PARIS, Tenn. — In a reversal of fortune, Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., finally took advantage of a hot Kentucky Lake bite, totaling 29 pounds, 14 ounces, Wednesday, which was enough to open up a one-plus pound advantage over four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., at the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph.
Lane, something of a shallow-water specialist, ditched the banks and targeted the ledges, home to the heaviest bass on Kentucky.
After narrowly missing a top-50 finish and subsequent check at the Kentucky Lake Elite event in 2008 and a poor finish on another tournament circuit at Kentucky in 2007, Lane was starting to feel snake bitten here. But the Elite Series is all about adjustments and Lane, despite his strong inclination to stick to the shallows, picked apart the numerous ledges Wednesday.
"I'm no expert, but I know enough to put my time in and hit as many ledges as possible here," said Lane, 35. "I'm a bank beater from Florida and it took everything in me to stay away from the shallow stuff, but I'm really learning a lot this week."
While Lane eyes the $100,000 top prize, many of the pros have their sigths on the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Those standings are also the main avenue into the 2010 Bassmaster Classic (Feb. 19-21; Lay Lake; Birmingham, Ala.) and the only way into the inaugural Bassmaster Elite Series postseason, the Toyota Trucks Championship Week, which will be played out on Alabama's Lake Jordan and Alabama River on Sept. 10-18 and feature the top 12 anglers.
VanDam led the AOY pack — albeit by a mere five points — heading into Kentucky. He looks on his way to maintaining his lead with another solid Kentucky finish. But just like Tiger Woods has Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour, 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion Skeet Reese is around to keep VanDam honest. Reese, second in the AOY points with two more events after the Tennessee Triumph, continued his solid run Wednesday and is sixth.
Lane, 31st in the AOY standings, didn't have the best practice and all indications pointed to another poor showing on Kentucky this week. But a slow approach and a devotion to the pattern allowed Lane to get off to a quick start, which included a 7-pound, 15-ounce lunker. Early in his competition day, he was able to visit three productive spots, pulling big fish off of each.
Lane accumulated all of his weight by noon and spent some of his day looking for new, productive areas before eventually heading to the weigh-in site early to eliminate any pratfalls that seem to strike him on this spacious fishery.
In contrast to Lane's Kentucky struggles, VanDam has flat-out dominated here. In 2008, the two-time Classic winner scored victory and in 2006, he finished third. On Wednesday, VanDam boated 28 pounds, 11 ounces, all on a Strike King crankbait in Sexy Shad color, the same lure he rode to victory in 2008.
His bag was buoyed by two fish weighing more than 7 pounds. Like most in the field, numbers weren't the problem for VanDam. Instead, it was a battle to weed through the abundance of smaller fish in order to find the bigger bass.
Like Lane, VanDam targeted schooling fish grouped around the ledges. He fished at a variety of depths, landing fish anywhere from 3 to 30 feet of water. Despite a strong Wednesday, VanDam was less optimistic than usual about his chances, citing the strong boat traffic on Kentucky set for the next three days as a potential hindrance.
"There are some spots where you can practically catch them every cast but it's all about location when you are trying to find the bigger ones," said VanDam, 41. "It's important to realize that this is a four-day tournament and it can't be won or lost with one day."
Rounding out the top five was Byron Velvick of Del Rio, Texas, with 27-6 in third; Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., in fourth with 26-2 and Rick Morris of Lake Gaston, Va., with 26-0.
Kentucky Lake has hosted 10 previous BASS events. Straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Kentucky Lake is 185 miles in length, with 160,000 surface acres and 2,380 miles of shoreline. Lake Barkley, a navigable canal, adds another 80,000 surface acres.
In the 2008 event on Kentucky Lake, VanDam totaled 84 pounds, 13 ounces, courtesy of a variety of lures, including jigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. His most productive lure was what would become the trademark in his march to the 2008 Angler of the Year title: a Strike King Series 6 in sexy shad color.
The top 12 pros in the AOY standings at the end of the regular season will advance to the inaugural Bassmaster Elite Series postseason, when the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year will be determined. Toyota Trucks Championship Week is set for Sept. 10-18, and will be played out on two productive Alabama fisheries. The first of the two post-season tournaments will take place on Lake Jordan out of Wetumpka; the finale, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, is slated for the Alabama River from Montgomery.