Bobby Lane loves competition, and he found plenty of it on the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open trail. That’s why he’s thrilled, but a little perplexed at his current position heading into the Opens Championship on Table Rock Lake.
Lane earned his spot atop the Eastern Opens Angler of the Year points by winning the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open event on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, then adding a third-place finish at upstate New York’s Lake Champlain, an eighth place at Tennessee’s Lake Douglas and a 16th at North Carolina’s Lake Norman.
“To be honest, I figured I wouldn’t even need to go to the Championship to earn a point to win the title, and here I have a one-point lead over Brandon Lester,” Lane said. “I have had my best season ever on the Opens and to have a one-point lead after three top 10s and a top 20 — and only a 10-point lead over third place — it’s unbelievable the competition that’s out there now.”
Competition — and tremendous geographic diversity. This formidable combination was both spark and fuel for a fire that burns hot.
“Going to four different events from Florida to New York, the Eastern Opens gives you the beginning tools you need to be a professional fisherman, and it strengthened mine this year,” Lane says. “The Elite Series is one thing, but being in the Opens was more fun to me. I kinda went into it knowing I don’t have a lot on the line and just let it all fly.”
Lane’s journey started the first week of February when a massive 31-pound, 7-ounce Day 1 limit positioned him for the wire-to-wire victory in the Eastern Open’s first event.
“The Kissimmee Chain was a good win for me because I made a good decision to start where I did, and once I figured out those fish they were a lot easier to catch because I’m a Florida angler,” Lane said. “I caught one big fish — a 9-pounder — in Lake Kissimmee, but most of my big fish came from Lake Hatchineha, and then I’d come through Lake Toho and pick up a few key fish to ensure that I was not going to lose the tournament.”
With the exception of the buzz toad that tempted his heaviest bass, Lane did his damage with The General, a soft stick worm in Berkley’s PowerBait MaxScent line. He used the Junebug colored bait on a 5/0 Trokar hook with two different size weights.
(Side note: After the tournament, Lane credited his daughter Alexis for influencing his win. A few weeks prior, the 13-year-old schooled her dad with The General, so Lane packed 10 bags of the Berkley bait.)
“I like to put myself to the test every year and be as versatile as I can,” Lane said. “I think the key was being open-minded and and, no matter what bait I pick up, I have confidence in what I’m throwing.”
Notably, Lane considered Lake Champlain his biggest challenge. In seven prior visits, he had never cashed a check, but this year’s event saw him solve the riddle.
“I told myself ‘If you find a group of fish, stay with them all the way to the end and see what happens,” Lane said. “Normally, I like to run around and hit five or six spots, but I had found two groups of fish, and I just kept working back and forth. I burned up one and let the other ones carry me through.
“Learning to manage a group of fish and almost pulling out the win; that was the key for me maintaining my points lead.”
The Champlain event saw him again relying on The General; this time on a shaky head and Texas rigged with a 3/4-ounce weight.
“That has been the key bait for my year,” Lane said. “My two highest finishes came off that bait.”
Championship game plan
Now Lane admits he’s thin on Table Rock experience — he’s fished there only once during an Elite Series event. He won’t bring much history to the championship, but he understands the seasonal need for covering water.
“I have no idea what to face, but by the looks of the weather, we’ll be facing fall conditions,” Lane said. “I’m going to keep my trolling motor on 50-75 percent and, hopefully, I catch enough to stay the points leader.”
Lane said he expects topwater presentations to play a significant role in the Championship. In this broad category, he’s including walking baits, buzzbaits and even spinnerbaits burned across the water’s surface.
Good thing about the topwater game is it appeals to the lake’s diverse population.
“I know Table Rock has all three species of bass — spotted bass, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass,” Lane said. “I would expect that more than likely, I will weigh in one of those three species every day with a mixed bag. I’m thinking that will probably be the way to win that event.
“I’m going out there with an open mind because I don’t know what I’ll find. But I have a one-in-28 chance to win, so my odds are pretty decent."
With 39 top 10 finishes, including two wins, in Bassmaster competition, Lane has established himself as a top-tier competitor. His thought: winning the Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year title would be a career jewel.
“Anytime that you can say you’re the AOY points champion, that means you were the best that year in that trail,” Lane said. “The Bassmaster Classic is one tournament and that’s a big win; something that I’m after, too. But to say that you were the best out of that many guys on that many different fisheries would mean the world to me.
“I fish for a living, so I’m after every title I can get. You don’t get that many chances anymore because the competition is so tough. To be in the position I am is wonderful. How this thing shakes up, I have no control over. But all I can ask is that I fish clean and try to make the best decisions when I’m up there. It’s been working all year, and I’m hoping that it works for one more event.”