For more than half a century, Jack Wingate was Lake Seminole to tens of thousands of anglers who visited its famed waters. To some he was much more. Today near Bainbridge, Ga., Wingate died at the age of 82 following a short battle with cancer.
Born on September 29, 1929 in Faceville, Ga., the "Sage of Seminole" was the owner and operator of legendary Wingate's Lunker Lodge for many decades. Wingate called it a "fish camp," but it was and remains a landmark.
Wingate guided on Lake Seminole for years and caught hundreds of big bass from its waters, but it was his passion for fishing and love of the area that made him a hero to those who knew him.
Every summer beginning in 1966, he held Wingate's Fishing Camp for Boys, at which he hosted 12 young men a week for eight weeks, teaching them bass fishing, fly fishing, gun safety, Indian lore and outboard motor operation. In addition to these skills, almost all left with a respect for the outdoors and an appreciation of nature.
B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott was a recipient of Wingate's advice and assistance in the earliest days of professional tournament fishing.
"Jack was a true trailblazer of the sport," Scott said, after hearing of his death. "He was instrumental in getting anglers for my first tournament on Beaver Lake, Ark., in 1967. He was a great fisherman, a born leader and a true friend."
In fact, Wingate was personally responsible for 22 of the 106 entries in Scott's first tournament and even fished it himself. In February of 1968, Lunker Lodge would serve as the venue for the first event of the fledging B.A.S.S., the Seminole Lunker tournament. Lunker Lodge was also the site of one of the most important meetings in the sport's history when Wingate and Scott helped convince a former Georgia governor and the local manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Lake Seminole should be the site of B.A.S.S.' first tournament. Visitors to Lunker Lodge can stand in the room where the meeting took place and eat one of the restaurant's rightfully famous hamburgers.
J.J. Polak, manufacturer of JJ's Magic, knew Wingate for more than 35 years and called him a "fisherman's fisherman."
"Jack loved that lake (Seminole) more than anything, and he was a true ambassador of the sport," Polak said. "He never met a stranger, and probably introduced more people to the sport than anyone I know. You can't say enough about what he meant to the industry or the sport of bass fishing."
Mike Sloan, whose family bought Lunker Lodge in 2003, called Wingate "an inspiration" and says he was starstruck when they met.
"I had read about him in Bassmaster Magazine since I was a kid," Sloan said. "I probably knew who Jack Wingate was before I knew the name of the President of the United States! What saddens me most today is that no one else is going to get to meet Jack and learn what a great man he was."
One of the iconic signs in the world of bass fishing was posted by Wingate many years ago and stands on the road leading to his beloved Lunker Lodge. Perhaps better than any other, it captures the eternal optimism of bass anglers everywhere.
One side of the sign reads "Cuz, They Bit Yesterday." The other side says, "Cuz, They'll Tare It Up Tomorrow."
Jack Wingate is survived by his wife of 59 years, Joyce, their three daughters and two grandsons. Funeral arrangements are pending.