Where do you begin — after fishing most of your entire life — to try and tell it all? At the beginning of course. This is my story.
After spending almost an entire lifetime chasing after those little green fish (basically known as bass), its time to reveal how a life-long obsession can turn into a major, self-fulfilled accomplishment.
It all began in a small creek in a little town I grew up in called, Wylam. Located just a few miles west of Birmingham, Alabama.
As a young boy I was always fascinated by this small creeks inhabitants. I trapped minnows and crayfish in this shallow creek by dipping the remainder of old window screen in the water. I spent a lot of time exploring this creek as a child.
The frogs and turtles that occupied this small creek were intriguing to me as well. But the small bream I caught back then (now over 50 years ago), were the first fish that I ever encountered.
Using nothing but a cane pole, a short length of fishing line about 10 feet long and the only # 1 size bream hook I owned, — unknown to me at the time – those days were the actual roots of a slow-growing tree of life. Soon, I encountered my life long adversary.
The largemouth bass.
Like a lot of teenage young boys I had a paper route. And like the “roots” of a lot of today’s anglers lives, I saved every dollar I could to eventually go out and buy my own very first rod and reel.
A brand new, shiny Zebco 33 reel, on a yellow fiberglass rod, made by Eagle Claw. And of course a few lures. My small tackle box only consisted of very few lures. Around five lures to be exact.
My Tackle Box
An old black, battle-scarred jitterbug top water lure. A white, inline spinner called a Rooster Tail. Another safety-pin type spinner called a Beetle Spin. It was a split tailed piece of rubber, that was yellow with two black stripes running down both sides.
I was also a very proud owner of a Rapala three hook, silver / black back, J-13 model, minnow-type lure. I caught a lot of bass on these lures.
I had one worm. It was one of those watermelon colored / red tailed, hard rubber worms made by Tom Mann. It had a small inline spinner blade up front and it also sported two small already pre-rigged bream size hooks.
Even back then owning a lot of lures meant having a lot of money. We didn’t. So I just stocked up on the basics. And like most youngsters of that time, I acquired a few lures I “borrowed” from my dad’s tackle box.
Before I ever caught my first bass, I bream fished and later on as a teenager I fished for crappie with some jig type lures that had a small spinner hanging below the head. It was a lure very, similar to a Blakemore Road runner lure. My fishing buddy’s dad made these lures so we had plenty.
My First Largemouth Bass
One day I tried out my new Beetle Spin. I caught my very first largemouth bass, one weighing about three pounds on that lure. What a battle and a true test of my only rod and reel, loaded with 10 pound test Stren fishing line. What a memory as well.
Like most anglers of today, I’ll never forget catching that first bass of my early fishing career. Unknown to me at the time this bass was the first of thousands of bass to come.
I was fishing the Warrior River Impoundment Bankhead Lake, located about 20 miles from Birmingham. I always launched out of Lost Creek and rented an old wooden boat for $3.00 per day. I always had my trusty coffee can as well, for bailing out the water leaking into (it seemed like), every boat I rented!
I was still to young to drive a car. Friends and relatives would take me to Bankhead Lake and then return to pick me up late in the evening. Usually they anticipated standing on the bank hollering my name as the sun went down. I had to come in when it got dark.
One day I came in with an awesome stringer of bass. I remember it well. It consisted of 4 bass each weighing over 5 pounds and about 6 more weighing in the 2-3 pound class. We rarely weighed bass back then. We just took some pictures with our Brownie camera and then cleaned them and ate them!
The phrase, “Catch and Release” was not even around.
As I was unloading up my equipment, which consisted of one rod and reel, a tackle box, a small net, a battery and an old Minnkota trolling motor (I had no outboard motor), two older men were just launching their rented boat. When they saw my bulging stringer of bass, their eyes bulged out as well.
Immediately one came over and asked, ”what did you catch those bass on? “
“A Burke Top water Frog,” I implied. Every one of them! Another question soon followed. “Where were you fishing? “ One of the men then impulsively asked.
“Across the creek“ I again proudly exclaimed, pointing in that direction.
To my surprise one of the men then said, “If you will show us where you caught all of those bass we will give you $20.00! Which to me was a lot of money back then! So I joyfully said, give me the $20.00, launch your boat, and then I’ll show you where to go!
So they launched their boat and unlike myself they had an outboard motor. Wow! I thought what a nice, Johnson 9.9 horsepower outboard motor. Maybe someday I’ll have one!
They then told me to board their boat. But I refused, simply just saying,” Hand me the $20 dollars.” After they a little reluctantly did so, I then told them.
” You see that Lilly pad field across the creek? That’s where I caught all of these bass! “
So they cranked up that shiny new motor and off they went to that Lilly pad field.
Unknown to me at the time, I had just made my first dollar as a fishing guide…
* To be continued in Part 2 of “Biography of an Alabama Fishing Guide”