Lane fights off veterans at Champlain

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Chris Lane confessed he felt nervous Friday when an ESPN camera boat followed him around Lake Champlain. And Lane said he's even more anxious about the fact that legendary bass pro Denny Brauer is stalking him.

 But most importantly, the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series rookie has shown no fear after two days in the Champion's Choice tournament here. Lane followed his first-place limit of 21 pounds, 2 ounces, Thursday with 19-8 Friday to take a 2-pound, 11-ounce lead over Brauer.

 "It's still anybody's game," said Lane. "One guy I'm worried about is Brauer. The other guys are kind of working each other's water. He's by himself. Having him on your heels is scary."

 If this were a bass fishing version of the movie "Cinderella Man," the 57-year-old Brauer would be standing in his corner between boxing rounds, refusing the traditional seated position.

 "The bite was a little off today," Brauer deadpanned. "It took me about 30 minutes to catch a limit. Yesterday it took about five minutes."

 Unlike a boxing match, Lane doesn't have the luxury of worrying only about Brauer. Another Killer B, Tommy Biffle, is in third place, just six ounces behind Brauer. And Biffle may be even more confident than Brauer, if that's possible. Last week the 48-year-old Wagoner, Okla., resident became just the 16th pro bass angler to cross the $1 million career-earnings-mark when he won the $100,000 first prize at New York's Oneida Lake.

 "I caught a limit pretty quick," said Biffle, who had 18-9 Thursday and 19-0 Friday. "I probably culled another 18-pound stringer today."

 Unlike Brauer, Biffle and most of those chasing him, Lane has relied exclusively on a soft plastic topwater frog imitation. Almost everyone else in the top 10 is relying on flipping a jig in depths of two to 12 feet.

 What they all have in common is targeting largemouth bass in thick aquatic vegetation.

 Lane can attribute part of his success to the unlikely combination of bringing Lake Okeechobee experience to Lake Champlain, which is located about as far north of Okeechobee as you can get in the lower 48 U.S. states.

 "It's exactly the same," Lane said. "There's lily pads, there's reeds and a hard bottom in there. I think there must be some deep water nearby. I think these are pre-spawn fish.

 "The water temperature is about 74 degrees. In Florida, they spawn when it's 70 to 74 degrees."

 Spawning largemouth in mid-July would be news to many veteran Lake Champlain anglers, who think the black bass spawn is long gone. But it doesn't matter why these largemouth bass are in such shallow, thick vegetation. The fact is they're hitting the soft plastic frog that Lane is fast-cranking in front of them.

 Lane, who will celebrate his 31st birthday Monday, has a big decision to make Saturday — how long to stay in his hot spot.

 "I don't know if I want to work it hard or not," said Lane, who had his limit by 9 a.m. Friday.

 He is concerned with keeping his hot spot productive for two more days, not just one. The field was cut to the top 50 Friday. It will be narrowed to the top 12 before Sunday's finale. Lane admits it will be hard to stay away.

 "That first two hours in the morning is so fast and exciting it takes all your energy," he said.

 Maybe it's better that way. Then the rookie won't have any energy left to worry about guys like Brauer and Biffle, who, like the posse chasing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, keep showing up on the horizon just when you think you've lost them.


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