2008 Sunshine Showdown. Chris and Bobby Lane.“Photo Courtesy of BASS Communications.”
By Paul Strege
Every angler has a story… for Arnie, Bobby, and Chris Lane, theirs was written as a family. The three brothers from Lakeland, Florida grew up chasing behemoth bass in the hallowed waters of Rodman Reservoir in Ocala. Fishing back then was considerably different than now – it largely consisted of tossing a Devil’s Horse between patches of Kissimmee grass.
For the Lanes, it was the regular weekend trips to Rodman that first infected them with the bass fishing fever they are inflicted with today.
Bobby recalls, “Our dad started us fishing when we were five or six years old. We used to drive an old, beat-up motor home 150 miles every single weekend to Ocala before we started fishing Lake Kissimmee much. My granddad had some property there. He took us out in his Hurst fiberglass bass boat with a 75-horse Evinrude. It had an old, 24-volt Evinrude trolling motor up front. Back then, my dad would have a rope tied to each of us when we were in the boat, so that in case one of us would fall overboard, it would be easy to pull us back in.”
Those trips would evolve into a regular weekend ritual. Rodman Reservoir was later replaced by Lake Kissimmee as their weekend destination, and the Lane family acquired a cabin on the water. Their grandfather eventually purchased the cabin, and lived there four days a week. Those trips etched into their character the ever-present appreciation for the outdoors that they carry today.
Bobby recounts, “We really enjoyed the outdoors and could not get enough of it. There was never a time when somebody would call and ask – ‘Hey, do you want to go bass fishing?’ – when I would turn them down. I always found time to go fishing. Even today, I try to fish as much as I can. My wife still gets on my case when I am in town for two weeks and I go fishing for three or four of those days. Fishing is something that we’ve all grown to love. And I know speaking personally that ever since I caught my first bass, I could never get enough of it. Every day that I can, I enjoy bass fishing, whether I am catching them or not. When my grandfather was alive, he really gave us an appreciation of the outdoors. That was my grass roots start right there.”
Chris believes it was an insatiable appetite for fishing, and time on the water that created the building blocks for their bass fishing education.
“We fished just about every chance we had. We used to wake up our mom, with the station wagon packed and ready to go, and have her take us down to the pond. And when we’d go to Granddad’s fish camp, he had everything all set to go. That is just what we did and loved to do. I can honestly say my very first love was bass fishing.”
Granddad Lane tossed one lure exclusively, a Devil’s Horse, so the Lane brothers experimented with tossing plastic worms and flipping other lures to become more versatile. They were not allowed to use live bait as other local fishermen regularly utilized. Although they were not necessarily competitive with each other, it was the drive to catch bass in greater numbers and of a heavier size that provided the motivation to learn new and different techniques. Soon thereafter, they turned to tournaments to feed their competitive craving.
Sizing up the Competition
The Lane family, Arnie, Bobby, Chris, their father, and grandfather, started fishing local team tournaments all at the same time. They assembled teams in two separate boats, with their father and grandfather leading the respective duos. The three Lane brothers were 8 to 10 years of age at the time. By the ages of 15 and 16, they were competing in, and winning, local team tournaments on their own.
Chris recollects, “I can remember when I first started fishing team tournaments with Bobby. Everybody had these big, high-powered bass boats, and we would be out there in our little jon boat winning tournaments.”
Chris was the first to enter a Pro-Am style event when he registered for a Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournament in 2000. Bobby would follow his brother’s lead in 2002. The brothers reaped the rewards of their South Florida experience with several BFL Regional qualifications. It was Chris’ initiative and encouragement that motivated the other Lane brothers to enter the Pro-Am tournaments of which they were previously unaccustomed.
“We fished team tournaments until the age of 21. That was when I fished my first BFL tournament as a co-angler. I told Bobby and Arnie, ‘Man, you have got to enter this stuff! It can happen! This is our shot!’”
Although he was the youngest, Chris was the first to attempt to qualify for a national tour. For three consecutive years, starting in 2003, he fished the Bassmaster Opens. While he made the Open Championship perennially, he fell short just short of qualifying for the tour. In 2005, however, he finally achieved his goal.
The 2006 season started out with a bang for Chris. He cranked his favorite Gambler Cane Toad to victory at the first Bassmaster Southern Open event on Lake Okeechobee. The victory was notable for two reasons: it was his first Bassmaster or FLW win, and prior to the start of the tournament, he gave his official two week notice to his employer. Chris had fully committed to fishing professionally full-time. Chris still remembers what it was like competing on tour the first time.
“I will never forget my first Elite Series tournament on Lake Amistad. I was backing down the ramp with my boat, and here comes Kevin VanDam and Denny Brauer backing down next to me. I was sitting there in disbelief, about ready to fall over! I remember asking myself, ‘Am I supposed to beat these guys?’ It was surreal.”
After the initial intimidation of competing against bass fishing’s icons had subsided, Chris settled into a more relaxed mindset and concentrated on the fishing.
“After that first year, I said, ‘I can always have the utmost respect for these guys, but I need to beat them. I have to be better than they are if I am going to stay here.’ I became good friends with many of them and learned a lot. The main thing I learned was to stay focused, go out there, and be the best that I could be.”
2008 Sunshine Showdown. Chris Lane.“Photo Courtesy of BASS Communications.”
Later that season, Chris narrowly missed earning his first tour-level victory. For the first three days of the Bassmaster Elite Series Champion’s Choice event, Chris combed the Missisquoi Bay area of Lake Champlain for the lead. Prior to the fourth and final day, however, it was determined that Chris had been fishing in a wildlife sanctuary and was not allowed to re-enter his hot spot. He avoided disqualification because he had specifically questioned the tournament director about the area, and was told that it was not off-limits. Had it not been for the last minute rules change, Chris may have cranked his Cane Toad to another victory that year.
Since the breakout season of 2006, Chris has become a consistent tour-level fisherman. His year-end standing has steadily improved with each passing season, and he qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic in 2008.
In contrast to Chris’ steady climb up the ranks, Bobby immediately turned the heads of veteran anglers by qualifying for the FLW tour in just two short seasons at the EverStart / BFL level. Of note, he qualified for the BFL All-American in his first season of participation, where he finished third. Bobby believes the second tournament that year really jump-started his career.
“I finished second by five or six ounces, but felt like I had a shot [to win]. I went through the rest of that year, qualified for the regional, and then qualified for the All-American. And, I ended up doing it two years in a row. That set me up to fish the EverStart Series. It just went wide open from there.”
“Wide open” is just the phrase to describe how fast Bobby chased his angling career. In year two, Bobby fished both the BFL and the EverStart series. He qualified for the EverStart Championship, where he placed eleventh, and his second All-American, where he placed 22nd. More importantly, he qualified for the FLW Tour through the EverStart Series.
Bobby instantly made waves on the FLW Tour by taking command of the Rookie of the Year race from the onset of the season. After the water settled, Bobby had made the final round cuts in his first three events: Lake Okeechobee, Lake Toho, and the Ouachita River, and ended the season as FLW’s top-ranked rookie.
Bobby fished the FLW Tour until 2007, the year that he qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series through the Opens.
Bobby notes why he switched tours, “I fished the FLW tour for three years, but wanted to see what was on the other side. So, I started fishing the B.A.S.S. Southern Opens in 2007. That year I qualified for the Elite Series and the Bassmaster Classic. That is what set me up for 2008.”
Bobby mirrored the fast start of his first tour year, when the 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series swung through Florida. At the Harris Chain, he finished third overall, one place ahead of his brother, Chris. Then at the Kissimmee Chain, he placed fourth. The Florida jumpstart carried Bobby through to the end of the season as the Advanced Auto Parts Rookie of the Year.
“This year when I signed up for the Elite Series, Rookie of the Year was definitely one of my goals. It was kind of a new thing, and I kind of went wide open after it. I didn’t know a whole lot of people on the Elites, so I was focused on fishing more of my own style, and I didn’t have a whole lot of people telling me things. I think the more that you listen to the dock talk, the more that it knocks your head out of the game. My confidence skyrockets when I arrive at a lake that I like or a place where I can fish my own style. The Elites had a little more of that to offer this past year, and that was one of the reasons I made the switch.”
Although Chris and Bobby are current touring professionals, the eldest of the three Lane brothers is a talented fisherman in his own right. Primarily fishing the BFL and Stren Series since 2002, Arnie has amassed $30,000-plus in his career. Just this past season, he finished eighth overall in the Stren Southeastern Division and qualified for the championship. In 2005, he became the second Lane to qualify for the All-American. Arnie intends to fish the Bassmaster Southern Opens in hopes of joining his two younger brothers on the Elite Series tournament trail. Up until recently, his desire to compete at a professional level has been pursued more casually than that of his brothers.
2005 BFL All-American. Arnie and Bobby Lane.“Photo Courtesy of FLWOutdoors.com and Jennifer Simmons.”
The brotherly bond that Chris, Bobby, and Arnie share defies the stereotypical sibling rivalry. In the ultra-competitive sport of tournament bass fishing, they have continually supported each other from the very beginning. Fishing on the same tour in 2008 allowed Chris and Bobby to share general patterns and tournament strategy. Those efforts provided a base level of consistency from tournament to tournament.
Bobby notes, “We’re brothers, not enemies. We want success for everybody. Chris has three kids and a wife, and I have two kids and a wife. We strive for a happy family and we’ve taken on this fishing career in hopes that it benefits us all in the long run. If he’s struggling in a tournament and I can help him get a check, then I am more than happy to do so, and vice versa.”
Chris echoes his brother’s feelings, “We help each other in terms of trying to figure out what the fish are doing, but really we don’t share spots unless it is big enough to last for a couple of days. We fish alike as it is, and we would end up hurting each other if we didn’t try to figure out different spots. You always wish the best for your brothers. You go out there and do the best that you can. If you are winning, you hope that they do well behind you. If you are behind and they are in contention to win, you hope that they can pull it off.”
Their cooperation paid big dividends last year when Chris and Bobby qualified for the Bassmaster Classic. It was the first time in B.A.S.S. history that two brothers fished the same Classic.
The Sales Side of Fishing
Chris’ full-time job prior to fishing professionally was in sales. The company that he worked for was also a Lane family venture. Their business serviced and sold wheels for amusement park roller coasters. Brothers Chris and Arnie worked as sales representatives for their father, who owned the company. In his position, Chris was often required to make cold calls, arrange meetings, and perform other sales-related duties. That experience was both beneficial and applicable to the “sales side” of fishing, according to Chris.
“I worked in sales for 13 years, which turned out to be similar to the business side of bass fishing. You have to be out there selling, creating relationships, and the whole nine yards. In fishing, you have to sell yourself and sell for your sponsors. It is sometimes a challenge, but it is something you have to do to be successful.”
Unlike Chris, Bobby did not have a sales background to help him in working with sponsors on tour. He was the sole owner of a landscape company prior to fishing professionally. As a result, the transition to fishing was somewhat of an adjustment.
“Being from Polk County, Florida, I was a half-redneck kind of guy. I used to throw a shirt and pair of shorts on, and just go fishing. And then when I started working with sponsors, I had to consider them instead of just myself. I had to be presentable. That really wasn’t my style four or five years ago. Since then, I’ve worked on building relationships and speaking on stage. I also learned that if you have a bad day, you don’t let anybody know about it. You keep that to yourself because nobody wants to hear it. My wife was a huge help with all of it when I first started working with sponsors.”
Now, the Lanes have tremendous sponsorship support. Chris recently inked a multiyear deal with Power Pole, and will be driving a wrapped boat for them in 2009. In addition, Chris has worked with companies such as Gambler Lures, where he has been involved with the development of innovative products, including their new “Double Trouble” toad hook.
Bobby landed his first title sponsor, Spiderwire, in 2005. That sponsorship eventually expanded to include other Berkley products, and will carry through this upcoming season.
Three on Stage?
With remarkable success already attained, the Lanes hope to realize even loftier goals in the future. All the Lane brothers believe that their best opportunity lies along the Bassmaster Elite Series trail.
Chris explains, “This will be my fourth year. My goal is to stay a professional fisherman for the rest of my life. I’d like to win Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Classic. That is what I would consider being the ultimate goal of mine. I’ve fished both sides, and I think for where we want to go in fishing as a family, the Elites are what we need to do.”
Bobby believes that the flexibility he has in promoting his sponsors is the primary reason he will continue to fish with B.A.S.S.
“I have developed great relationships working with both FLW and B.A.S.S. I think it comes down to seeking sponsorship on your own. If you have a couple of really good years, you want to be rewarded for it. FLW really didn’t offer that in my situation. In the same respect, it is totally up to you to make sure you don’t lose a sponsor.”
If there is one thing that the Lane brothers have proven in the past, it is that they will achieve what they set out to do. With Arnie fishing the Southern Opens in 2009, there is a very real possibility that bass fishing followers will soon be seeing three Lane brothers on stage. And somewhere, looking down from above, a very proud Granddad is smiling, with fishing rod in hand and a Devil’s Horse tied on.
Lane Brother Achievements:
2001 – First season fishing the BFL. Qualified for BFL Regionals.
2002 – Fished the EverStart Series and qualified for the Championship.
2003 – Entered Bassmaster Opens and qualified for the Championship.
2005 – Won BFL Seminole Division Points Title. Qualified for Bassmaster Elite Series.
2006 – Bassmaster Southern Open – Okeechobee First Place.
2007 – Bassmaster Elite Series, 2nd Place, Clarks Hill.
2008 – Bassmaster Classic Qualifier
6 Top-10′s and $22,000 in career FLW winnings.
10 Top-10′s and $370,000 in career B.A.S.S. winnings.
2002 – First season fishing the BFL. Qualified for All-American.
2003 – Qualified for All-American and finished in 3rd Place.
2004 – Fished EverStart Series and Qualified for FLW Tour.
2005 – Won FLW Rookie of the Year. Made 3 Final-Round cuts. Sold his landscape company.
2007 – Won the Stren Series on the Potomac River. Qualified for the Elite Series through the Southern Opens.
2008 – Finished 4th in Bassmasters Classic and won B.A.S.S. Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year title.
21 Top-10′s and $327,000 in career FLW winnings.
8 Top-10′s and $213,000 in career B.A.S.S. winnings.
2002 – First season fishing the BFL.
2004 – Qualified for BFL Regional and All-American.
2006 – Fished the Stren Series and qualified for the Championship.
2008 – Finished 8th in Stren Series Southeastern Division.
5 Top-10s and $30,400 in career FLW winnings.