BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Russ Lane was a man with a plan and he stuck to it — even though Mother Nature was a little late with her role. Nevertheless, the Prattville, Ala., angler represented his home state well with his fourth-place finish at the 40th Bassmaster Classic on Birmingham's Lay Lake.
Drawing upon his vast Lay Lake experience — one year he fished 70 tournaments there — Lane knew that, after a practice period that brought record low lake temperatures, the weekend's warming trend would ignite a particular area.
Lane fished the popular Beeswax Creek on the first two days and then moved south to his favored Spring Creek for Day Three. His decision paid off, as Spring Creek delivered an 18-pound, 1-ounce limit — his biggest of the event and second only on Day Three to Classic winner Kevin VanDam's 19-7.
"I've fished so many tournaments here — I was addicted to it," Lane said Sunday. "That's how I knew a week ago what was going to happen in Spring Creek today, because I had seen it so many times. Spring Creek is the best creek in this lake when it's right. I kept checking it every day and never got a bite until today; it just went crazy."
Despite falling short of the top spot, Lane said he would not change one element of his operation.
"Everything worked out just as planned," he said. "I had a plan even since last week — I knew that Spring Creek was going to turn on. I caught 18 pounds today, but if the tournament had started today, I could have caught 20 pounds in there the next two days."
The key element of Spring Creek's productivity, Lane noted, is the fertile ranges of coontail moss. This, along with water willow, provides an essential zone of cover along the outer edges of the shallow shoreline grass where bass stage in the prespawn period. With the Alabama Power Company pulling water from Lay Lake during the tournament, the declining depth, along with sunny conditions pushed all the right buttons.
"We had falling water and the water was clearing so it was the perfect scenario for those fish to be out off the bank a little in that coontail," Lane said. "It was just like somebody turned on a light switch in there this morning. As soon as I got to the first spot, I caught five big (spotted bass) off the first break, then I ran another one and I caught two. It was just on."
Lane fished a Strike King Series 5 crankbait, a Strike King Redeye Shad and an Excalibur XR50 rattlebait on Day One. He threw the Redeye Shad again on Day Two and also got a nice kicker fish on a ¾-ounce flipping jig with a Biobait YoMama trailer.
Day Three saw Lane catch a 6-pounder on ½-ounce Buckeye spinnerbait and fill out his limit on the Redeye. Day One gave Lane a limit of 14-1 that put him in ninth place. He missed his limit by one fish on Day Two, but still improved to fifth with 11-10.
Lane said his Classic experience has helped him refine his game beyond the physical elements. Strategic positioning, he said, was essential to his success.
"I'm getting a lot stronger mentally on the water," he said. "That's something I've struggled with in the past. I'm getting a lot more confidence now and a whole lot of patience. I made sure that I was ahead of the fish and making sure that they were coming to me. I was not trying to find them the whole time."
Ultimately, Lane said he is pleased with his Classic performance. A higher finish was certainly the goal, but he's confident that his game plan was well-conceived and perfectly executed.
"I came here to be in the show, not watch the show," he said. "I did all I could do. My goal was to put myself in position to win and I did that."