LA PLATA, Md. – It took him 20 tries and a whole mess of Potomac River largemouth bass this week, but Bobby Lane finally won an FLW Outdoors tournament.
Lane sealed the deal at the Stren Series Northern Division opener by catching a five-bass limit weighing 9 pounds, 3 ounces in Saturday’s finals and finishing the tournament with a winning four-day weight total of 65-14.
It was the smallest limit of the week for the pro out of Lakeland, Fla., but the 7 ½-pound lead he carried into the day was enough to fend off a surge from runner-up Ryan Park, who finished with 60-1 for the tournament.
“This is what it comes down to. You just try to keep it exciting, I guess. They sure were bigger earlier in the week,” Lane said. “It did get tougher as the week went on, but things just kept going my way. I missed some great opportunities today, and I thought it was going to kill me.”
Lane won this event on the merits of his first three days of fishing. Every day, he started flipping grass mats in Chicamuxen Creek and then would move later in the day to a little grassy spot he found near Smallwood State Park to try to cull some bigger fish. Doing that the first three days, he pounded out more than 15 pounds of bass each day, including the week’s heaviest stringer on Thursday, a 23-3.
He used the same approach Saturday, but fishing pressure and some lost fish left him with just over 9 pounds at the end of the day.
“I didn’t think they weighed 9 pounds, to be honest. I only had eight bites, and I lost two of them,” he said. “But I didn’t do anything crazy today; I didn’t go blind-fishing or anything. I just flipped and flipped and flipped the same areas I have all week.”
The flipping phenom from the shores of Lake Okeechobee found the Potomac to be very receptive to his grass-fishing mastery, not just this week, but also last month in FLW Tour competition, as well. He finished third in that big-money event.
This week, he flipped a 1 1/3- to 1 ½-ounce weight with a Berkley Chigger Craw on 50-pound Spiderwire line. He started the morning throwing green-pumpkin baits, and then switched over to watermelon-candy as the day wore on and the sun came out. Another trick he used is that he “shined” his Tru Tungsten weights, sanding them a touch to give them a little extra sheen.
“Yeah, the Potomac’s been good to me this summer,” he said. “Switching to watermelon-candy in the afternoon was the ticket, though. It looks more like the baitfish they feed on here during the day punching through that mat instead of that brown stuff they eat in the morning.”
It’s been a good month all around for Lane, who had 19 prior FLW Outdoors top-10 finishes throughout the Wal-Mart BFL, Stren Series and FLW Tour ranks and more than $275,000 in career earnings. He finally closed the deal in his 20th visit to the final round, and with the win he added another $25,000 in cash and a new Ranger to his trophy chest, plus all the boat, motor and Ranger Cup contingency money. His total haul topped $75,000 this week, which will come in handy considering the birth of his son, Robert Jr., some two weeks ago.
“It feels really good to say you won one finally,” he said. “You join a pretty small group of guys who can say they’ve done it.”
Park, who hails from Mount Joy, Pa., caught a relatively good limit Saturday – 11 pounds, 1 ounce – but he knew he’d need the catch of a lifetime to overtake Lane, who had a 7 ½-pound lead on him coming into the day.
“I figured coming into today that, realistically, the only way I could win was if I caught them really good and (Lane’s) Spiderwire got caught in a crab pot and pulled his flipping stick into the river,” Park said. “I won’t say that I ‘fished chicken’ today, but I went out to make sure I got a limit today. I was just worried about maintaining No. 2. But maybe next time I won’t do the same thing.”
Park said he avoided fishing his main area of grass mats early Saturday, opting instead to grab a quick limit in Mattawoman Creek before going hog-hunting. But even that wasn’t easy.
“With the wind yesterday, the grass mat on my best spot broke into three pieces and blew into the bank, so there wasn’t even really that much to fish,” he said. “I caught four or five fish after Mattawoman Creek, though, so I’m satisfied. I don’t think I played it too safe.”
Park said he caught about 75 percent of his fish this week flipping a Sweet Beaver with a 1 ½-ounce weight.
He earned $8,917 for second place in the Pro Division.
Coming in with the heaviest catch in the finals was Jess Caraballo of Danbury, Conn. His 16-pound, 4-ounce limit outweighed the next-heaviest bag by 5 pounds and launched him up the pro ranks into a third-place finish with a four-day total weight of 57-14. He earned $8,026.
“I was fishing right next to Bobby (Lane). We talked all day long just back and forth about what we were catching. In the morning I’d fish Chicamuxen Creek, and then I’d go up to Mattawoman,” Caraballo said. “Yesterday, he kind of got lucky because I made a mistake not staying with my fish. After I left, another guy went in there, and he told me he lost a 6-pounder in there. So I went back there today.”
While he finished third, Caraballo wasn’t unhappy with his results this week. He usually fishes FLW Outdoors events as a co-angler, but he has fished the Stren Northern Division as a pro the last three years. And his results at the Potomac River have only gotten better each year: He’s gone from a complete zero the first year to 109th the second year to third place this year. Plus, he won the Co-angler of the Year title on the FLW Tour this season, and he saw a certain symmetry to his finish this week.
“It’s only right that I came in third,” he said. “At the first FLW Series this year at Okeechobee, I came in third. At the first FLW Tour at Lake Travis, I was third. And here (the first Stren Northern event), I’m third. It makes sense.”
Nick Gainey of Charleston, S.C., finished fourth for the pros and earned $7,134 with a four-day total of 54 pounds, 15 ounces. He caught a limit weighing 11-4 Saturday.
“Today was my worst day. I had a limit by 7:30 and I culled two or three times, but than that was it. I didn’t get that 5-pounder, which you need here,” he said. “But I feel like I got a little revenge on the Potomac River. Last year in August here, I finished dead last. So this is a little payback.”
Gainey said he caught his fish flipping a jig with a Zoom Speed Craw trailer.
Pro James Kemper of Frankfort, Ky., tallied 54 pounds, 1 ounce for the tournament and earned $6,242 for fifth place. He caught a limit weighing 10-13 Saturday.
“I did a lot of just junk-fishing this week,” he said. “I could go out and limit with a finesse worm. Then I’d leave that and catch them on a Strike King jig. I had one grass mat about as big as that (weigh) table where I caught five good, solid fish.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 Pro Division finishers at the Potomac River:
6th: Terry Olinger of The Plains, Va., 52-12, $5,350
7th: Thomas Wooten of Huddleston, Va., 51-14, $4,905
8th: George Acord Jr. of Lancaster, Pa., 50-7, $4,459
9th: Michael Hall of Annandale, Va., 50-6, $4,012
10th: Sparky Petersen of Laytonsville, Md., 48-5, $3,568
The next Northern Division event, the second of the year, is scheduled for the Detroit River at Trenton, Mich., Aug. 15-18.