November 7, 2013
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Hope springs eternal for any bass fisherman, who is sure the next cast will result in an acrobatic bucketmouth leaping on the end of the line.
That applies especially to professional bass anglers like Russ Lane of Prattville, who has one more shot at turning a disappointing 2013 season into a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, which will be held Feb. 21-23 on Lake Guntersville with weigh-ins at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex.
Lane is in the lineup for the Bassmaster Wild Card event, scheduled for Dec. 7-9 at Lake Okeechobee in Florida. The shot is long because Lane will have to win the event to qualify after what he calls the worst season of his professional career.
The trouble started at the 2013 Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla., in February when a late season winter storm dumped snow and frigid conditions on the 56 competitors. He had no idea that it would be something other than the fishing that would cause him so much grief.
“In the offseason (leading up to the Classic), I always try to be in as good of shape as I possibly can, taking care of myself,” Lane said. “I did a lot of work in the gym. I hired a personal trainer. I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been during my professional career. That goes a long way in getting you through the season. When you get physically tired, you start to lose that mental sharpness.
“Anyway, going into the Classic, I felt like I was more competitive than any of the years I’ve been out here. About halfway through pre-tournament practice I ended up with pneumonia. The weather was horrible. We probably had 5 inches of snow the day before the Classic started. Then I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics the doctors had prescribed. I spent a day in the doctor’s office, then back-to-back days in the emergency room because of the allergic reaction. The pneumonia was really second fiddle to the allergic reaction. I barely remember anything about that Classic except that I finished last.”
With a start to the year he deemed as “horrible, horrible, horrible,” Lane’s fishing fortune didn’t change much when the Elite Series started on the Sabine River in Texas.
“There were some crazy changes in the water where I wanted to fish,” he said. “They had saltwater barriers to keep the saltwater from intruding into these areas. I found an area in practice that was really, really good. But it was 80 miles away, so once you decide to make that run you’re totally committed. When I get there the first day, the saltwater barrier was up and this salty, muddy water had intruded into the whole area I was fishing. My area was destroyed, and I had a bad tournament.”
The next stop was Falcon Lake in Texas, where Lane thought he could get back on track after a couple of great practice days.
“I’m fired up about it,” said Lane, who won the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason event on Lake Jordan. “I’m catching them offshore on crankbaits. I had a pretty good bag the first day. The second day I had a decent bag, but I lost three 10-pounders in one day. Instead of a 38- to 40-pound bag, I ended up with 20 pounds.
“That was three tournaments in a row with horrible luck, and that’s kind of the way my year went. Then in the last tournament of the year, I end up with strep throat. When you combine all that stuff with a handful of fisheries that you’re not familiar with, it turned out to be a really bad year.”
Lane has qualified for five Classics, finishing in fourth place in the 2010 Classic on Lay Lake, and he’s not giving up on making No. 6.
“I’m not going to say I’m not fishing the Classic, because I’m fishing the Wild Card,” he said. “Michael Iaconelli didn’t make the Classic through the Elite Series, but he won the last Bassmaster Open of the season to qualify. I plan on doing the same thing.”
Lane knows what one big bite can mean to an angler’s fortune, and it can happen in a flash. He joined Aaron Martens, Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Phoenix Boats President and pro angler Gary Clouse and up-and-coming angler Josh Bragg of Jacksonville, Ala., at Eufaula recently at an Alabama Bass Trail media event.
Lane went out the first morning and landed a 9-plus pounder on a crankbait, a feat that remained unmatched for the rest of the event, which was designed to highlight Lake Eufaula as one of the Southern Division stops on the 2014 Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series.
“Eufaula is a really special place to me,” Lane said. “A good friend of mine who is an Elite Series fisherman now, Jamie Horton, made a Classic in 2002 through the Federation when Jay Yelas won it on Lay Lake. That kind of lit a fire under me to fish the Federation to see if I could make the Bassmaster Classic. Lo and behold, one comes up on Lay Lake the next year.”
But the path led through Lake Eufaula. Lane and friend Chris Rutland came to Eufaula to practice for a Southern Division Federation tournament. Lane had never been on the lake before, while Rutland had only fished it twice. When the pair showed up, they found that a local tournament was being held, so they decided to enter.
“We ended winning that tournament with 23 pounds, and I’d never been on the lake before,” Lane said. “Three weeks later at the Southern Division tournament, I end up with 59 pounds for a three-day tournament and I end up winning by 20 pounds. I leave there and my confidence is high. I fish the Federation Nationals and make the Bassmaster Classic in 2004 on Lake Wylie (S.C.). So Eufaula is special to me because I feel like it kick-started my career.”
Lane said the key to catching fish on Eufaula is keeping an open-minded approach because the 45,181-acre impoundment on the Chattahoochee River offers so many opportunities.
“Eufaula is a legendary lake, and all of its legend is because of the offshore structure fishing out on the main river channel,” he said. “All that can be really good, but you can still compete in the tournament by fishing for shallow fish. When I came here 10 years ago, I didn’t know I was supposed to sit out on those ledges from daylight til dark, so I fished shallow. The best ledge fishermen in the area were fishing that tournament and we beat them shallow. What I figured out was when I came back for the divisional tournament, I wanted to find ways to catch fish shallow and on the ledges, and that’s how I was able to win it by 20 pounds.
“My advice for anyone coming to Eufaula would be to pay attention to the water level and time of year. If the lake is full, look at the dominant cover, whether it’s willow grass or lily pads and figure out how to catch some fish shallow. Then take a look at the ledges, especially if they are generating water. It takes a lot of current to position those fish out on those deep ledges. Look at the conditions and do what the conditions dictate. There’s no such thing as the fish ain’t biting. Do what the conditions tell you and you’ll find them sooner or later.”
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Russ Lane of Prattville landed a 9-pound-plus largemouth recently at Lake Eufaula during a media event to highlight the new Alabama Bass Trail Tournament Series, which will give amateur anglers a chance to compete for $10,000 at each qualifying event in 2014. Lane, who has competed in five Bassmaster Classics, will have one last shot to make the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville at the Bassmaster Wild Card on Lake Okeechobee in December.