It’s Sunday night, and we start practice for our next event in the morning. As I’m putting this column together, I’m sitting in my living room.
Our next Bassmaster Elite Series event is at Neely Henry Lake in Alabama, so I’m coming home …
With each event we fish, I try to stay focused on that event and not look ahead to anything else. Yeah, we have to make plans and book campsites, but I try to stay locked in for the next event. This season, I have tried to forget about the Neely Henry event because I have so much history here, and because the location is so near and dear to my heart.
If I’m being truthful, I wouldn’t have wanted an Elite Series stop on Neely Henry. But now that it’s here, I’m finding myself flush with family memories and a lifetime of experiences on the lake. Not necessarily memories as a professional angler, but memories of a life spent fishing — if you can understand the difference.
Once we finished Lake Fork last month and loaded up the camper to head home, my mind started turning towards Neely Henry. It was really like my whole life flashed through my mind.
I learned how to fish here with my dad. Candy and I had our budget honeymoon fishing here for two days. I taught my sons, Josh and Jacob, to fish here, and we all fished our first tournaments on Neely Henry. Yes, I learned my craft here on this Coosa River impoundment, but it’s more than that. It’s almost like Neely Henry is a part of my soul in a way.
My daddy not only taught me how to fish here, but he gave me my first taste of tournament fishing when I was young in Sunday morning wildcats on Neely Henry fishing against 60 to 70 other teams. We won our fair share of tournaments here, and it was those events that taught me to love competitive fishing and made me want to be a Bassmaster.
Candy and I got married when I was 21, and we didn’t have a lot of money to go on a true honeymoon, so we borrowed my dad’s boat and fished for two days. Neely Henry was where I spent my first day as a married man.
We raised our boys on Neely Henry. Josh was born in 1985 and Jacob in 1989, and our family Sundays were spent fishing Neely Henry for bass or anything else that would bite. I introduced both of my boys to tournament fishing on Neely Henry, and now they both have a love for fishing and competing and they do it together. The lake is an artery for our family.
A lot has changed at Neely Henry over the years. It’s very different now than before, but I know every one of the 76.9 miles in the fishery. There’s a lot to look forward to this week. I do feel a little extra desire to do well here because it is home. I will see a lot of the people I grew up fishing against, and that will be special, but I have to stay focused as if it was just another event.
I am proud to be from this area and proud of the fact that Neely Henry is my home lake. I am blessed to be able to work with Hugh Stump, the tourism director from Greater Gadsden Area Tourism. I am honored to be the Elite Series representative displaying the Fish Neely Henry Lake logo on my boat and my truck — that logo represents a lifetime.
I’m going to look at the event like any other, try to forget any past experiences and focus on the now. I will start like any other practice and look at the conditions, the season and try to figure out the program that will help me be competitive this week.
But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t hope the moon and stars will align. I'd love to be standing there on Sunday morning with a chance to have an amazing and wonderful outcome.
Whatever happens though, I know that Thursday morning, as I slide that Skeeter/Yamaha rig into the water at Coosa Landing between those iconic bridges in Downtown Gadsden, it is going to be a very special, personal moment for me full of memories of a life lived and a craft learned.
I’m coming home …