Unless Chris Lane wins the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, the next few weeks mark the end of his year in the sun.
After watching KVD capture nearly every major accolade over the past few years, it was easy for most fishing fans – myself included – to forget that the initial thrust into the spotlight does not come naturally to all anglers, even battle-tested veterans. Chris has done a good job, as has newly-crowned AOY Brent Chapman, another talented veteran who finally grabbed a major title, but I have no doubt that for both of them the celebration came with occasional doses of fatigue and frustration.
Even if he doesn’t win another title in the future, Lane’s 2012 victory in Shreveport is enough to build a career upon and his triple qualification for the 2013 Classic seems to indicate that he won’t be a flash in the pan. Despite all of his success, and the increased exposure, I still don’t think most of us know the full Chris Lane story. Despite efforts to retain some modicum of privacy, anglers like Mike Iaconelli, Kevin VanDam and Skeet Reese, are comparative open books. We know little tidbits about their families, what they like to do in their off time, their preferred vacation spots and other things that give their biographies color. The dominant theme in the Chris Lane biography is the fact that he's one of three family members -- along with brothers Bobby and Arnie -- who fish for a living.
Most of us already knew about that before he won the Classic. While I can’t necessarily expand on the topics we know about him, I think that a couple of behind-the-scenes anecdotes add depth to our understanding of the Lane family.
One of the most poignant images from last year’s Classic victory was older brother Bobby bear-hugging Chris after Chris was declared the victor. It was hard to tell who looked more excited. The cynical among you might suspect that Bobby was particularly amped because they’d made a deal that if either of them won he’d pay the other’s entry fees for a year. I’m as cynical as the next guy, but a little bit of “insider” knowledge leads me to have no doubts that the emotion was genuine.
Photographer James Overstreet and I had shadowed Chris much of the third day on the water, so I knew that there was a strong likelihood that he’d win. That also meant that it would be tough to get a good interview with him in the media room. Accordingly, I snuck into a place where I wasn’t supposed to be in order to ambush him before he weighed in. Bobby, you may remember, also made the final day cut, so I found him waiting in the wings before Chris came into view. I asked Bobby a few questions about his day on the river, but then shifted to the topic of his brother – how he’d progressed as an angler, what the win would mean to him, what the win would mean to his family, etc. Bobby was, as always, a gracious interview subject, but he particularly lit up when talking about his brother. It was obvious from his words and mannerisms that he really wanted Chris to win. It was also apparent that he was exceptionally nervous about that outcome. He couldn’t keep focused as he tried to get a sense of the weights other anglers brought to the scales.
The interview with Bobby provided me with a déjà vu moment: In June of 2009, I covered an Elite Series event at Kentucky Lake for B.A.S.S. It was an unbelievable week for Bobby Lane. He found a magic spot and landed just under 100 pounds of bass over four days to beat his nearest competitor (VanDam) by 7 ½ pounds. Things went so well for him on Day One that he arrived to weigh-in an hour early. Latecomers to the weigh-in didn’t even get a chance to see him weigh his fish.
By Day Four, even though a who’s who of pros (e.g., KVD, Skeet Reese, Kelly Jordon, Gerald Swindle) still mathematically had a shot to win, the possibility that Lane would be overtaken seemed unlikely. Chris Lane had missed the cut, finishing 59th, but he stayed in Tennessee to root on his brother. As the final twelve queued up to weigh in I cornered Chris backstage and asked him questions similar to those I asked Bobby three years later. What will this mean to your brother’s career? What will it mean to your family? Does he have to buy dinner tonight?
Chris tried to be a good interview subject but he was too nervous to stay focused on my questions. “What do you think that guy has?” he’d ask. Or perhaps “What was so-and-so’s weight?” Finally, he had to excuse himself to give the proceedings his undivided attention. When Bobby was announced as the winner, Chris pumped his fist with excitement.
I haven’t spent that much time around the Lane brothers, so I don’t know if they’re always in each other’s corner. I’m sure that over nearly 40 years of brotherhood, they’ve had some battles, probably kicked the crap out of each other a few times. But when it comes down to brass tacks, my limited experience tells me that there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to see the other succeed. That’s probably pretty rare on tour in general – from what I can tell few “partnerships” seem to last, and jealousy and suspicion eventually override any good will among anglers who were once super-tight. I’d argue that it’s also pretty rare among brothers.
For better or for worse, my one brother doesn’t share my profession, the same interests or the same family structure. I’m happy for his successes in those arenas, but it’s easy to be supportive because we’re never in direct competition with each other. If each of us had the same goal to build a particular type of business or run a sub-three-hour marathon or get our kids into Harvard, and he were to achieve those goals sooner, I know I’d feel at least a tinge of jealousy. If you’re honest with yourself, unless you’re an absolute saint, you probably should admit that you would too. I’m sure at various points in their careers, both Bobby and Chris have felt at least slightly conflicted, knowing that the other has taken a step forward when he has not. Bobby was the first one to win an Elite event. Chris was the first one to win a major title. From what I can tell, though, the bottom line is that they’re each other’s biggest fans.
Congratulations to Chris on dealing with the glare of the spotlight as if he deserved to be there, which he did.
Congratulations to Bobby too. He handled the “second fiddle” role with grace and class.
One Classic, two winners.