SYRACUSE, N.Y. — While he has suspected for a few weeks now that the victory was his, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., did not want to put the hex on his luck in the race to claim the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year award, so he patiently waited out the final few Elite Series tournaments of the season.
At the season-ending Champion's Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide, Lane, 34, officially accepted the Rookie of the Year trophy during Bassmaster Elite Series festivities Thursday at Oneida Shores County Park. Conveniently, a lot of his family was present to celebrate with him, including his brother, Chris Lane of Winter Haven, Fla., also a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. Bobby's wife and children, as well as Chris' wife and children, are also attending the Champion's Choice.
In winning the $25,000 top prize, Lane cinched the title after the first day of competition at the Champion's Choice with 12 pounds, 4 ounces. Wade Grooms of Bonneau, S.C., finished in second place. Through 10 Elite Series tournaments, Lane placed in the top 50 and earned a check in seven, including two top-10s.
In 2003, Lane sold his Florida landscaping company and set out to become a professional angler.
Lane signed up for the three annual Bassmaster Southern Opens in 2007 and qualified for the 2008 Elite Series season with finishes of 20th place, (March; Kissimmee Chain) 10th (May; Santee Cooper Reservoir) and fourth (October; Wheeler Lake).
He also qualified for fishing's most prestigious event, the Bassmaster Classic, held in 2008 on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. Lane finished fourth and earned $30,000 in the biggest tournament of his life so far, which he said was "an amazing experience that words can't even explain."
"Fishing with the Elite anglers, they make me a better fisherman," said Lane, whose first Bassmaster event was the 2005 Southern Open out of Kissimmee, Fla., in which he finished a very respectable seventh. "Every day this year, I've been at the boat ramp as early as they open, as soon as the sun comes up. You know you've got to catch them. Whatever you caught the first day, you better double it just to remain in contention at all."
As the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series season started, Lane's odds for performing well weren't hurt by tournament locations: two Florida chains on which he had spent a decent amount of time fishing while growing up, the Harris Chain out of Leesburg and the Kissimmee Chain out of Lake Wales.
He finished third in his first tournament as an Elite Series pro, on the Harris Chain, and seventh on the Kissimmee Chain. After the Florida swing, his season progressed less predictably with finishes of 73rd (Falcon Lake); 37th (Lake Amistad); 72nd (Wheeler Lake) and 58th (Kentucky Lake) as Lane visited some lakes across the country that he'd never seen, much less fished.
"Starting out the year, it was awesome in Florida," Lane said. "But if I didn't do well the first day, I never let it get me down, I'd always go back on the second days and do something different. You have to make yourself learn a lake that you've never been to.
While he bounced around in the midseason standings, other rookies had success:, such as Billy Brewer of Bruceville, Texas, who finished eighth and 45th on Texas' lakes Falcon and Amistad; and Wade Grooms of Bonneau, S.C., threatening Lane's ROY lead. But eventually Lane realized the ROY trophy was his to lose.
While he took 20th at the Tennessee Triumph on Old Hickory Lake out of Nashville, Grooms — who was in second place in the ROY standings — stumbled, closing the door on any chance to catch Lane.
"I knew I did well at Old Hickory, made a big mark," Lane said. "When it came down to it, I knew I had to do well at Lake Erie and I've never been there and the waves kind of had me a little worried.
Lane joins past ROY winners Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala. (2007); Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala. (2006); Dave Wolak of Wake Forest, N.C. (2005) and Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La. (2004). All are BASS tournament winners.
"It means everything, to earn that title. My success has come from dedication and a lot of hard work," Lane said. "I know there were nine or 10 other rookies who were trying just as hard as I was. Just because I've fished professionally before doesn't mean I'm any better than these guys.
"The next goal is to go out and get a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, a Classic title and an Elite Series win."
The Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year award is determined by anglers' positions in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. All standings will be finalized after the final day of the Champion's Choice and posted on www.bassmaster.com.