Leading the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race by more than 400 points, Lakeland, Florida's Bobby Lane, is riding a wave of cautious optimism.
"I don't believe in counting your chickens before they're hatched. This thing isn't over yet. I admit I'm in pretty good shape, but with two tournaments still on the schedule I don't want to look too far ahead," says the first-year Elite Series pro. "This year's been a real eye opener for me. I'm going to go slow and try to continue doing the things that got me here."
What got him here was years of hard work. Lane says he bass fished every chance he got — at least 5 times a week — for a decade and a half before he ever entered a tournament or even had an interest in competitive bass fishing.
"You know the story, though. Once that bug bites you, it's all over. I started fishing local tournaments and club events and then, about fours ago, decided to quit my job and turn full-time professional. I was running a lawn maintenance company at the time but just wasn't happy when I wasn't fishing.
"I fished other circuits along with BASS events for three or four years and then qualified for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic through the Southern Opens. After that it was full speed ahead with the Elites."
Lane's rookie year philosophy has been simple and straight to the point. He concentrates on catching five keeper bass every day of every tournament. Lane professes to give no real consideration to size or what it may take to win any particular event.
"I thought when this started in March that if I could catch five keepers every day I'd probably be in good shape as the year progressed. Of course, it's worked out better than that but that's still what I concentrate on during every tournament. I figured if I could do that I'd be able to reach — or at least come close to — my goals for the year."
He lists those goals as winning the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title, securing a spot in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic and earning at least $150,000. He's in good shape on all three.
Lane will be the 2008 Rookie barring a complete train wreck in the last two events. He's in 14th place in the overall Angler of the Year standings, so his berth in the Classic seems all but assured, and he's already won well over $150,000.
He credits much of his success to a good start in Florida. He finished 3rd on Harris and 7th at Kissimmee. Both of those finishes came on the heels of a 4th Place finish in the 2008 Classic in February. Early 2008 was good to this man.
"It made all the difference in my attitude. Fishing a Classic or the Elite Series is scary. I mean you can't overstate the level of competition. Everybody here can win any given tournament. There's no slack and no such thing as easy money.
"It can get into your head if you're not careful. You read about some of these guys in Bassmaster and see them on TV. Heck, I learned to bass fish by reading about what some of these guys do. Now, I look around at night and realize they're rooming alongside me in a motel and that tomorrow I have to fish against them. Believe me, it'll make you think.
"You need confidence to handle that. That's why I say the Classic and Florida was so important. They gave me the confidence to believe I belonged. It also helped financially. I had some winnings to carry me through the tough times. That's important, too."
If Lane has disappointments about his rookie year he keeps them close to his vest. When pressed, however, he will confess a need to work on his business skills and develop more sponsors.
"I have good sponsors — don't get me wrong. But, I don't have the one big one that can make a difference in your finances and your career. I'm going to work on that during the offseason. It was tough last year, but I think it's getting better. At least now when I call they don't ask, who'd you say you are?"
"If I'm lucky enough to win the 2008 Bassmaster Rookie Angler of the Year title that'll help me get the one I need. But I'm not complaining or anything. I've been able to handle everything this year — entry fees, travel expenses and home expenses — and catch bass. A guy can't complain about that."