Lessons from a Master

Growing up and living around Dale Hollow Lake, I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Billy Westmorland was. Even as a teenager, he was the "Legend of the Lake." Lots of folks even called him "Legend."

If you don't know who Billy Westmorland was, you need a lesson in smallmouth bass history. He was one of the greatest to ever wet a hook for brown bass, and he probably knew Dale Hollow Lake better than anyone before or since. Billy hunted squirrels on the farms and woods that were flooded when the dam was completed in the 1940s.

Billy passed away in 2002, but not before making his mark in the sport of bass fishing by winning a couple of BASS tournaments, qualifying for six Bassmaster Classics, writing a great book on smallmouth fishing (Them Ol' Brown Fish), saving the life of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and hosting a popular television fishing show. He was also probably the only man to catch both a largemouth and a smallmouth weighing better than 10 pounds.

I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten to know Billy and to have shared a boat with him. He was the very best, and he taught me a lot.

I remember one time standing around the old building that used to be my shop with Billy and a couple of fishermen from Nashville. As usual, Billy was holding court and telling these guys everything under the sun about smallmouth fishing.

They got to talking crankbaits, and Billy started telling them about one of his favorites, the Luhr-Jensen Hot Lips Express. He told them it would be good the next day on the lake, but that they needed to use red with black stripes in the morning and switch to bone at 1:42 in the afternoon. The two guys from Nashville were just eating this up and taking all kinds of notes. Every time they looked away to write down what he said, Billy would glance my way and wink. He loved pulling people's legs — especially fishermen.

When they left, Billy would usually say something about how color didn't matter and that it was just something to catch fishermen.

Not too long after that, my friend Bob Coan and I were out on the lake and ran into Billy. He was sitting in his boat and taking markers to some crankbaits, carefully coloring them red and drawing in some black stripes.

When I asked him why he was bothering since color didn't matter, he just laughed.

Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. Please e-mail me atStephen@thesmallmouthguru.com.

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