The homemade sugar biscuits were wrapped in aluminum foil and stowed in a knapsack with a Thermos of coffee, a cup for dipping, drinking water and a handful of battered lures. The recession of 1979 was in full swing, but row croppers in Hayden, Ala., couldn’t tell the difference from the economic boom our country experienced several years prior, after the Vietnam War concluded. The sweet biscuits, however, still warm when Dell Swindle wrapped them, would be a feast for kings when it was time for a shore lunch. Her youngest son, Gerald, liked them most.
Gerald Swindle, now one of the most recognizable and likable pros on the Bassmaster Elite Series, often thinks back to the days he fell in love with fishing. It was a small, rural creek, the Locust Fork, where Tommy Swindle, Gerald’s father, instilled in him a passion for the outdoors. The family farm, just a short hike from this stream, is responsible for the work ethic that has vaulted the Alabama native to the upper echelon of competitive bass fishing.
“My family farmed. We were row croppers. That’s how we made money. The food we didn’t sell at the farmers market, we ate. My childhood revolved around helping daddy with the crops — until he took me fishing on the creek the first time,” Swindle said.
Swindle was 10 years old and had fished from the banks of small lakes and ponds, but this little vein of water turned into a source of enchantment. Almost 30 years later, when Swindle drives over the Locust Fork low-water bridge a short drive from his Warrior, Ala., home, he is transported back to a time when fishing wasn’t about competition, and a place that kindled a fire for fishing that still burns hot.
“It’s been nine years since I’ve fished this creek,” Swindle said as we slid a pair of Hobie kayaks into the shallow, clear riffles of the Locust Fork. The last time he visited this childhood haunt, he waded. “Man, I fell down so many times it looked like I had crawled through 20 miles of broken glass. I was beat up, worn out and can’t remember the last time I had so much fun fishing.”
This trip, though, was about reliving his float trips.
“Although Daddy had a little flat-bottom boat, most of the time my butt was wedged in a blown-up inner tube from a front tractor tire, paddling backward like a handicapped penguin. We’d get one day off per week from the farm work, and fishing this creek was our reward.”