ERIE COUNTY — Pleasantville resident Lane Brown was simply looking for a way to spend less time in the woods. He wasn’t expecting that his love for fishing would to turn into something that would cultivate state-wide recognition.
Just two years into becoming the captain of God’s Grace Sport Fishing charter services, Brown and his first mate, Tom Thompson, recently facilitated the largest catch of a lake trout in the history of Pennsylvania fishing.
On May 11, the latest installment of the “Battle of Lake Erie” took place. Brown and Thompson were joined by angler Keith Miller, of Cranberry Township, Venango County, on God’s Grace which set sail from the North East Marina.
In the late afternoon, Miller felt a much larger tug of his rod from prior catches in the day and the struggle ensued. For the next 15 to 20 minutes, according to Brown, Miller worked his line to eventually reel in the record-setting trout. The trio immediately weighed the fish and suspected it could have been a record catch.
After the preliminary weigh-in on the boat, Brown steered toward the shore at Poor Richard’s Bait and Tackle in Fairview. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), PFBC Waterways Conservation Officer Matthew Visosky conducted an official weigh-in on a certified scale at 6:40 p.m. where it was determined that Miller’s fish eclipsed the prior state record.
Miller’s catch weighed 31 pounds, 13 ounces, which surpassed the previous mark by 2 pounds and 9 ounces set in 2012 by an angler from Nazareth.
On Friday, after a review of the appropriate documentation, the PFBC declared that Miller’s catch was indeed a new state record.
Brown and his crew weren’t expecting the hysteria that followed from his peers, the media and social networks. Brown estimated that his social media posts reached more than 75,000 people in the first 48 hours.
“We didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was until it went viral on the internet,” Brown said. “We were contacted by news agencies and TV reporters. People that I don’t even know have been stopping me on the street to congratulate us. It’s been a pretty big uphill high.”
The fishing community has rallied around Brown, Thompson and Miller since their big haul. Brown acknowledged how fortunate his team was a making the catch.
“We’re getting a lot of respect from our peers with other charter captains wishing us well,” Brown said. “There are good fishermen congratulating us, but I’m the first one to know that (the record-setting) fish could have been on one of their hooks instead of ours. God decided to bless us that day because it could have easily been on someone else’s line.”
Brown’s record-setting trip has been the culmination of a change for him that, at times, proved to be quite difficult.
Over the past 30 years, Brown has been cutting logs for a living, and the physical toll of the job had been causing him to look for a change. Being a Lake Erie fisherman as a hobby since the 1980s, Brown, after consulting his wife and accounting for his faith, looked beyond the rod and the reel and started a charter fishing service that would serve as a ministry and a part-time vocation.
“I have fished Lake Erie as a hobby for a good number of years, and so spawned the idea to create God’s Grace Sport Fishing,” Brown said. “The idea was to share my love of fishing with fellow fishermen in a Christian environment. I wasn’t looking to get rich by any means, just to pay the bills for a few months while avoiding cutting limbs.”
After the above-average walleye hatches of 2014 and 2015, Brown figured it was the perfect time to “give it a whirl.” However, Brown wasn’t expecting the journey of getting his captain’s license to be the gauntlet that it was. While going through an online course that spanned the course of four months, Brown had to master a myriad of topics ranging from safety to navigation to regulations and mapping — which Brown deemed the most difficult topic.
“It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” Brown said about completing the course. “I had to apply myself because it would have been really easy to quit.”
Since starting his charter service, Brown has had the opportunity to take up to four anglers at a time out on God’s Grace. His license permits him to charter up to 100 miles out on the ocean. He ran about 25 charters during his first year and immediately fell in love with his new vocation.
“We had a great time with our customers (in our first year),” Brown said. “We reached limits on almost every trip. There’s just nothing like seeing someone’s face when they get to catch a fish bigger than anything they have ever caught before.”
Brown acknowledged that his business has been booming after the catch, and that he hasn’t ruled anything out about the possibilities for the future.
“Maybe God has other ideas for me,” Brown said. “I may be able to go down to Florida or somewhere else and spend even less time in the woods.”