Brauer pursues Lane's three-day lead

The Champion's Choice is up for grabs as Denny Brauer closes in on Chris Lane following an off-limits ruling on the spot where Lane has caught all but one of his 58-pound, 3-ounce total. 

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Chris Lane, a rookie on the Citgo Bassmaster Elite Series tour, will celebrate his 31st birthday Monday. He could tournament bass fish for the rest of his life and never face the situation he's in today.

When the 12 finalists for the $100,000 first place prize took off on Lake Champlain Sunday morning, Lane, the leader for three straight days, will be the only angler going in the opposite direction from where he's caught fish this week. Because of a ruling that occurred after Saturday's weigh-in, Lane is banned from the spot where he's caught all but one bass of his 58-pound, 3-ounce total through three days.

"I'm going south and go for five big ones and hope everything goes well after that," Lane said Sunday morning. "I've learned a lot this week. I commend BASS and the way they've handled this. I've got a lot of respect for Trip (Weldon, the BASS tournament director) and how he's handled this.

"I'm going to do what's best for the sport and for my career. I'm going to go catch some big bass and make this a better story."

Lane's three-day hot spot is an area marked as a wildlife sanctuary by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service signs, which say in essence "Keep Out." But there was some confusion about whether that message referred to people walking through the nesting bird habitat that is dry at Lake Champlain's normal levels or everybody, all the time. Lane thought he'd cleared that confusion before the tournament started. But those signs came back in the spotlight after Saturday's weigh-in when a local resident raised the issue.

Normally, Lane would have been disqualified for fishing in an off-limits part of the lake. But because Lane had asked about it and given the go-ahead Wednesday, Weldon was faced with bass fishing's equivalent of a Bible story — King Solomon and the two women claiming the same baby. After discussions with all involved, Weldon ruled that Lane wouldn't be disqualified, but can't go back in there today. The sword didn't fall on the baby, and Lane can live with that decision.

So instead of leaving the Plattsburgh Boat Basin dock, hanging a left and heading north, Lane took a right turn and headed south to make the 70-mile run to the Ticonderoga area.

"I'm just going to go fish Florida style and try to catch some fish I found in practice," said the Winter Haven, Fla., resident.

Lane won't have much company from the other pros in this event. Eight of the top 12 are fishing a large patch of aquatic vegetation encompassed by one square mile of Champlain's 435 square miles. That group includes Denny Brauer, who has been nipping at Lane's heels for three days. Brauer cut Lane's lead from from 2 pounds, 11 ounces Friday to 1 pound, 4 ounces going into Sunday's finale.

Without knowing about the ruling Saturday, Zell Rowland said, "Denny will catch him. There's not a guy in this sport better than Denny Brauer with a flipping stick in his hand."

Clear skies and bright sunshine Sunday morning made Rowland's feelings about the eventual outcome even stronger, especially with Lane forced to find new fish.

"It will really help guys like Denny and Tommy (Biffle)," said Rowland, who is in 12th place. "It will make it tough to beat those guys."

Biffle fell from third place to fifth Saturday. But he's coming off a win at New York's Oneida Lake last week where he went against the grain by concentrating on largemouth bass with a flipping stick in his hands.

Before Saturday's ruling, Brauer and Biffle, two tough, veteran pros, were trying to put some psychological pressure on the rookie, Lane.

"They've been telling me everything they could to mess with my head," said Lane, with a smile.

Brauer knew exactly where he was going Sunday morning and exactly which bass he was going to target. Brauer lost a five-pound bass that buried its head in thick vegetation Saturday and pulled off the hook.

"That area is small, about 75 yards by 75 yards," Brauer said. "Usually the biggest fish in a place like that will be in the thickest spot. That fish will probably be the key for me. If I can put a five-pounder in the boat right off the bat, that could put me over the hump."

And it's not like Brauer doesn't have other fish to target with his flipping stick. He's reached his total weight of 56-15 by weighing 19-5, 18-10 and 19-0 the first three days. If anything, Brauer has been consistent.

The pros behind Brauer — Brent Chapman (54-6), Paul Elias (54-2), Terry Butcher (53-12), Biffle (53-2) and Mike Wurm (52-14) — are fishing in that same area. But no one feels crowded, according to Wurm.

"You might run into one of those guys every once in awhile," said the Hot Springs, Ark., resident, "but not very often. I see them from a distance."

Of the top 12, only two other anglers headed south with Lane Sunday, Mark Tyler, who is eighth with 52-13, and Paul Hirosky, who is ninth with 49-14. That doesn't mean, however, they'll have that entire area of Lake Champlain to themselves.

"One time I was in a tournament here and three weekend (local) tournaments took place at the same time," said Hirosky, who lives in Guys Mills, Pa. "They weren't big tournaments, but it might as well have been one big tournament. I ended up running into a lot more fishing pressure than I expected."

With the monkey wrench thrown into leader Chris Lane's plans Sunday, no one knows quite what to expect at the weigh-in today, which begins at 3 p.m.