By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

There are no bonus points awarded for finishing first in the Elimination Round at MLF Bass Pro Tour events, but that didnt stop Bobby Lane from wanting to see his name atop the leaderboard when the first phase of the Lake Conroe Bass Pro Tour finished up today.

Wesley Strader had other ideas.

Both Lane and Strader had superb days to separate themselves from the other 38 competitors in Group A, but a late 2 1/2-pounder gave Strader a 1-pound advantage and the bragging rights that go along with it.

I really wanted to win today, but I didnt want to go back through areas and catch fish just to beat Wesley, said Lane, who piled up 26-11 today to push his two-day total to 55-00 (27 fish).

Strader, who caught 23-00 today to finish with 56-00 (29 fish), said hed gotten used to having the lead most of the day that he wasnt going to let Lane spoil it.

He was cutting in on (my lead) toward the end, so I said, Heck with it, Im gonna try to catch one more, Strader joked. Any time you can win anything against these guys, it feels good.

When Lane, Strader and the rest of the top-20 finishers from today return to the water Saturday for the Knockout Round, there will be little to joke about. Theyre also hoping the patterns theyve developed so far hold up. With warmer weather (finally) in the forecast and bass transitioning from pre-spawn mode into the next phase of their spawning ritual, theres no telling what the weekend will hold.

The majority of anglers continue to focus on shallow-water targets and manmade cover (docks, seawalls) hoping to intercept a wave of fish moving in from the main lake.

I wasnt so much looking ahead to Saturday, but I was trying to piece something else together in case what Im doing fails, Strader said. I saw other guys catch big ones and I had just one 4-pounder. Id like to mix in some of those with what Ive been catching.

Mark Rose seemed to have the big fish dialed in as he improved from 14th to 3rd on the strength of two of the biggest fish caught today. His first fish this morning was a 7-03 and he added a 6-01 in the second period as he rolled up a day-best 31-03 to push his two-day aggregate to 48-15. Rose and Justin Atkins, who finished 9th, were the only anglers to top the 3-pounds-per-fish average today.

Fletcher Shryock jumped from 17th to 4th thanks to a 26-06 haul to give him 43-02 (19 fish). Day-1 leader Brent Ehrler spent the day searching for new options and slipped to 5th with 41-13 overall.

As was the case at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes two weeks ago, as the Elimination Round wore on the focus intensified on which anglers would get inside the top 20 and advance to the Knockout Round, where weights are zeroed and the top 20 from both groups A and B compete for 10 spots in the Championship Round, which is slated for Sunday.

Skeet Reese and Dean Rojas, who both missed the cut at the season opener, were the only anglers to come from outside the top 20 to make the Knockout Round cut today, displacing Gerald Swindle (10th to 23rd) and Mike Iaconelli (19th to 21st). Reese mounted the biggest rally, charging from 33rd up to 17th by more than tripling his weight from Tuesday. His 25-04 today was one of nine 20-pound totals on the day and he caught more fish in the first period alone (seven) than he had during the entire Shotgun Round (five).

Rojas moved up from 24th to 20th after tallying 18-08 today (eight fish)



Major League Fishing
Photo: Major League Fishing

Jonathon VanDam mounted a third-period rally to secure a spot in the Knockout Round.

Jonathon VanDam, who started the day in 12th before slipping to 26th after the second period, mounted a big comeback in the third by catching 14-00 of his 17-00 in the final hour. He capped off the day with a 3-14 and 4-00 five minutes apart to cement his spot in the top 20.

Hes one of the few competitors who spent the first two days battling and wind and waves on the main lake. His persistence sure paid off as he made the Knockout cut for the second straight event.

VanDam got discouraged after boating just one fish over the first two periods, but he took a stubborn approach to the third and thats when he did his best work.

I tried running around to do other things, he said. My initial pattern wasnt working well. At end of the day, I was like, I know these fish are still here. I just needed to figure out what they were doing. They were holding different than they had been. They were off the structure more than what they had been.

He started his rally with a 2-pounder at 2:40 p.m. and a similar-sized fish at 3. Three more fish, all 2-04 or bigger, went on his scoresheet in the next 25 minutes to cap off a furious comeback.

I love this format, he said. Its super intense, especially around that cut line. If youre ahead of it, youre trying to not let it catch up to you. If youre below it, you do all you can to catch up to it.

He hopes to not be in a similar situation on Saturday.

My pattern seems to be different from what other guys are doing, he said. With the weather changing, Im not sure how itll affect it because there are definitely a couple different things going on. Making it through the Elimination Round was the biggest part, but with everything zeroed now its anybodys game, especially with the way this lake is fishing.

Strader feels like he has a grasp on what the fish are doing in the areas hes been targeting, but by no means is he guaranteeing hell make it to Sunday.

Im not saying Im dialed in 100 percent, but when I find (what Im looking for), 75 percent of the time I get a bite, he said. Its hard to find. The lake is so muddy and there are so many sea walls, its hard to duplicate it everywhere.

Through two days, his biggest fish is the 4-04 he caught at the end of the second period today. He knows hell need to catch a few more like it or bigger to advance out of the Knockout Round.

I have a grasp of what theyre doing and how theyre positioning, and I know what theyd doing early in the morning and later in the day, he said. Its that in between time where Im trying to figure out how to catch one. Im running a pattern and Im also trying to establish where the bigger ones are staged up at. Its throwing me for a loop because I only seem to be able to catch them on cover thats not real abundant. The most prevalent cover docks I have not able to get bit on and I cant figure out why.

At the Kissimmee Chain, Lane hovered around the cut line in the Knockout Round, eventually falling short of making the final day on his home waters. Today, he said it was nice to not have to sweat every ScoreTracker update.

Major League Fishing
Photo: Major League Fishing

Bobby Lane is anxious to get back on the water Saturday after what he saw today.

I havent been in this position, he said. At Toho, it was a fight the whole time to get in. This was a lot different. I was more at ease. I felt good with where I was at. I went and checked an old area and I figured all I have to do now is go fishing. If I catch a couple, great. If not, Id still be fine. That was the beauty of today. It was nice to make moves and not be on the bubble. I had no stress and the ScoreTracker didnt bother me. It was very relaxing today.

Lane likes how the conditions are shaping up and hes banking on a few more fish moving into the shallows by the time he gets back on the water Saturday morning.

I have a lot more confidence now (compared to Tuesday), he said. Im hoping things are just opening up. I went practicing around some stuff I hadnt gotten bit on and fish started showing up. Its a relief knowing I have somewhere to go instead of the same darn canals Ive been going back to.

He said he discovered a spot late in the afternoon that seemed to be holding some quality fish. He also gets a sense the water clarity is starting to improve somewhat, which could open up more bait options on the weekend.

We havent had much sun, but the more I fished today it seemed like I could see my bait a little better as the day went on, he added.

Lane caught fish steadily all day with 11 of his 14 coming after the first period. He recycled some water from Tuesday early on, then went looking for new options.

I went back to where I caught the 28 pounds to milk it and I caught 8 or 9 (pounds) to get myself safely in (the cut), he said. I stayed in there until the end of the second period and when the break was over, I made a move. I caught a 3-pounder, then ran to another area where the water was a little dirtier. I lost a 4 and caught a couple more. I feel like its a good area and with it warming, Im hoping it only gets better.

Notable

> Day 3 stats 40 anglers (First period: 90 fish, 178-03; Second period: 78 fish, 168-08; Third period: 88 fish, 195-15; Total: 256 fish, 542-10)

Weather Forecast

> Fri., Feb. 15 Mix of Sun, Clouds - 72/44
- Wind: From the NW at 12 mph

> Sat., Feb. 16 Mostly Cloudy - 65/47
- Wind: From the ESE at 6 mph

> Sun., Feb. 17 Mostly Cloudy - 66/51
- Wind: From the ENE at 9 mph

Group A Elimination Round Results

1. Wesley Strader -- 18, 33-00 -- 11, 23-00 -- 29, 56-00

2. Bobby Lane -- 13, 28-05 -- 14, 26-11 -- 27, 55-00

3. Mark Rose -- 10, 17-12 -- 10, 31-03 -- 20, 48-15

4. Fletcher Shryock -- 7, 16-12 -- 12, 26-06 -- 19, 43-02

5. Brent Ehrler -- 15, 33-12 -- 5, 8-01 -- 20, 41-13

6. Jason Christie -- 10, 29-11 -- 5, 12-00 -- 15, 41-11

7. Adrian Avena -- 15, 29-02 -- 10, 12-04 -- 22, 41-06

8. Alton Jones Jr. -- 8, 15-06 -- 7, 26-00 -- 18, 41-06

9. Justin Atkins -- 8, 16-01 -- 8, 24-02 -- 16, 40-03

10. Bradley Roy -- 12, 29-04 -- 5, 10-03 -- 17, 39-07

11. Boyd Duckett -- 17, 27-00 -- 8, 11-08 -- 25, 38-08

12. Alton Jones -- 7, 18-06 -- 9, 19-09 -- 16, 37-15

13. Todd Faircloth -- 11, 17-13 -- 10, 20-00 -- 21, 37-13

14. Jeff Kriet -- 13, 26-03 -- 6, 9-13 -- 19, 36-00

15. Jonathon VanDam -- 7, 18-03 -- 6, 17-00 -- 13, 35-03

16. Jeff Sprague -- 10, 17-07 -- 9, 17-05 -- 19, 34-12

17. Skeet Reese -- 5, 8-02 -- 13, 25-04 -- 18, 33-06

18. Kevin VanDam -- 14, 25-12 -- 5, 7-01 -- 19, 32-13

19. Greg Hackney -- 8, 17-02 -- 7, 14-09 -- 15, 31-11

20. Dean Rojas -- 6, 12-14 -- 8, 18-08 -- 14, 31-06

The following anglers missed the cut and will not compete in the Knockout Round.

21. Mike Iaconelli -- 8, 15-15 -- 5, 13-01 -- 13, 29-00

22. Aaron Martens -- 5, 11-02 -- 6, 16-03 -- 11, 27-05

23. Gerald Swindle -- 7, 21-03 -- 2, 5-10 -- 9, 26-13

24. Cliff Pace -- 9, 14-10 -- 5, 11-14 -- 14, 26-08

25. Dustin Connell -- 3, 5-08 -- 7, 20-07 -- 10, 25-15

26. Shaw Grigsby -- 7, 12-14 -- 7, 12-07 -- 14, 25-05

27. Cliff Crochet -- 6, 11-07 -- 8, 13-11 -- 14, 25-02

28. Anthony Gagliardi -- 5, 13-02 -- 6, 11-01 -- 11, 24-03

29. Marty Robinson -- 5, 8-14 -- 7, 14-00 -- 12, 22-14

30. Luke Clausen -- 4, 8-14 -- 5, 10-15 -- 9, 19-13

31. Britt Myers -- 7, 10-14 -- 5, 8-07 -- 12, 19-05

32. Josh Bertrand -- 3, 9-04 -- 4, 8-07 -- 7, 17-11

33. Jacob Powroznik -- 6, 11-10 -- 3, 5-07 -- 9, 17-01

34. Scott Suggs -- 3, 5-15 -- 6, 10-04 -- 9, 16-03

35. Brent Chapman -- 5, 8-11 -- 4, 6-05 -- 9, 15-00

36. Terry Scroggins -- 4, 7-11 -- 2, 4-01 -- 6, 11-12

37. John Murray -- 1, 4-12 -- 3, 5-10 -- 4, 10-06

38. Paul Elias -- 5, 7-00 -- 1, 1-10 -- 6, 8-10

39. Brandon Palaniuk -- 3, 7-03 -- 0, 0-00 -- 3, 7-03

40. Jesse Wiggins -- 0, 0-0 -- 2, 2-11 -- 2, 2-11