Chris Lane, a professional angler from Alabama, may soon change his tune to Sweet Home Orange, Texas after winning the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series on March 22.

“OHH Baby,” were Lane’s first words after winning the competition. Lane started Sunday not far from the launch point because he had caught two fish there the previous day.

The event was held March 19-22 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp with a variety of other activities in addition to the fishing in spite of a rain-out on Saturday.

Lane said at the weigh-in in front of a capacity crowd during the trophy and a $103,000 check presentation he didn’t catch any in that launch point, so he went to Taylor’s Bayou and caught two fish, but the others were coming up short. It was a close competition with Lane’s 50 pounds catch over four days beating second place finisher, Mike McClelland’s 46 pound catch.

Lane told himself, “You know what? You are not going to make these fish bite. Don’t lose the tournament right here, go back.

“Mike McClelland (second place finisher) has beaten me when I had a five pound lead before. He was coming with a full head of steam. I came back here where I caught two fish yesterday and caught four fish today and culled one out. It’s a God thing, man.”

McClelland said he wished had caught five more fish the second day of the tournament was what as going through his mind at the weigh-in.

He added his HydroWave electronic fishing aid blew a fuse on day two which slowed him down.

“It was the only day I didn’t catch six or more,” he said.

In fact, he made Saturday’s weigh-in with only four seconds to spare because of the distances he traveled to fish.

“I’ve got a phenomenal list of sponsors: boats, motors, you name it, they’ve all been phenomenal, but I need a gas sponsor. Is this not gas and oil country down here? I’ve burned $75 to $82 of gas a day.”

He said they shut his credit card off when he filled up Saturday. Other than that, McClelland said it was a great week for him.

Lane gave credit to his family for his motivation to compete.

“My four kids and my lovely wife, they are my biggest cheerleaders, my biggest support. They’re the reason I get up at four or five o’clock every morning and work till sundown to make sure I do the best,” he said. “They are on Spring Break, so we are going to stay in Orange, Texas. We are going to spend some money and we are going to eat some crawfish.”

Lane concluded by telling the crowd he wanted to thank Orange, Texas.

“I look forward to coming to Orange, Texas because you guys know how to throw a tournament through a party and you guys do it right.”

Local favorite and the 2013 champion, Todd Faircloth of Jasper, finished in ninth place.

“I felt like I was far enough behind, I needed to change areas and do something different,” Faircloth said.”

He said another fisherman got to the area first where he was headed.

“I left that area and went to another area I won in two years ago and found some clean water and spent a lot of time there,” he said in front of the cheering crowd. “I didn’t have a great fishing day today, but I have absolutely had a great week here, all week. I can’t tell you how many people have genuinely come up to me, wished me the best and rooted for me to win this thing again. I wish we could have done it. This place is very special to my heart and I want to thank each and every one of you.”

Overall wrap-up

The entire event was called the Orange River Festival, presented by Stark Cultural Venues and Gopher Industrial, and hosted by the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce. There was concerts, a carnival, a race, and various booths.

Ida Schossow, John Gothia, David Jones, Dean Granger and Steve Jones with GOACC all agreed it was a fantastic tournament because of the large crowd participation, even thoughSaturday was lost due to excessive rainfall.

Granger said the anglers told him how the fishing has improved since they were last there in 2013.

Gothia agreed and said the local fisheries have recovered well.

Schossow said another benefit this go around were the GoPro cameras on the boats, allowing the audience to watch and making the tournament more fun.

“We may had broke our own attendance record (in 2013) by a few. We’ll shoot for it the next time,” Gothia said. “All of them (professional anglers) said how much of a good time they had and the fishery being better and they can’t wait to come back. They’re very happy and BASS is very happy. ”

He added there were still 1,000 people at Saturday’s weigh-in during flooding rains. Some BASS officials asked Schossow to start working on the next tournament.

Gothia said there was also record attendance for vendors with 20 National BASS sponsors at the Orange tournament. In spite of some late starts because of the fog earlier in the tournament, the anglers readjusted their strategy in how far they run and to fish closer.

“The top three (finishers) were in the little cuts of the Sabine River. They have a plan on how many to catch at a time and on a certain body of water,” Gothia said.

Trip Weldon, tournament director for BASS, told Gothia he was concerned about the floodwaters being released upstream at the Toledo Bend Reservoir but the water level rose only a foot and the biggest concern was debris floating in the water.

“I would had loved to see four days like Thursday before the water was released,” he said.

Gothia believes the best fishing in the area is in March and April when the fish are spawning, and in September when they’re feeding before winter. The event organizers would like to remain the first event of the season for the Bassmaster Elite Series which offers fans a chance to meet the anglers at the boat check and with television time. Granger said another plus is holding during Spring Break when school is out.

He also said the Orange tournament will air on April 5 on ESPN 2 and later on The Outdoor Channel.

Steve Jones said ESPN 2 will show footage from the huge crowd in Orange at other tournaments that are sparsely attended throughout the season.

Gothia also thanked the more than 200 volunteers he worked the tournament and Schossow, Lacey LeMoine and Steve Jones with GOACC for their efforts.

Steve Jones said the staff and volunteers found a way to improvise and to make things happen.

Shossow said she wasn’t mad about the events being canceled on Saturday due to bad weather but she was disappointed.

Jay Melancon finished first in the “Run Your Bass Off' 5K race, sponsored by INVISTA. The race was held on the morning of Saturday, March 21 before the rains fell. The race raised $20,000 for the Cure Starts Now. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

Jay Melancon finished first in the “Run Your Bass Off’ 5K race, sponsored by INVISTA. The race was held on the morning of Saturday, March 21 before the rains fell.
The race raised $20,000 for the Cure Starts Now.
RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

Granger said another success story was the “Run Your Bass Off” 5K race sponsored by INVISTA.

The race raised $20,000 for the Cure Starts Now.

Gothia said organizers realized not everyone attending were necessarily fishing fans and the event could serve as an introduction to fishing and those attendees would become fans of fishing.

Youth fishing results

While the professional anglers were fishing, there was also the High School Fish with the Pros Tournament occurring.

Gothia said that tournament was “fantastic” as well.

“The kids eyes got this big when they found out they would be fishing with pros,” he said.

David Jones said they were in awe.

Steve Jones said the high school weigh-in was the highlight of the Bassmaster tournament for him.

BASS has never hosted a high school tournament before, according to Gothia. GOACC also sponsored $1,000 worth of scholarships to the high school anglers.

“The parents were so thankful for that,” he said.

David Jones Said BASS officials also conducted a walk-through for the high schoolers to see how to run a tournament behind the scenes.

When the bad weather hit Saturday, the lunch with the pros was moved to Lamar State College-Orange campus with the help of Butch Campbell, director of security.

Schossow added that Dr. Michael Shahan, LSC-O president, is a team player in the community.

Braden Berryman and Kenneth Picket of Kirbyville won the high school tournament and fished with pro Jared Lintner.

Another champion was 11 year old Bryer Gray of Orangefield. He fished with Terry Wilson.

David Jones said Bryer didn’t know he had won yet and he was given a Todd Faircloth jersey before the trophy presentation. He “felt like a champion,” he said.

Gopher Industrial also sponsored the Kids Catch-and-Release Fish Tank.

This program is also only done at the Orange tournament.

David Jones of Gopher said the fish tank is a great way to convey their message called Catch Your Dreams to the youth to equip them with the tools for success and to teach the aptitudes they need to be successful and whatever they want to be when they grow up.

He used the example of the professional anglers who travel a lot, work hard, smile at everyone and they have a good attitude.

For many of the children- 70 percent of them- it’s the first time they physically catch a fish from the tank.

It’s also a big moment for the parents when their child makes that first catch.

David Jones said more than 1,000 kids fished the tank and received a Catch Your Dreams bracelet.

They also have an acronym for GOPHER: G is for Goals; O is for Organization; P is for Preparation; H is for Honor; E is for Educate; and R is for Read.

Photo top right – Professional angler Chris Lane kisses his trophy after winning the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on March 22 at the City of Orange Boat Ramp. Lane beat runner up Mike Mclleand by a total catch of four pounds after four days of fishing.

Organizers with the tournament said it was fantastic even with the rain on Saturday.

RECORD PHOTO: David Ball

David Ball and Penny LeLeux

For The Record