GREENVILLE, S.C. — A year after Boyd Duckett qualified for, and subsequently won, the Bassmaster Classic by fishing the Southern Opens, one Bobby Lane, himself an Opens qualifier, rode into the Bi-Lo center with his fist raised on the final day of the Classic.
Then, in front of about 15,000 delirious fans, he threw 12 pounds, 10 ounces of fish on the scales and took the lead in the Classic for a solid 40 minutes. No one cheered harder than his family in section 111 — among them Elite Series angler Chris Lane, who had missed the Day Two cut with only 6-1, but was so elated at seeing his big brother on stage, he appeared to clap even as he clung to a small child.
The bad news was that he had a fish die on him early, and had to cull around it all day. The good was, in the biggest bass tournament anywhere, Lane had just taken a lead with seven anglers yet to weigh fish.
"It was in the baitwell for an hour," he said of the fish. "It was unfortunate, but so far so good. I'm leading this thing, so I'm not complaining."
Emcee Keith Alan asked him to summarize his Classic, and Lane obliged with this thoughtful reply: "Wooooooo!"
The Lanes had been swimming in media glow all week, having become the first brothers in 28 years to fish a Classic together. Bobby Lane crept from from 15th after Day One to 8th on Day Two and held his tenuous lead for a solid 40 minutes. When the top six anglers from Day Two took the stage, Lane got to stare down a half-dozen anglers with a combined 46 Classic appearances.
It was Kevin VanDam who knocked him off his perch, and eventually finished a slot ahead of him. "Bobby Lane, I wish I could tell you this is the only time it'll happen to you," Alan told him, "but ... welcome to the Elite Series."
"Happy to be here," Lane said, then walked down the stairs to sign autographs. And he was.
He and Chris grew up fishing tournaments around their hometown Lakeland, Fla., since they were 8 years old. Bobby Lane sold his lawn care business to fish the FLW tour for the past three years — and earning Rookie of the Year honors in his first season on that tour — he said beating all but three Elite Series anglers in the Classic was a welcome confidence boost.
He and Chris said separately that Bobby's big motivation for hopping to the Elite Series is that BASS' selection of fisheries better fits his fishing style.
"BASS goes to big fish lakes," Chris Lane said. "These people want to see the 6-pounders, 7-, 8-pounders. That's what you've got to fish for. We grew up topwater, flipping, casting big worms. He fished the tour over there with six-pound test and a spinning rod."
All three Classic days, Bobby Lane returned to one river spot he found in practice and pounded it silly with a spoon, a dropshot and a crankbait. Fishing a Classic in which he would run into his big brother on the water, Bobby said, "was a dream come true."
Lane fell three slots shy of walking in Duckett's footsteps (sans the bright red sneakers), which inspires the question: Is there something advantageous about coming to the Classic as an Opens qualifier? Chris Lane theorized it might be, since many Elite Series angles are besieged by sponsor obligations and other distractions at the biggest event in the sport, allowing an aggressive, lesser-known angler to make a move.
"Some of the guys' comments to me were, the only thing they wanted to do is make that top 25," Chris Lane said in the concourse of the Bi-Lo Center during the intermission before his brother's lead was challenged. "I didn't want to make it to the third. I wanted to win the thing."
A small boy in a T-shirt covered in signatures approached Lane as he talked.
"Will you sign my shirt?" he asked
"Will you sign my hat?"
"Heck, yeah," Lane said.
Looking on, smiling, the boy's dad told Chris: "We want to see you out there with your brother next year."
"Oh, we will be," Lane said. "My family ain't lettin' me hear the end of it."