Lately I’ve been thinking about smallmouth bass in the early days, and about the men who were pioneers when it came to chasing them. One of the greatest — in my opinion the greatest — was Billy Westmoreland.
Physically, he was no giant, although he did have broad shoulders and a stocky appearance. But when it came to catching smallmouth bass, his stature was unequaled. I knew about him long before I ever met him thanks to my daddy.
We lived in Kentucky at the time, but very close to the Tennessee line and to Dale Hollow Lake. Daddy fished all the time when I was a kid. One of his friends from the lake was Billy. I heard story after story about their exploits. And, because I was crazy about fishing, I was fascinated by every one of them.
Finally, when I was 14 or 15 years old, my family all went to Celina, Tenn., for supper one night. We walked into an old, green-colored restaurant called the Crow’s Nest and there was Billy with his brother eating. I was beside myself. I don’t think I said two words to the man. I just stared and tried to imagine what it would be like to be him.
About a year after that, he called Daddy and asked if we’d like to go fishing on Dale Hollow with him. Of course, we said yes. The trip was on.
I can’t honestly say I learned much about smallmouth bass or fishing from him that day. I was so overwhelmed with being in a boat with the man that I spent most of the day just staring at him. I do remember, though, we spent a lot of our time rigging live bait.
Live bait isn’t popular with a lot of bass anglers these days. I suppose I understand that, but let me tell you that it’s no easier than fishing with artificials. You have to use the right bait, fish it in the right spot and present it in the right way if you expect to be successful. Don’t ever think that all you have to do is hook a minnow through the lips and hang it over the side of your boat.
Another thing I remember from that day is that we kept all the fish we caught, and we caught a lot. After all, they were fish. You were supposed to eat them. What else would you do with one? Things aren’t like that now. We have evolved when it comes to conservation and fish management. Billy evolved, too. Towards the end he released every smallie he caught.
After that trip, until almost the time of his death in 2002, I had a chance to fish a lot more with him. I took better advantage of those trips. I paid attention to what he did and why he did it. I learned a lot. Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of what I learned with you and tell you some stories about him that I think you'll enjoy.