From baseball to bass fishing

CELEBRATION, Fla. — For many years, Russ Lane dreamed of taking his place alongside the great pitchers of baseball history — Gibson, Koufax, Clemens and others.

But reality has a way of changing lives, especially if an individual is able to see things as they really are instead of how he wishes they were. After a college baseball career, and a few years in the minor leagues, Lane saw the light. "I had some good stuff and I knew it, but I knew it wasn't quite good enough," he said.

So Lane made a life-changing decision, giving up baseball and instead pursuing a career as a professional bass angler. Unlike his baseball dreams, though, his fishing career has become a successful reality … and he's just beginning.

Lane, from Prattville, Ala., is fishing this year among the world's best anglers in the inaugural season of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series. He fished in less than 20 BASS tournaments before the season started, but had performed well enough last year - his first year of professional tour fishing - to qualify for the first Elite Series lineup.

A new concept in professional bass fishing, the Elite Series consists of 11 events, offering $7.5 million in prize money as well as unprecedented levels of exposure for anglers and sponsors on ESPN2 and in other media outlets. The 11 events take the touring pros to some of America's best fisheries with the tournaments scheduled at the best times of year to produce optimum fishing for the anglers as well as exciting viewing for spectators.

In the recent Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance event in Columbia County, Ga., Lane placed 18th. He's in the top 30 for the Toyota Horizon Award and is 26th in the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index, catching an average of 28-11 per tournament.

Lane played three seasons of professional baseball in an independent league, similar to AA level, toiling for teams located in Joliet, Ill., and Richmond, Ind., before getting out after the 1998 season.

"After making $1,000 a month for three years, I decided it wasn't for me," he said. "There were hundreds of guys out there who were 6' 3'', right-handed and could throw in the low 90s. All I had was a great arm. I couldn't hit for anything."

Unlike many young men forced out of sports involuntarily, Lane left baseball on his own terms. "I probably could have been a career minor leaguer, either as a player or in coaching," he said. "I could still be in the baseball business in some way, but it wasn't what I wanted to do."

What he wanted to do was fish, and Lane came up through the BASS Federation Nation, qualifying for the CITGO Bassmaster Classic through those ranks in 2004. He also fished local tournaments in Alabama with friends and in five years, won about 100 events. After that, he and his girlfriend, Elizabeth, mapped out a three-year plan for his fishing career, figuring that if he hadn't made it by the end of the third year, he would go back home, fish local tournaments, and get a day job.

So far, the plan is working. And Lane had his experience in the Federation Nation to support him. "I learned how to prepare and get organized for a higher-level tournament, and learned how fish react to the pressure of fishing over several days in a tournament with a lot of boats.

"It's a great way to make it to the Classic," he said. "It was a great experience for me and allowed me to decide I wanted to do this and move up."

Lane's sponsors on the Elite Series include BassCat Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Airport Marine, Kistler Rods, Lowrance Electronics, Gamma Line and Gambler Baits. "So far, I'm really happy with the way things are going with the Elite Series," he said. "ESPN and BASS are doing a great job."