PALATKA, Fla. — Tick-tock, pow!
When everything is in sync and his timing feels perfect, Chris Lane says he experiences a sensation like a clock ticking inside of him. He yells “Pow!” when he boats a big bass.
Over the four-day Bassmaster Elite Series event on the St. Johns River system, Lane heard the tick-tock, and his word of triumph exploded repeatedly from his lips.
Starting Sunday’s final round with a 12 1/2-pound lead, the tournament was Lane’s to win or lose.
Lane not only stayed in stride the final day by catching 15-0, he walked off with the victory in high style: His winning margin was 14 pounds, 4 ounces over the second-place finisher, Dean Rojas.
Lane amassed 90-13 over the four days of competition. He added a sixth Bassmaster victory to his resume that includes being the 2012 Bassmaster Classic champion and a 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series winner.
A Florida native now living in Guntersville, Ala., Lane’s win in Palatka, Fla., was like coming home for the victory parade. Fans flocked to him for autographs, and several photographers shot a family photo of so many people, they almost fell out of the cameras’ viewfinder.
“To win here in Florida is something special for me. This (the trophy) is for my family who got up at 3 o’clock and drove all the way from Guntersville,” Lane said.
All four days of competition, Lane fished on Dexter, a lake of the St. Johns River system peppered with lily pad patches, with an average depth of about 7 feet and about a mile long.
He decided on Dexter during practice for the event because he’d fished it before. His instinct was proved right when huge bass began to hit his lure so hard, they were sawing tough lily pad stems in half, he said.
Even when he was in 15th place after the first day, Lane did not question his decision to stick with Dexter. The conditions there were perfect — higher water at a lower temperature than normal for March.
His reward for keeping faith in his instincts came on Day 2. He produced the event’s largest catch of 37-9, plus the lead by almost 9 pounds. Day 3 with 19-9, he stretched that margin to an incredible 12 pounds, 8 ounces, the second-largest lead in Elite history.
On Sunday, he returned to Dexter. If the lunkers were still there, he didn’t find them.
“I knew things were getting a little slow because there are only so many lily pads to fish, and once you take two or three fish off a pad, you’re not going to go back there and catch another one,” he said. “It was getting thin. I had to buckle down today and grind hard.”
Lane either cast into Dexter’s pads or punched a jig into the vegetation, targeting largemouth bass that were prespawners and postspawners, he said.
Which pads held bass, he said, “was just something you learn from fishing in Florida. You can’t explain it, but you know when you see it. And in practice I tried to find a patch I could get not just one, but eight bites out of.”
Casting to pads was his choice over sight fishing in eel grass, a pattern employed by many in the 108-angler Elite field.
Lane said he considered his winning lures to be a Luck-E-Strike ribbontail worm in black and blue, and a prototype soft stickbait being developed by Luck-E-Strike. Both he rigged with a 1/8-ounce Reins weight. His jig, he said, was homemade, black and blue, and rigged with a 3/4-ounce weight and 65-pound line
Trailing Lane by 14-4 was Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz. Rojas was happy with his second- place finish at 76-9 because he’d been in 20th place after Day 1, then climbed to 11th, then ninth before ending in the runner-up position. Sunday he weighed a five-bass limit of 21-10, his best of the event.
By finishing in third place at 75-4, Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., retained his early lead in the race for Toyota Angler of the Year, an award he’s won three times. Taking fourth place at St. Johns at 74-7 was the 2012 Elite winner on the same fishery, Alton Jones of Lorena, Texas. Fifth place was by Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., with 73-3.
Bonuses that Elite pros earned at the St. Johns event were:
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 to the highest finisher eligible for the bonus: Davy Hite. This Bonus Bucks award at the previous Elite event was won by Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, S.C.
* Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $2,000 to the second-highest finisher eligible for the bonus: David Walker. This Bonus Bucks award at the previous Elite event was won by Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla.
* Toyota’s $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Mark Davis
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Chris Lane for his 37-9 on Day 2.
* Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament worth $1,000 plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel: Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., for his 10-10 on Day 2.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 to the winner: Chris Lane.
* Rigid Industries Jackpot award of $250 daily to the angler eligible for the bonus who brought in 25 pounds or more in one day: Day 2, Chris Lane for his 37-9 on Day 2, $250 plus Day 1’s unclaimed $250. The unclaimed $500 from Days 3 and 4 roll over into the next Elite event’s Rigid Industries Jackpot.
* Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for heading up the leaderboard on the second day: Chris Lane.
ESPN2 will air coverage of the St. Johns River event on The Bassmasters, Sunday, April 6, at 8 a.m. ET. A reair is scheduled for Sunday, April 13, also at 8 a.m. ET. Fans can catch the episode again on The Outdoor Channel on May 19.
The local sponsor of the St. Johns event was the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce.