Westmoreland the protector

I said once before that back when I first met Billy Westmoreland, we ate the fish we caught. That included smallmouth. We’d come in off the water, clean them, and most of the time we’d eat them for supper that night. That’s the way things were back then. But over time things changed, and so did Billy.

He got so he wouldn’t kill one, no matter what. Towards the end of his life he was so protective of “his” Dale Hollow smallies that he would hardly put one in a livewell. And under no circumstances would he fish during the summer or take one off a bed.

His theory about the summertime was interesting. We all know they tend to go deep and stay there when it gets hot. That’s why we fish at night. (We’re doing some of that already this year.) He said they did that for more than comfort, and that they weren’t necessarily following the forage. It was life itself for them as far as he was concerned. They couldn’t live in warm water.

Under his thinking if you caught a fish deep and brought it up from cold water to warm water — sometimes at Dale Hollow it gets way beyond warm — they couldn’t stand the temperature difference. It didn’t matter to him how quickly you brought them to the boat or how quickly you turned them loose. He firmly believed they were doomed.

Billy Westmoreland's book on smallmouth bass is a classic. The way he spelled his name for tournaments and the book, and the way his name was really spelled is an interesting story for another time.

Bed fishing was even worse to him. He’d get angry if the subject was even mentioned. He said they needed protection when they were spawning and that if we didn’t do that they wouldn’t be around for long. I know some of you probably feel differently, but that was the way Billy saw it.

Underneath all of his thinking was his fierce protection of Dale Hollow as a fishery. There was no doubt in his mind that it was the best smallmouth bass lake in the country. At the time, he was probably right. He wanted to save that fishing for himself and for others whom he thought cared enough to be in on her secrets.

I say that because that’s the way it was with him. Billy was a great fisherman — arguably the best smallmouth fisherman of all time and certainly an angler far ahead of his time — but he wasn’t the most forthright guy when it came to sharing what he knew about his beloved Dale Hollow. He could be real close-mouthed, even deceptive at times, about where and how he caught his fish.

That’s not meant to be a criticism — I'd never say anything negative about him. There is no one around who had, and has, more respect for that man than I do. He made me the angler I am today. What I learned from him I would never have been able to learn on my own.

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