ORANGE, Texas – Despite a heavy downpour that began shortly after take-off Saturday and never relented, Alabama angler Chris Lane caught five bass that weighed 11 pounds, 3 ounces and maintained his lead in the Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River presented by STARK Cultural Venues with a three-day mark of 39-10.
But with flash-flood warnings in effect across the area Saturday night and muddy water flowing into the river’s maze of bayous and canals, Lane said Sunday’s final round may require a completely different approach if he hopes to score a rare wire-to-wire Elite Series victory.
“It was just a good day as far as I’m concerned, but I think everybody’s going to be thrown a curveball tomorrow with the mud and the rain,” Lane said. “I could be wrong. I’m going to hit a couple of the same spots I’ve been fishing early. But if it’s not happening, I’m going to make an adjustment right off the bat.”
Lane, who holds a slim lead over fellow Alabama angler Aaron Martens (37-9) and veteran Florida pro Shaw Grigsby (36-0), has been targeting shallow spawning fish all week in secluded ditches and canals where the water clarity was at least decent compared to other areas of the fishery.
But with good water clarity likely to be a thing of the past, Lane said he hopes to form a backup plan Saturday night in his hotel room.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and take-off in the morning, because I may have to do something totally different,” Lane said. “But that doesn’t bother me at all. It’s what we do. We love to go out there and figure out how to catch the fish when conditions are tough.”
Lane, the winner of the 2012 GEICO Bassmaster Classic, said he also relishes the opportunity to match wits with the top anglers in the world under rapidly changing circumstances with a $100,000 first-place prize on the line.
“If you’re going to beat these guys, you want to beat them when they’re at their best,” Lane said. "To throw this kind of mix into it, you never know what could happen – and that makes it fun.”
Martens has been right on Lane’s heels throughout tournament, and he produced another solid limit Saturday with five bass that weighed 11-11. He’s been fishing a pattern similar to Lane’s, targeting shallow spawning fish in narrow inlets with thick patches of grass that provide good spawning cover for largemouth.
The two-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year will enter Sunday’s final round trailing by only 2-1 – and like Lane, he said a complete redirect could be necessary.
“Who knows how things might work out tomorrow with high, muddy water,” Martens said. “It could be one of those days where whoever comes in with a limit is the guy who wins it.
“But none of that matters. There aren’t too many times when you’re in position to win a tournament like this, and I’m excited to have that opportunity to go out and fish for it.”
Grigsby, who entered Saturday’s round in third place, held onto that position by bringing four bass to the scales that weighed 11-11. He might have made a major move toward the top of the leaderboard if he had been able to land his fifth and final fish – an opportunity he said he had several times during the rain-soaked day.
“I had him on I don’t know how many times, but I just didn’t put him in the boat” Grigsby said. “I’m fishing for spawners, and because you can’t see them when they pick up the bait, it’s hard to get a really good hook set.”
He said the typical springtime spawning strikes have frustrated him all week.
“They’re not picking up to eat it,” Grigsby said. They’re picking it up to kill it and spit it out of the bed. You’ll feel a good strike, and you’ll be getting ready to set the hook. But then they’re gone. You can’t see any of this happening because the water is so stained.”
Grigsby said the area he’s been fishing all week was “rolling with mud” by the time he left Saturday. But he plans to go back Sunday and sink or swim with what’s been working.
Sunday’s field will be trimmed to the top 12 anglers. Behind Lane, Martens and Grigsby, the remainder of the field will be as follows: Mike McClelland (32-15), Scott Rook (32-14), Todd Faircloth (32-11), Greg Hackney (31-4), Brandon Lester (30-10), John Crews (28-13), Justin Lucas (28-9), Micah Frazier (28-1) and Keith Poche (28-0).
Mike Kernan, who ranked 12th after the first two days, failed to qualify for Saturday’s semifinal round after tournament officials disqualified his first-round catch for violating a rule that prohibits fishing in an off-limits area.
Sunday’s final take-off is scheduled for 7:10 a.m. at City of Orange Boat Ramp with the championship weigh-in scheduled back at the ramp at 4 p.m.