PARIS LANDING, Tenn. — The question here Saturday is not whether Bobby Lane can hold on to his lead in the SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph on Kentucky Lake, but whether he will pass 100 pounds in total catch en route to collecting his first $100,000 paycheck.
Lane's three-day total stands at 80 pounds, 10 ounces, and all were caught from one spot that Lane has barely touched. The Florida fisherman knew from the get-go that he was sitting on a gold mine, and pressured the bass only long enough to amass daily stringers that nobody could touch. For three days, Lane has been wondering what kind of bag he could catch if he really tried, and he plans to find out in the final round.
Though there's not much doubt about who is going to win this, the sixth event in the 200 Bassmaster Elite Series, there are some interesting back stories playing out among the Top 12.
Britt Meyers, currently in sixth place, has been waiting all year to put together a tournament that plays up to his structure-oriented, post-spawn strengths, and Kentucky Lake hasn't disappointed. After languishing back in the pack all season, the South Carolina angler is driving toward a coveted spot in the 2010 Bassmaster Classic. Where he finishes Saturday will help determine how close he gets.
With two tournaments to go, the race between Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has tightened as well.
Californian Reese was his customary laid-back self at the dock Saturday morning, secure in his fishing approach and water. VanDam, too, felt that he could at least bring in a stringer of five bass averaging more than 4 pounds, and he said that he had been saving a spot for the last day.
"I was worried about it Thursday because I saw another boat fishing it, but it wasn't a tournament boat," said VanDam Saturday morning. "Since then I haven't seen anybody around it. I've caught big fish off it in the past, so I'm hoping it will produce another good keeper or two today."
The Michigan pro, now in third place, trails Reese in the Tennessee Triumph standings by just 7 ounces. Unofficially, until the dust settles after this tournament, both men are deadlocked in the Angler-of-the-Year standings with 1588 points.
Gerald Swindle, the Alabama pro whose best finish heretofore in 2009 was 18th, is now in 10th place in the Tennessee Triumph and also sees glimmers of hope that he's got his groove back for the last two tournaments.
"Last year was such a dip in the road for me and I really haven't had any 'show-out' days this season," Swindle said. "I've been catching good stringers, but when people like Bobby Lane and Aaron Martens (at Lake Guntersville in the Southern Challenge) come in with 30-pound stringers ahead of you, it kind of sets you back on your heels. This time, I didn't put so much pressure on myself. I decided I wasn't going to get any help in this tournament and go out and fish my way and my style and that's what I did. I don't know if I can keep it going, but I'm feeling pretty good now."
Ultimately, everyone except for perhaps VanDam, Reese and Alton Jones are fishing as well as they can and waiting for a break. Fred Roumbanis of Oklahoma caught an 8-pound, 4-ounce lunker Thursday that helped him gain a toehold in the tournament top 12. He hopes it was the beginning of a turnaround in his season.
"No way I'm going to challenge any of the leaders in this tournament," Roumbanis said. "The best I can do is move up into the top five, and that would be great. I had another monster on Friday so I know they're out there. If I can put one in the boat like I had the other day, it will definitely help me in the point standings. I've had some strong starts in tournaments, and not-so-good finishes. I was third in the Classic at one point and then dropped back. That kind of stuff hurts, but maybe it's time for me to put together some good tournaments from start to finish."
Deep-diving crankbaits, giant swimbaits, football jigs and big Texas-rigged plastic worms have been the go-to lures for the leaders this week on Kentucky Lake, and that will be the case during the last day. Lane has led all the way, too. The biggest difference between the opening round and the final round is less tangible, and measured in the dashed dreams or renewed hopes of the pros. From tournament to tournament, that never changes.