By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The inaugural season of the MLF Bass Pro Tour was fairly lackluster for Chris Lane as he ended up 52nd out of 80 anglers on the final points list and didn't finish higher than 26th in any of the eight regular-season tournaments. If the opening day of the 2020 campaign was any indication of what's to come, this year should be a whole lot better.
The Florida native who now resides in Alabama had a stellar opening period at mud-laden Lake Eufaula. The 33-09 he amassed in those 2 1/2 hours was considerably more weight than any of the other 39 anglers in Group A managed all day. He added one more keeper in the final period to give him 35-12 on nine fish and a lead of nearly 9 1/2 pounds over 2nd-place Josh Bertrand, who boated seven fish for 26-06.
"What a great first period – I got to put a flipping stick in my hand and go after the big ones," Lane said. "It was awesome."
He did almost all of his work from around a culvert where clear water was being injected into the lake from an adjacent duck pond on a wildlife refuge. His haul included specimens that weighed 5-11, 5-07, 4-14 and 4-06.
He shared the place with 3rd-place Todd Faircloth, who registered 25-13 on six fish. Stephen Browning, Paul Elias and James Elam also spent time in the vicinity as the amount of fishable water on the lake was greatly reduced by the dirty runoff from heavy rain earlier in the week.
"My hat's off to Todd," Lane said. "He was in there when I pulled in and I don't know if he'd have done it for anybody or if I'd have done it for everybody, but we made a gentleman's agreement that we'd go fishing and have fun."
Josh Bertrand caught multiple keepers during each of the day's three periods.
He doesn't expect the place to produce nearly as well on Sunday, when Group A will return to the water for the second qualifying round.
"I might hit it for the first 30 minutes or I might not go there at all. I went to a stretch this afternoon with 20 minutes to go where the water was really clear and that's got me fired up. I'll take the day off tomorrow and relax a little bit and then go back out and try to get those five to 10 bites I'll need."
Bertrand and Faircloth were the only competitors within 10 pounds of Lane. Bryan Thrift, the longtime FLW stalwart making his BPT debut, was 4th with 19-11 (seven fish) and Greg Hackney rounded out the top 5 with 19-08 (seven fish).
Many locations where anglers had found fish during the two-day practice period were inundated with chocolate-colored water. Tommy Biffle, Roy Hawk, Randy Howell and Jeff Kriet posted zeroes for the day and six others caught just one keeper.
Conditions could be even tougher during Group B's initial qualifying round on Saturday as more dirty water will move into the Chattahoochee River from its many tributaries. Also, the fish will be even more pressured as Group B will share the lake with competitors in a major American Bass Anglers (ABA) team tournament.
Bertrand's day was vastly different than Lane's. He caught multiple keepers in each of the three periods (two, two and three) and wasn't reliant on one specific place or technique.
"I literally just bopped around and I had a couple of good breaks," he said. "When it's this hard to get bites, every fish is a milestone. Every one I catch I say 'thank you' to the fish gods and move on to the next one."
He caught keepers on a crankbait, a standard jig and a vibrating jig.
"I never caught any back to back and if I caught one, I wouldn't try to force a couple more out of that place. I kept moving and looking for fresh stuff that wasn't getting pounded. This is a big lake, but a lot of stuff is blown out and it's fishing kind of small."
The first three fish that Faircloth caught all topped the 5-pound mark. His action fizzled out late in the first period and he went several hours before adding to his total late in the day.
"I spent the whole second period trying to find other fishable water and there's just not much of it," he said. "I'm sure this lake's been this way before, but it's by far the muddiest I've ever seen it.
"It was pretty wide open on the practice days and there were all kinds of things to fish, but it's a lot different now. I did feel like I found a couple other spots where I can possibly catch some."
Group A – Qualifying Round 1
1. Chris Lane -- 9, 35-12
2. Josh Bertrand 7, 26-06
3. Todd Faircloth 6, 25-13
4. Bryan Thrift -- 7, 19-11
5. Greg Hackney -- 5, 19-08
5. Anthony Gagliardi -- 4, 19-08
7. Brent Ehrler -- 5, 17-14
8. Jeff Sprague -- 6, 17-08
9. Brandon Coulter -- 3, 16-04
10. Mark Rose -- 5, 14-08
11. Stephen Browning -- 4, 14-07
12. Jordan Lee -- 5, 13-15
13. Boyd Duckett -- 6, 13-06
14. Britt Myers -- 4, 12-12
15. Scott Suggs -- 5, 12-02
16. Jacob Powroznik -- 4, 11-12
17. Aaron Martens -- 4, 11-08
18. Andy Morgan -- 3, 10-11
19. Mark Daniels, Jr. -- 4, 10-06
20. Greg Vinson -- 3, 10-03
21. Paul Elias -- 4, 9-12
22. Andy Montgomery -- 3, 9-12
23. Cliff Pace -- 3, 9-08
24. Shin Fukae -- 4, 9-01
25. Dean Rojas -- 2, 8-09
26. Alton Jones Jr. -- 2, 6-06
27. Brent Chapman -- 2, 5-08
28. James Elam -- 2, 5-04
29. Alton Jones -- 2, 4-15
30. Matt Lee -- 2, 4-00
31. Terry Scroggins -- 1, 3-12
32. Jared Lintner -- 1, 3-10
33. John Murray -- 1, 2-12
34. Marty Robinson -- 1, 2-01
35. Timmy Horton -- 1, 2-00
36. Gary Klein -- 1, 2-00
37. Jeff Kriet -- 0, 0-00
37. Randy Howell -- 0, 0-00
37. Roy Hawk -- 0, 0-00
37. Tommy Biffle -- 0, 0-00