RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — Three years ago at the 2006 Champion's Choice on Lake Champlain Chris Lane, in his rookie season, went into the final day with a slight lead over veteran Denny Brauer.
The morning of Day Four, Lane found out he wouldn't be allowed back to his honey hole because the entrance was an illegal fishing area. Lane scrambled to find a limit and Brauer took his first Elite Series victory in dominating fashion over the rest of the field.
Fast forward to the 2009 Toyota Trucks Diamond Drive on Lake Dardanelle and both anglers once again find themselves squaring off, this time within sight of each other in a fishing hole far up the lake.
"Two years ago I might have been intimidated," Lane said, in regards to sharing water with Brauer. "Now, I want to get after him. I told myself today, 'I'm going to come out on top this time.'"
Both anglers have been pulling good fish out of the area and both Lane and Brauer and currently inside the top 10. Brauer feels like that might be hurting the area and he only plans to spend one hour there in the morning if the bite dries up.
"I'm ahead of Chris so I think he needs to yield to his elders," Brauer said on stage. "I'm going to start there tomorrow again, but we beat it up pretty bad. The key spot there only takes me an hour to fish, but I really think the area is history."
Fortunately, Brauer and Lane both have backup areas, but there might be a little jockeying for position in the morning between the two as they both try to start out the day on the right foot. In light of that, Brauer has some parting words of wisdom to offer, respectfully, about his past competition with Lane.
"Chris and I weren't really fishing near each other at Champlain," Brauer said with a smile. "I was fishing legal water and he was fishing illegal water. Chris is a great guy, but I would have beat him anyway."
Just not his week
Local favorite Scott Rook had been one of the pre-tournament favorites, but some bad luck on both days of competition derailed any hopes he had of winning just down the road from his Little Rock, Ark., home.
On Day One, Rook got in a confrontation with a canoe right on top of his best spot, which he ran his aluminum boat into just for the access. After that, he was barely able to eke out two bites there and limped in with just over three pounds.
Friday saw Rook exchange his small boat for the full-size fiberglass rig he normally totes around. Still, events conspired to put him behind the eight-ball right off the bat.
"I knew I needed some fresh water, so I was going to lock down to where I knew some good fish were that no one else was fishing for," Rook said. "I get to the lock and ring the bell and I find out that a double barge is going to be coming through shortly and it would have taken four to six hours just to get me through."
Rook had to scramble after that so he went to an area that he knew had plenty of smaller fish and brought in a respectable 13 pounds, 13 ounces to finish the tournament in 66th place.
"Dude, that is the way my whole week has gone."
Five fish for 50
Five fish limits were hard to come by on Lake Dardanelle over the first two days of competition, but that didn't necessarily mean that anglers who didn't bring in a limit were out of contention.
Wade Grooms brought in only five fish over the course of two days. He got five of the right bites and squeaked into the cut in 46th place with 21 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I was fishing really, really slow," Grooms said. "People around me were throwing fast baits and caught more fish than me, but I'm just soaking my baits to get those bigger bites."
His three-fish bag on Day Two was comprised of a 6-pounder, a 5-pounder, and a 3-pounder. Should he manage to bring in a limit of those quality fish on Day Three, Grooms could shoot right up the leaderboard.
After a Day One performance that saw him arrive four minutes late to the afternoon check-in, resulting in a four-pound penalty on his weight, Bobby Lane knew he needed a positive decision to start Day Two off on the right foot.
"After a slow first couple of hours on the water, it slicked over and I decided to put on a topwater frog and started catching them," Lane said. "That good decision reversed everything that went on yesterday."
His adjustment paid off big, as Lane made the cut by 5 ounces in 48th place with 21 pounds, 1 ounce over two days and will at least be guaranteed a check after Saturday.
"I feel good about the decisions I made, but I'm still mad about yesterday," Lane said. "Those last four miles back to the ramp yesterday were the most frustrating moments of my life knowing I only had one minute left to check in."
"I thought I had a secret spot and I get there today and it's like a party — there had to be 10 boats in there." — Denny Brauer
"I'm going over the hills and through the woods to see grandma and hopefully I'll catch her tomorrow." — Mark Menendez, on why he's using a smaller boat to get through the backwater.
"I just think we caught them all yesterday." — Todd Faircloth
"I started the day with ten rods on the deck of the boat and ended up with one." — Greg Vinson
"We can put another scar on the helmet after this day." — Brent Broderick
"I was fishing in water that looked like chocolate Yoo-Hoo all day." — Byron Velvick
"I swear we trashed that place, so we may not get another bite in there tomorrow." — Denny Brauer, on fishing in a crowd.
"You don't have to have a forty thousand dollar boat to be a good fisherman." — Ri ck Clunn, fishing out of an aluminum boat this week.
"I don't know if I missed the bus here or got ran over by it." — Marty Robinson
"I was driving the ole suck-bus today, fell off and got ran over." — Kenyon Hill