UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

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Arning Carving Own Path With Trio of BFL Wins

Arning Carving Own Path With Trio of BFL Wins

Few things exemplify the father-son relationship like a day on the water, fishing rod in hand. For Ray Arning Jr. and his son, Aaron, that’s been the crux of their relationship for nearly 40 years, and it continues to this day, manifested in a dozen T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League tournament wins between the duo.

Ray, both a boater and a co-angler on the BFL circuit, has six career BFL tournament wins and 21 top-10 finishes from both the front and back of the boat. Aaron fishes BFLs exclusively as a co-angler and pulled even with his father in tournament wins (and one ahead in top-10 finishes) with a first-place finish as a co-angler at Lake Shelbyville on Sept. 23.

The younger Arning didn’t just pull even in BFL wins by chance, though. He’s been so dialed in this year that his win at Shelbyville was his third in a row in the Illini Division.

One might expect an angler with a three-tournament win streak under his belt to credit the success to technique or luck or some form of bass fishing prowess, but that’s not Aaron, nor is it his father.

“I’m going to start it off right now with my father,” Aaron says of his recent success. “I owe a lot of it to my father. My success just comes with kind of going fishing and putting a fishing pole in your hand and a bait that you trust in, and just go. Put your nose to the grindstone. It’s just old-school stuff.”

Old-school stuff, in fact, that Ray has been passing down to his now 42-year-old son since Aaron was just old enough to climb into a bass boat.

“I went bass fishing with him in a fiberglass boat when I was probably 3 years old,” Aaron says. “Just old enough to get in the boat.”

The duo has nearly identical recollection of those days, and Ray’s reminiscence highlights how much impact he’s had on his son’s passion – and skill – for fishing.

“I can remember when he was 3 years old, we went to Carlyle [Lake in Illinois] one day, and I caught about 20 bass. That was back when the lake was real young and good,” Ray says. “I never moved my boat, and every time I got a bass I handed Aaron the rod so he could bring them in. We’ve been fishing together ever since.”

Sharing tips, sharing time

Much of what Aaron knows about bass fishing came (and continues to come) from his father. Likewise, Ray never fails to pick up on a trick or two from his son. But more valuable than that – more than the exchange of ideas and techniques and baits – is the time the two share both on and off the water.

“We’ve quail hunted together since he was about 10 years old,” Ray says. “We deer hunt together. We’ve duck hunted together a ton. We’ve done a lot over the years together. He kind of thinks like I do a lot of times, but he’s made his own niche right now. That boy can catch a fish.”

Like father, like son.

Aaron describes his fishing style as “slow, easy, calm,” and each of his three consecutive tournament wins (and his sixth-place finish at Shelbyville in May) came as a result of that approach. He uses a 5-inch worm on a Texas rig nearly exclusively, always confident, always ready for the next bite.

Ask Ray what his fishing style is and you’ll get nearly the same answer.

“We’ve got one particular bait that I picked up on about four years ago that they don’t make anymore,” he says. “I’ve won on Kentucky Lake. I’ve won on Mark Twain Lake. I’ve won on Rend; just all around with that darned worm, sometimes as a co-angler behind boaters.”

But ask Ray if his teaching made Aaron what he is and you’ll get an answer you might expect from a father about his son.

“He’s just got a knack of catching fish,” he says. “He’s got his own ways of doing things. I’ve taught him what I know, and he’s been with me for 40 years. As far as competition … nah. I’m tickled to death when he does well.

“We get him around crappie and he’ll catch three-to-one to anybody else. I don’t care what you use. I don’t know what it is. He’ll beat me crappie fishing every day in the same boat together. He’s got some kind of knack and determination.”

What Ray has taught Aaron has created ripples far beyond what can be gleaned from their respective tournament histories. Aaron, having been around bass fishing since he began walking and talking, has also been able to pass along that same knowledge to others in his life, like longtime best friend and three-time BFL winner Brandon Depew.

“He’s my very best friend, and I taught him how to fish,” Aaron says. “He won the Regional the very next year after I won the Regional [in 2011]. We both live right close together. He didn’t know how to fish, and he started fishing with me and my father.”

With Ray’s own BFL regional win in 2003, that’s three total between father, son and son’s best friend, all learning, growing and evolving alongside one another.

 

The co-angler grind

Co-anglers don’t often get the same attention as their boater counterparts, but catching fish from the back of the boat is no easy task. Doing it consistently, with a multitude of boaters controlling most of the variables, is harder still. And winning a trio of tournaments in a row?

“I have never seen anyone win three in a row as a co-angler,” Ray says.

It’s the same sport on the same field of play, but winning consistently as a co-angler is akin to quarterbacking a new team every week and still passing for 400 yards. It’s being thrust into a situation in which you have very little control and still finding a way to catch more fish than the competition.

“It’s a mindset, being a co-angler, that’s different than being a boater,” Ray says. “You’ve got to look at the situation a little different being a co-angler. You only need a few bites. You need to stay mentally focused. You don’t have as much control.”

And yet, tournament in and tournament out, Aaron has found a way. Son credits father. Father credits son. But the truth probably lies somewhere in between, the result of a symbiotic relationship that has allowed the pair to realize their full potential as fishermen and enjoy every second of the journey.

Aaron has thought about moving to the front of the boat for BFLs as a boater, but a full-time union carpentry job limits the amount of time he can get away from work to fish. Instead of taking extra days to practice for tournaments, he opts for life as a co-angler, which doesn’t necessitate two or three days on the water before tournaments.

“The dedication of some of these boaters is way different from being a co-angler,” Aaron says. “If you’re just a good darned fisherman, you can win [as a co-angler].”

With a win last fall at Shelbyville, and three more BFL wins this year, Aaron is certainly proving that.

 

“The Arning Boys”

While Ray is admittedly “slowing down” and doing less tournament fishing, Aaron is clearly hitting his stride. The Walnut Hill, Ill., co-angler has won four of the last six regular-season Illini Division BFLs and finished in the top six in the other two tournaments.

For his BFL career, Aaron has amassed $59,461 in tournament winnings – the only category in which the younger Arning doesn’t hold the edge over his father ($85,476).

So while others can debate which man is the more accomplished, more talented fisherman, the numbers don’t really give the edge to either. That’s the way they like it.

“They call us ‘the Arning Boys,’” Aaron quips. “Everybody says, ‘Those Arning boys, they’ll come take your money.’”

That’s one statement for which the numbers really do tell the whole story – a story about a couple men who flat out know how to fish and love every minute spent together along the way.

 

Tags: justin-onslow  article 

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