Meet Chris Lane, almost-hero. He brought 31 pounds, 3 ounces to the scales Saturday (March 24) and put it up against Monroe's 18 pounds, 2 ounces. The result was Monroe, 77-6, Lane 76-12.
Suddenly, after trailing Monroe from afar after two days, Lane was only 10 ounces behind.
That set up Sunday's finale to be the Ish vs. Chris showdown for $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
Even the third-place pro after three days, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 62-4 was 15-2 behind Monroe. Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., jumped up into fourth from 41st place with a big day of 30-7 and 56-13 overall, but still 20-9 in back of Monroe. Fifth with 56-8 was Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., trailing Monroe by 20-14.
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Monroe had not been complacent about a 13-plus cushion going into Saturday. Then, with 18-2 for the day, he knew Lane could make a charge, but Monroe wasn't expecting to lose the ground he did.
"It (18-2) was a decent bag, but when a guy catches 31, what else is left in there?" Monroe said.
"I just went fishing," Lane said. "This is a four-day event. Anybody can come from behind in these things. All these guys have smashed them. Anybody in the Top 12 could do something amazing tomorrow."
Lane was referring to the final cut to the Top 12 for Sunday's competition.
Monroe said his productive area is getting pressured, and the wind direction shifted, so he'll make one pass there Sunday, then move on to new water if nothing much happens for him.
"Today I started out catching them quickly," he said. "But when boats travel through there, they (fish) get a little skittish. They had been biting really hard the first couple days. Today they bit a lot lighter — a real sensitive bite — so I tried to move away when people got around me."
His presentation remains the same, and simple, he said: flipping the D Bomb creature bait on a jig, "putting it right there where they live."
His largest bass of the day was a 5-12, which he caught in the final hours of competition, followed by a 4-pounder and a 3-pounder.
"I didn't have much weight until I got that (5-pounder)," he said. "I felt real good after that — until you get here and find out the guy's got 31 pounds."
Lane, a native Floridian who won a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open in Florida in January, the 2012 Bassmaster Classic in Louisiana in February, and can claim 2006 and 2010 Open-level victories on Okeechobee, was beaming about his 31-3 sack.
"It's an absolute miracle going on in my life now," was what he told the crowd watching the weigh-in.
Lane said he started the day fast with a 5-pounder, and then another that weighed about 5. He made several moves throughout the day, including a trip back to the area in which he had lost an estimated 5-pounder Friday. There, he boated a 6-pounder, lost a 7-pounder, caught a 6-pounder, then what later proved to be a bass that weighed 8-0.
"When I caught that 8-pounder and culled out a 4-pounder, I said, 'That's it.' I'm probably going to go milk that area tomorrow," he said.
His technique is flipping into bulrushes with a "broomstick" All-Star rod. He said his line is 65-pound Stren Superbraid and his go-to lure is a Gambler Ninja jig.
"When I set the hook, I have my drag cranked all the way down, and those fish go nuts," he said. "They're some of the meanest fish in the country. They mow you over, mow the reeds over, and it's so hard to get to them. But when you do, they're big."
"I'm ready to get back out there," he added. "You can't go to a lake anywhere else in the country and catch 6-, 7- and 8-pound fish like you can here now. It is an absolutely amazing bite. I'm out there having a blast."
Lane said he feels he needs another 30 pounds Sunday to take the win. He began the tournament in fourth place on Thursday with 21-15 and moved into second on Day 2 with 23-10.
Saturday's biggest bass was an 8-14 by Kevin VanDam, a catch that propelled him into the leaderboard's 12 best pros who will compete Sunday. The 8-14 stands as the frontrunner for the event's Carhartt Big Bass award, a bonus of up to $1,500 for largest bass of the tournament.
Ott DeFoe was penalized 2 pounds for infringement of Elite Series Rule No. C16, which prohibits a pro from having more than five bass in his livewell at any one time but allows the pro to select which bass to release. DeFoe reported his miscount to tournament officials while he was still on the water. His three-day total of 50-14, which takes into account the 2-pound penalty, left him out of the cut by 2 pounds, 6 ounces.