There was a stretch between 2014 and 2015 when Shane Lineberger felt like everything was coming together for him as a professional bass angler.
He ended 2014 with a sixth-place finish in the Bassmaster Southern Open No. 3 on his home waters at Lake Norman in North Carolina. He started his 2015 season equally hot, with a ninth-place finish on Virginia’s James River in the first Bassmaster Northern Open of the season, and he followed by finishing 12th on Oneida Lake in the second Bassmaster Northern Open of 2015.
Lineberger, who had fished Bassmaster Opens since 2011, used those quality performances to earn a spot in the Bassmaster Elite Series, which he fished in 2016 and again in 2017.
The 46-year-old pro, who hails from Lincolnton, N.C., admits his rookie season with the Elites was a tough one, and that he listened to dock talk too much and let his mental game slip. His sophomore season was much more productive, however, and he earned checks in six of nine Elite Series events.
Two Elite tournaments in 2017 were a huge disappointment, however. Lineberger finished 109th (last place) at Texas Fest on Lake Sam Rayburn. He rebounded with top 50 showings in an Elite Series event on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas and another Northern Open on Oneida. The wheels really fell off on the next Elite Series stop on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York.
Lineberger got food poisoning right before the tournament and was so weak he could hardly stand. He practiced for only a few hours and did compete, but he finished 108th (second to last.)
The subpar performances on Rayburn and the St. Lawrence River not only knocked Lineberger out from a possible berth in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic, but it kept him from requalifying for the 2018 Elite Series.
That combination of sucker punches made Lineberger second guess himself and his path in life.
“To be honest, I was about ready to quit after that happened,” he said. “I was so close to making the Classic, and then that tournament at the St. Lawrence River happened. It could not have come at a worse time. And then to find out not only did I miss the Classic, but I didn’t even qualify (for the 2018 Elite Series).
“I thought ‘Why am I doing this?’ If I finish even like 100th in those tournaments, I pick up a few more points, I make the Classic and we’re not even having this conversation.”
Lineberger credited his wife and father with urging him to stick with competitive fishing, but his 2018 season wasn’t as successful as he wanted either. He fished on the FLW Tour, and he competed in all four of the Bassmaster Eastern Opens, but his best showing was 46th on Lake Champlain in New York.
Still, he said being invited to compete in the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series reminded him of two key things.
“People say they can feel it when the fire still burns, and I still have that,” he said. “The second thing is this is fresh start for me. It’s a fresh start for everyone … I think the future; it’s brighter for me right now than it has been in a couple years. You can’t worry about anyone else. You just have to do your thing. That only can come with experience.”
Lineberger specializes in shallow-water fishing, and he likes to run-and-gun hunting for more bites. He’s employed those tactics since he competed in, and won, the first club tournament he entered.
“My cousin had a 1987 Ranger 374, and he bought it brand new,” Lineberger said. “I talked him into fishing that little local night tournament back home. I was 17. When we won, I thought ‘Man, this is easy!’”
But even the greatest anglers have lean years, which strengthens Lineberger’s resolve. He said he’s hungry to redeem himself in 2019 and has his sights set on a couple tournaments in particular where he thinks he can shine.
“(Lake) Hartwell is only two hours from me, and I have a ton of experience there,” he said. “I won a couple BFL tournaments there and a couple of team tournaments too. I think Lake Lanier will suit me well, too. You can go 30 feet deep for spots, or you can fish 3 feet deep for largemouth. It’ll be anything goes.”
There are some spots Lineberger has never fished, such as Lake Fork, which is the site of the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“I’ve never been there, but I’ve read so much about it,” Lineberger said. “I’ll probably have to get out there during practice and just navigate it; see what it looks like and how it sets up. I mean, if I have my pick, I want to fish a jig in shallow water, but I can drag a worm in 25 feet of water too if I have to.”
Though he didn’t mention it, Lineberger likely has one tournament in particular circled on his calendar. The Elite Series will make a return trip to the St. Lawrence River in August, which offers Lineberger a chance at exorcising some old demons from two season ago.
“You’ve got to throw those old things out the window,” he said. “I didn’t do great in 2017, but I’m not focusing on that. I was fishing, but my mind wasn’t there.
“I mean, the FLW Tour is a good organization, but I felt like I needed to be with the Bassmasters again. I like the prestige. Everyone dreams of fishing the Bassmaster Classic, and I do too. I almost had a shot a couple years ago. No other tour has the Bassmaster Classic, and that’s everyone’s goal.
“So being back here on the Elite Series makes me hungry,” he added. “There’s no doubt about it.”