Lane change

Elite Series Angler: Russ Lane

About the author

Don Barone

Don Barone

db has been in the reporting biz for over 30 years, won some Emmys and other awards, but is proudest of his four-decade marriage, his two kids and the fact he founded Tackle The Storm Foundation to help children.

"Oh don't you lose that light in your eyes ..."

Dateline: Wetumpka Greyhawkin'

I'm Elvis.

Or sometimes Mick. Chuck Berry too. Never, ever, John, Paul, or George. Possibly Ringo though.

I'm 33 cents from Woolworth's and my parents, 45 RPM records (back in the day, those iPods that spun in circles).

Friday was payday in the db Sr. household — for dad and for me.

Dad would get paid for selling appliances at Sears. I would get paid for doing chores that my father couldn't remember telling me to do, and I couldn't remember actually doing. Basically, he would hand me two quarters and tell me something in the early 1960's equivalent of, "here, knock yerself out."

I would then put on my Sears shoes or boots. I would walk out our back door, turn right, cut through two parking lots, turn left, walk to the stop light, wait, cross, turn right and open the Woolworth door.

And then I'd become someone else for 33 cents.

The store had wood floors, old cash registers and cashiers, and hundreds of records up front in the right corner, directly across from the Soda Fountain on the other side of the store.

For 15 cents I got a Vanilla Coke in a cone shape paper cup with a silver base, and then I made my way to the record section.

That is where I spent all day Saturday.

When you buy life 33 cents at a time, making the wrong decision can make for a long, painful week. So I would pick out five 45s at a time, take them and my Vanilla Coke, and wait my turn to go inside a tiny booth to decide which record to buy.

I'd decide whom to be that week. Back then I thought that to be one of the biggest decisions of my life. Turns out, it was.

I was Elvis. I was Mick. I was Chuck Berry. I was the outlaw. I was leather jackets. I was the dangling cigarette. I was not what you want picking up your daughter.

I was 33 cents db.

Years later I sold most of my wife Barb's Beatle albums at a yard sale for a quarter each, while never letting my Doors albums leave the house.

We have a Rolling Stones/Beatles marriage.

And then one night, Barb got hold of the TV remote. She turned on some Beatles special, right there in front of me. I was getting up to leave as Paul McCartney started yapping (Paul — PAUL! — was Barb's first love) and then I heard him say something akin to this, "You know bloke, all we ever sang about was love, and that's not such a bad thing."

"... about was love."

"... love."

And I sat back down.

And realized this, that pretty much most of my career had been built on just the opposite of that. It was hate and the bad things people did to each other and themselves. It was a career covering crime and it was over before Paul stopped talking. I was done with all the bad stuff.

From that moment on I knew I would look for the good, not the misery.

I'm Elvis. I'm Mick. I'm Chuck Berry. I'm Sgt. Pepper.

During my middle age crisis I didn't buy a motorcycle or a corvette or hair plugs. I bought the Magical Mystery Tour, an iPod and $179.99 of songs about various forms of being happy. I apologized to Barb for selling her albums at the yard sale (which, by the way, has cost me a lot more than 25¢ each to buy back).

A couple days ago I was sitting in the db/bb RV with Barb at the dinette across from me, and I was pretty much complaining, "I don't have any stories."

Barb just looked at me, looked down at the bench seat at the pile of handwritten notes labeled "Story Ideas" and went back to emailing. I began doodling — which for me is surfing Facebook — with headphones on listing to a playlist I titled, "Songs for 2010."

It had 237 songs. It was on shuffle and began playing this:

"... it's never too late to love

never too late to try ..."

As I was reading this:

My life was changed forever 2 years ago today. I know now that happiness is all that matters. Happy Anniversary BaaBaa!

"... happiness is all that matters."

"... all ..."

"... that ..."

"... matters ..."

And I smiled.

Barb looked up and smiled because she knew from the look on my face that the universe just sent me my next story via the iPod and doodling on Facebook. And that story is Russ Lane and his wife Jill.

"... if somebody loves you ..."

To tell you the truth, other than being a "friend" on Facebook I basically had no idea who, or what, Russ Lane is or was.

The first time I ever talked to the dude was at the campground at the Kentucky Lake tournament when he was standing with Keith Alan and I zoomed up in a golf cart I "borrowed" from the campground host. We swatted mosquitoes and talked for about 10 minutes then I sped off seeing if it was possible to get a golf cart up on two wheels.

When I got back to the db/bb RV I told some of the campers around it, "Hey I just met another Lane guy, Russ I think he said his name is. Nice guy."

And the other purposely un-named angler campers looked at me and said, "Oh yeah — you should have met him a couple of years ago, you wouldn't be saying he was a nice guy back then."

I called him up the other day and went to his house to do an interview about him and his Facebook post. While sitting in his living room, basically the first question I asked him was, "So ... I hear ... you know ... and don't take offense to this ... but I hear you used to be a jerk ... sort of ... you know ... no offense."

Then I break into the thanks-for-inviting-me-into-your-home smile and wait for Russ to tell me if he was a jerk or not. It seems he was.

"I was high strung, not laid back at all, pretty much upset all the time, not at a place in my life where I wanted to be," he said.

With that answer, I knew that Russ was a jerk no more. And I knew why before he told me. The reason was holding his hand. Jill, is wife of two years, never let go of his hand. She never stopped touching him during the entire interview.

Two years and five months or so ago, Russ was 35-years into bachelor- and jerk-hood. That changed at the Bassmaster Classic in Greenville, South Carolina.

"I was there, not fishing, but on a promo gig for Evan Williams Bourbon and Jason Quinn and I had to go to this bar ... "

"... City Tavern ..." Jill pops in.

"... yeah on Main Street there. So we go in, both wearing our jerseys ..."

"... I remember thinking he was a NASCAR driver or something, had no idea you could fish for a living," Jill added.

"... and somehow after handing out all this free stuff I get talked into going up on stage and singing, something I never, ever, do — first and last time ..."

"... and he sang the David Alan Coe song, about not being the perfect country song cause Mama didn't get run'd over or something ... "

"... and then someone texted me saying, 'hey do you see that tall blonde over there?' And I texted back, 'way ahead of you'. So when ... "

"... he got off stage he came over and sat down and we started to talk ..."

"... and we have talked every day since that day ..."

Russ put his hand on top of Jill's hand, and she looked at him and smiled and slid closer on the couch.

"Three weeks later Russ invited me to come visit him in Alabama and two days from our five month anniversary we got married."

I asked, "Love at first sight?"

Neither answered. They just looked at each other, which was the answer.

Russ: "I swore I would never get married, but when I told my mother that I was marrying Jill she said, 'Damn,' a good damn, and she never ever, ever, curses, and then she started crying. My mother cried because she knew I had never been happy before, never happy like this."

"... give them all you can give ..."

Russ must have been born six years old, because he told me, "I've been fishing all my life. Since, you know, I was six."

He did take a couple of years off to pitch in the minor leagues with the Richmond Roosters, and the very minor leagues with the Joliet Claws.

"My Richmond contract paid me $800 a month, and the coach paid me $200 under the table in cash to help me out."

After figuring out that a grand or so, under the table or not, wasn't going to amount to much, he left baseball and started a career in real estate and wholesaling cars. And he started to get cranky.

"I got maxed out. It was awful. I was awful."

Then he started to fish, and fish, and fish. Locally he became a big stick and moved on to the minor leagues of fishing, local tournaments. But this time, he moved up to the "bigs," the major league of fishing, the Bassmaster Elite Series, where he is the only local guy fishing in the Championship Week.

"Aaron Martens lives here but he is from California, and Derek Remitz moved here from Minnesota. I was born and raised here, fished this lake all my life."

Which explains the 100s of phone calls he has been getting, all from friends and family wishing him good luck, "I've heard from people I went to kindergarten with. Locally I've beaten the snot out of many of these guys and they have been telling me I will just cream the other AOY competitors, but they have no idea, no idea just how good, great, these other guys are."

Yesterday as I leaned against his boat as he waited to go up on stage to weigh in he said that at one point while he was fishing he counted, "37 boats watching me, all around me, kind of made me nervous, all those guys looking at me."

As I watched him weigh in and become the Day One leader, I remembered what he told me the other night while sitting in his living room:

"db, my goal of course is to be Angler of the Year. But what I really want to do is to win one of these events, either here in Wetumpka or next week in Montgomery. I want to win it."

That's what I was hearing in my head as they announced his weight and that's what I was hearing as I looked through my viewfinder and snapped a picture of Jill out in the crowd jumping up and down screaming and holding a huge handwritten sign that said "Russ Lane."

And I knew that, dude, regardless of what you weigh in, you've won.

The Lane Change, is complete.

"... when you're livin' in love

I said you're lovin' to live ..."

Stay Young

Donavon Frankenreiter

— db

Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.

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