps lost in the shuffle was Kevin VanDam moving up to third in the AOY standings just seven points behind Lane. VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., already owns five AOY titles including the last two years. VanDam has a magical way of performing in the biggest events and the Postseason is tailor-made for his aggressive style.
"I like the Postseason format," said VanDam, a three-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "It's very similar to other sports with playoffs and you have to be performing at the end of the year to be the champion. It's the most intense events I have ever fished and it's exciting as heck."
Rounding out the top five in the AOY was Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. Evers was Reese's closest challenger heading into this week, but the leaderboard has been turned upside down with the stellar performances of Lane and Martens.
The final Postseason leg, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, will play out on the Alabama River on July 30 and 31. The Postseason format features two, two-day events. Angler's scoring from the regular season was readjusted and then each tournament is scored on a 50-point sliding scale found below.
POSTSEASON POINTS SCALE