Some 30 years ago, on a central Florida waterway with moss dangling in the trees and lily pads thick to the banks, an alligator, bigger than any of the three boys fishing with their grandfather, disappears under the surface.
One of the lads tosses something at it to the dismay of granddad Bill McLain, an ex-marine who would show tough love to the tykes, even when Arnie, Bobby and Chris were 6, 5 and 4, respectively.
“Grandpa would pull our hair, cuss us a little bit and get onto us,” Arnie Lane said. “When you screwed up, you knew it. When you’re little like that, and there’s your granddad, you were terrified sometimes. You didn’t want to go fishing another day, another hour. You just wanted to go home.
“But once he got done chewing us out for doing wrong, he would say, ‘Come on up to the front of the bow, be my buddy. Go ahead and cast down this kicker trail.’ Things would be good.“
The Lane brothers learned some toughness, along with fishing, on their grandpa’s lap, throwing blue Rapalas or a Silver Shiner Double Horse, “all he would use, that’s how we got so accurate, throwing those kind of baits.”
And they credit him for putting them on the competitive fishing path.
Since Chris moved from the family’s headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., to guide on Lake Guntersville, the Bass Pro Shops Southern Opens, besides holidays, serve as Lane family reunions.
“It’s at every Southern Open,” Chris said.
In March, they bunked in a rental house on Lake Norman with several more anglers, including resident chef/angler Tony Chachere. After a long Day Two fishing in chilly conditions, the group gathered back at their bachelor camp, a vintage pad at the end of a point.
With beer in the coolers, a card game on the table and steaks on the grill, the anglers lived it up on their last night together.
Chachere, of the well-known Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning family, prepared the meal. A liberal dousing of his granddad’s spice covered the hand-cut ribeyes, baked potatoes, baked beans, peas and even salad. (Travel tip: A can of Chachere’s in your carry-on will elicit a bomb check by the TSA, but it’s only explosive in your mouth, I think.)
There was joking, brash talk and verbal barrages thrown about, but Bobby trumped all as he was the only one who would fish the next morning in the Top 12. After Bobby excused himself for his early wake-up call, Chris described one of his first jobs in Houston and how it put him on the path to a competitive fishing career.
Not long after 10 p.m., Chris and Arnie began to get fade out, the long day starting in the predawn hours coming to an end. Chris would have to rise in several hours to drive home in the darkness to his children and expectant wife, whom he met and married right across the lake.
Missing the cut and not having family to run home to, Arnie drew clean-up duty on the rental. As the oldest, he also was nominated to share the history of his brothers and how they all became competitive anglers.
Robert Lane, or Big Bob, immersed his sons in the outdoors, spending weekends at campsites on Rodman Reservoir to Lake Kissimmee in their early years.
“We were taught to enjoy the outdoors rather than take it for granted,” Bobby said. “We fished Lake Kissimmee and a little saltwater, but my granddad liked Rodman Reservoir in Ocala best. We fished and fished and fished. When Arnie got old enough to drive, he took us all over.”
Arnie recalls that first boat was a little fiberglass three-seater with an 18-horsepower motor.
“We fished some tournaments in it, with some of the bigger guys that had 150s, 175s – those were big engines back then – they’d weigh in 15, 16 pounds, and we’d come in with 18, 20 pounds,” Arnie said. “We won some of them -- my granddad would always keep a record. The results would be something like this, ‘First place, Arnie and Chris Lane, second place, Robert Lane, our dad, and Bobby Lane.’ ”
The family also had a johnboat the brothers used to hunt ringnecks, teal and wood ducks.
“We had a ball,” Arnie said. “In high school, all our friends were always going out, asking us, ‘Hey, you guys want to go out this weekend?’ ‘No, we’re down at Rodman or at Kissimmee.’ It just gets in your blood.”
Bobby relates a story of his father: Heading home from an unsuccessful fishing trip, Big Bob got so frustrated he called to tell wife Peggy he and the boys wouldn’t be home for dinner, and he turned back around for the lake where the Lanes enjoyed a whackfest.
Chris, 35, paved the lane into B.A.S.S., finishing a disappointing 61st in the 2003 Southern Open on Lake Wheeler. But he cashed in the next two Opens to show his brothers this fishing gig they all enjoyed could pay off.
Bobby’s start came in the final Southern Open of 2005, cashing a nice check at seventh place. Chris blew the doors off with a victory in the 2006 Open on Kissimmee, winning $71,100, and headed on for the inaugural season of the Elite Series.
Game on. Bobby, 37, went all in for the 2007 Opens and secured the family’s first Classic berth, and it was on to the Elites for him in 2008.
After fishing his first Open in 2005, Arnie, 38, waited another three years before trying in earnest to qualify for the Elites via the Opens in 2008. He’s cashed in 9 of his 20 events, with two top 10 finishes.
“Ten years ago, Chris got me in with another trail,” Arnie said. “I started out on FLW. Chris got me started out as a nonboater. I was doing pretty good, beating those guys in the back of the boat. Then I started as a pro. I kept fishing as a boater, and Chris did, and Bobby. We all just joined.”
In 96 tournaments, Chris has been in the money 54 times, including winning the 2010 Southern Open on Lake Okeechobee. He’s fished one Classic, finishing a dismal 49th in 2008 on Lake Hartwell, while Bobby took fourth there.
Bobby has cashed in 41 of 54 B.A.S.S. events, including a $100,000 victory in the 2009 Tennessee Triumph. He’s qualified for the past four Classics and stands 17th in this year’s Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, seven spots behind his younger brother. Both Chris and Bobby are in line to fish the 2012 Classic.
Arnie, who has shared duties in the family business with Big Bob, is undecided if he would now opt to join the Elites if he secured an invite, but he’d sure like to take the Classic berth that goes with winning a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. His next chance is this week on Douglas Lake.
“I fish competitively just because I love it,” he said. “My long-term goal in the fishing industry … I would like to see all three of us in the Classic one year.”
Elite and Open anglers are allowed to share fishing information with one another, so one would think the Lanes might be a three-headed monster, conferring on what each found in practice.
Share and share alike, right?
“Arnie lies,” Chris said.
“Every fisherman lies,” Arnie said. “Chris isn’t going to tell you everything. Bobby ain’t going to tell you everything. We hold some things back. We’re all in it to make money; that’s your paycheck, in addition to your sponsor. You don’t want to give away everything because we’re in it for ourselves.”
But as brothers, they might go over some basics -- a lure type, a color, a general locale.
“We all three were at Guntersville and I was on them pretty good,” Arnie said. “I told Chris I caught 20 pounds in practice, but I just kept the specifics to myself. Bobby had 19 and I had 19, and you just let the rest take care of itself.”
On Lake Norman, where Bobby was experienced as his seventh-place finish showed, he gave Arnie, a newcomer to the venue, a tip.
“He caught them sight fishing the first day, and told me a little bit about it,” Arnie said. “I kind of let it go in one ear and out the other, but you keep the information that might be useful for you going out that particular day. I’d love to come back to this lake again.
“We share a little bit of information and talk about what’s going on. We just try to do the best we can in each event, and help each other out.”
Even though he’s the oldest Lane brother, Arnie gets told different.
“People think I’m the youngest, probably because I’ve got no wife and kids. That’s probably why I look the youngest,” he said.
He does take the back seat to his younger brothers in fishing, but he’s still the oldest and has that role in the family. When Bobby and Chris get to talking some trash about each other, it’s Arnie who stands back and lets them go at it until he sees it’s gone too far.
It’s easy to see the three have had their scraps over the years.
“We’ve all had our tussles,” Arnie said. “We’ve had our arguments where we haven’t talked to each other for a couple days, but it’s come back to good things.
“Not only are they your brothers, but you look at them as your friends. Somebody you can call upon when you’re in need of anything.”
Arnie probably wouldn’t mind getting some help to get in the Classic, but he wouldn’t take any charity, wanting to earn it for himself.
“All three of us have the tools to beat a lot of these guys out there,” he said. “It’s in our background, in our blood, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Every time I’m out on the water, I feel like I have the mental toughness and tools to compete; it’s doesn’t always work, but you got to trust your instincts.”
Arnie might someday get his wish to have the Lanes make up 1/17 of the Classic field, something he thinks their grandfather would surely appreciate.
“I don’t think my granddad ever really saw us going pro, or fishing for a living or making all kinds of money and the sponsorship, he just saw it as a thing to keep us out of trouble, enjoy the great outdoors, spend time as a family and go fishing,” Arnie said. “He saw some of it, when they were first getting into it. I think by the time we started hitting the road, going out of state, he was passed on.
“We still dedicate everything to him, pretty much.”