It’s not uncommon for a 19-year-old to pack up and move away from home to pursue independence and a career of his or her choosing. Of course, in many cases, that career is still several years away, on the other side of classes and tests and internships.
Lane Olson has done all his career prep work already. He’s not going away to college. He’s going away to fish a professional bass fishing circuit.
Olson, who turned 19 back in September, qualified for the 2020 FLW Pro Circuit via a remarkable 2019 season in the FLW Series Western Division. He finished second behind Angler of the Year David Valdivia (more on that later) – a ridiculously impressive feat considering Olson didn’t even fish his first bass tournament until four or five years ago. Just a few years removed from getting his first bass boat, Olson is now preparing to pull one across the country from his home in Tigard, Ore., to fish a grueling seven-tournament schedule against some of the best bass anglers in the world.
Olson’s story is one that’s both unique and fascinating, and he’s still writing the prologue.
Henry Hagg Lake lies less than 20 miles west of Tigard, which itself is just a stone’s throw from Portland. For Olson, that’s where his bass fishing journey began – not in Oregon’s capital city, but on the 1,153-acre reservoir in the Tualatin Valley.
“I really learned how to fish on the Columbia River, and that’s how I learned all my smallmouth stuff,” Olson explains. “We have the coastal lakes that are good, and some of the valley lakes in Oregon are OK, but mainly where I really taught myself to fish is Hagg Lake.”
Olson didn’t have a boat or someone who owned one who could take him under their wing to show him the ropes. What he did have was a float tube and a burning desire to catch bass, sparked by watching tournament fishing on TV.
When he got tired of “kicking his way around the lake,” Olson saved up $300 – a sum he says was a huge amount for him at the time – and bought an inflatable pontoon he could use to paddle around in search of better fishing opportunities.
Nearly every day after school, his mother, Cher Olson, would drop him off at Hagg Lake where he’d fish until dark. Lane had the fishing bug in a bad way, and he really only had himself to blame.
After a few years of floating around on Hagg and essentially learning bass fishing just by doing it, Lane says a family friend moved from California to Oregon and took him to his first bass tournament. At the time, Lane was “maybe 14 or 15.”
By 16, he had his first real bass boat.
“When I was 16, my parents pretty much helped me out on that whole deal,” he says. “It was an aluminum Ranger I ended up getting.”
That boat allowed Lane to fish as many club tournaments as he could possibly enter – sometimes up to three in any given week. For a couple years, he fished at least one tournament every weekend, all the while honing his skills and stoking the fire of his pro fishing dreams.
With Lane getting increasingly serious about tournament fishing, his father, Rob Olson, helped his son get his first fiberglass bass boat – with Lane’s title sponsor, Pavilion Construction, featured on the wrap. Rob is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Pavilion Construction, which also provided opportunities for his son to get in contact with some of the people Rob regularly does business with.
As a result, Lane now has a quality boat and a handful of local sponsors, which allowed the budding tournament angler to fish the FLW Series Western Division in 2018.
That first year wasn’t all that spectacular for Lane (54th in points), but it was another steppingstone. And, after all, he’d only been fishing tournaments as a boater for a couple years before making such a huge leap. If Lane has proved anything, though, it’s that he’s a quick learner. That tends to happen when you throw yourself in the deep end with nothing but the confidence of knowing you’ll figure out how to swim as you go.
In 2019, Lane saw his self-assuredness really pay off with the first event of the Western Division season on Lake Mead in southern Nevada. Despite unfavorable weather conditions and an overwhelmingly tough tournament that saw low weights across the board, he turned in a second-place finish behind former FLW Tour pro Tim Klinger.
Lane credits a sense of familiarity for nearly winning his first event of 2019.
“I had the worst practice of my life ever at Lake Mead, but that place reminded me of Hagg – just 57 times bigger. I was basically doing the exact same thing that I do to catch them on Hagg: just flipping trees, basically.”
That’s an important footnote in Lane’s story, because, hailing from Oregon – a state with limited suitable water for major tournaments – nearly every fishery he visited in the Western Division was unfamiliar water. That’s a refrain he’ll be hearing throughout the 2020 season as well.
At Clear Lake, the Western Division’s second stop of the season, Lane once again turned in a top-10 showing with a seventh-place finish. At that point, having a great season wasn’t even a question. The real question was going to be whether or not he’d win Angler of the Year.
Angler of the Year wasn’t to be for Lane, though, and the way that unfolded was about as heartbreaking as one could imagine.
Despite a 15th-place finish at the California Delta to close out the season – and three top-15 finishes in three events, which would usually all but guarantee an AOY title – David Valdivia edged out Lane by just one point. One ounce, in fact.
Still, Lane had proved his ability to hang with anglers who have been fishing two or three times longer than he’s even been alive. And he proved he’s ready for the next step: the FLW Pro Circuit.
“After Mead and after Clear Lake, I kind of figured I’d make it because I told myself I was going to go down to the Delta as much as I could and practice,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I knew I was going to qualify [for the Pro Circuit], but I knew I had a pretty good shot at it.”
Qualify he did, and that made Lane’s career path a lot clearer than it otherwise would have been. He had been kicking around going to college to fish, but that wasn’t exactly his preferred option.
“Last year was my senior year of high school,” he says. “I knew I wanted to fish the pros. I was a good student, but I didn’t really like school. And so it [going to college] was something I knew I was probably going to end up having to do, and then I had a great year and qualified.”
Despite qualifying for the Pro Circuit, the road ahead is immeasurably more difficult than the miles he’s already traveled. First, there’s the issue of money. Lane gets help from his sponsors, and he’s currently in search of another large national sponsor to increase his financial flexibility, but it still costs money to pay entry fees and afford the gas it takes to drive all across the country, not to mention ordinary living expenses.
Lane has a truck and a camper to put on top, though, and he’s prepared to make the 2020 season a six-plus-month road trip broken up only by occasional trips back home.
“My family is definitely the biggest support system that I have,” he says. “As far as my family missing me, they’ll miss me, but I’ll be all right. I’m going to end up trying to leave my truck and boat places and fly home for a week at a time or so, but I’m mainly just going to travel and fish.”
That travel includes pre-fishing each of the seven lakes on the 2020 FLW Pro Circuit schedule – all totally unfamiliar to the West Coast native. That alone makes what Lane is doing all the more incredible.
“I’m going to try to get to every place before the cutoff and just kind of check it out,” he adds. “Even if I don’t catch them there, it doesn’t really matter to me as far as just knowing where certain things are on the lake. Once I find fish, I can catch them, but it just comes down to being able to figure out what they’re holding on and being able to find enough of it.
“I don’t have 30 spots like half the guys who have been there 20 times, so I’ve got to work my butt off and figure all that stuff out in less time than everyone else.”
If it all seems insurmountable, think again. As difficult as Lane’s path seems to be, he’s shown he’s more than capable of traversing rocky ground to reach his destination.
“I want to win Rookie of the Year for sure,” Lane says of his ultimate goal for 2020. “You’ve got one shot, so you can’t really blow that one. My goal this year is to be as consistent as possible and I definitely want to make the championship [the FLW TITLE]. My goal is to do good in the points race, and, also, I want to win. There’s no doubt about that. Everybody wants to win.”
Winning Polaris Rookie of the Year will be a tall task, to be sure, but Lane has a plan. Youth and inexperience often go hand-in-hand, but he’s experienced enough to know what he doesn’t know (yet).
“My weakness is fishing offshore,” he admits. “Fishing offshore grass I don’t have that much experience on, because we just don’t have any places like that.
“I’m definitely going to work on it, but, come tournament time, I’m going to do what I’m best at, and that’s probably fishing shallow. But if I can find a bunch of fish out in the middle of the lake, I can catch them.”
The Pro Circuit schedule lines up pretty well for Lane’s strengths. Apart from the Detroit River to close out the season, there isn’t a fishery on the schedule that won’t allow him to find fish shallow. The Cherokee Lake tournament in early April might even be one Lane should circle on his calendar since catching masses of shallow smallmouths is right up his alley.
But it’s the second tournament on the schedule that really intrigues him.
“I’m pretty excited for all of them, but I’m especially excited for Florida, for sure – the Harris Chain,” he says. “I just love fishing the Delta so much, and that’s basically what the Harris Chain reminds me of. Flipping, punching, that kind of stuff. I love flipping, punching, throwing a frog. I love largemouth fishing. I’m good at smallmouth fishing, but largemouth fishing is my thing.”
Youth doesn’t blind Lane to the inherent difficulty of facing off against pros with, in many cases, decades more experience than he has in the bass fishing world. He knows what he’s about to do isn’t going to be a cakewalk. But, then again, catching fish and cashing checks – success, in other words – has come quickly for the young pro. And the momentum of success can be a powerful thing.
So, as he goes head-to-head with seasoned vets on the Pro Circuit, Lane has that momentum and all the recent success giving him confidence to undertake a full season on the other side of the country.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge, but I’ve fished against older guys all my life,” he says. “I’m not too worried about it. I obviously know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I’m ready.”