Still riding high along Victory Lane

A Bassmaster Classic champ for one week now, Chris Lane is just beginning to understand what winning the title really means.

“There have been mornings this past week when I’ve woken up in complete awe,” Lane said Monday, back at home in Guntersville, Ala., after a string of appearances and media interviews. “Or I’ll be driving down the road, and suddenly it hits me: You just won the Bassmaster Classic.

“I don’t think it will sink in completely for a long, long time.”

The 36-year-old landed the Classic title and its $500,000 first prize Feb. 26 by a margin of 3 pounds, 7 ounces over runner-up Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala. Lane took control on the second day, then rode his lead through the final and third competition day of the world championship on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

The Classic victory happened just five weeks after Lane won on the Harris Chain of Lakes in the season’s first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. Two wins means that he is double qualified for the Bassmaster Classic of 2013 before the Bassmaster Elite Series season begins, a rare accomplishment.

The day he won the Classic, he was invited to ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters for a round of interviews known as the “car wash.” His appearances on March 2 included Mike and Mike in the Morning, a SportsNation internet chat and SportsCenter.

“The Mike and Mike show was really neat, because those guys realize that bass fishing is truly a sport,” Lane related.

For SportsCenter, “I was a little nervous because I was sitting up there at a desk like one of those analysts, and I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes, here we go.’ Then I hear ‘five, four, three, two, one — and you’re live.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness, oh-kay!’ They asked me some pretty crazy questions, and I hope I answered them well. I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.”

Those who did catch the SportsCenter interview say that Lane fielded the questions thrown at him like, well, like the pro he is.

He was able to watch himself in one of the Bassmaster Classic television shows that aired last weekend on ESPN2. Lane said that when the footage of Paul Elias winning the 1982 Bassmaster Classic was shown, he thought again how he and his brothers, Bobby and Arnie, had seen Elias on TV.

“I remember that so well, the big-bearded guy winning the Bassmaster Classic, like it was yesterday. I don’t even know how many years ago that was, but it was a long time ago,” Lane said.

It was almost 30 years ago, in fact. Lane, born in July 1975, was 7 years old when he watched Elias win the 1982 Classic. It wasn’t a conversion moment: Lane was already hooked on bass fishing. His father and grandfather had been taking Lane and his brothers out for years on the various bass fisheries around his hometown of Lakeland, Fla. Lane guesses he was about 3 years old the first time he was handed a rod and reel.

Since then, fishing has been, as he puts it, “What we do,” and “Who we are.” He developed those concise explanations over the past week after being asked, again and again, why he is a pro angler.

The “we” is intentional. Fishing is a family affair for the Lanes. He and brother Bobby (who gave Chris a run for his money in the 2012 Classic) are successful Bassmaster Elite Series pros. Arnie has competed in many tournaments, including Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. Chris Lane’s wife and four children play critical supporting roles.

“They are my backbone. Without them, it doesn’t happen for me,” Lane said.

The newly crowned Classic champ has had little time to think about the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series, which will start its season on the St. Johns River out of Palatka, Fla., on March 15. After that event, the field will travel south to Lake Okeechobee for the March 21-25 Power-Pole Slam.

The St. Johns event won’t be like going home because the river was not a frequent destination when he lived in Florida. It’s that second stop in which Lane is a favorite to win. He owns two Open-level titles taken on Okeechobee.

But how does an angler top two big wins in two months? The answer came easy for Lane:

“Win an Elite event. I really, really want to do that. I want to compete at the highest level consistently, and I’m ready.”

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