Fear and loathing at bass camp

It all started with a phone call from my cousin Elwood down in south Georgia. “Hey, you ever hear of Montgomery Lake?” he asked. Are you kidding?! Of course I’d heard of Montgomery Lake! That’s where George Perry caught the world record bass way back in 1932. “Well, me and a few of my old college buddies are gonna camp out there this weekend. Word is they’re gonna drain the lake and build a shopping mall. Are you in?” “Heck yes!” I replied. I always figured Montgomery Lake to be like Atlantis — more myth than reality. To make a pilgrimage to this fabled bass fishing mecca, to actually cast a line there, seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime.

I flew to Atlanta, rented a car and headed across the vast south Georgia swampland. As I was questioning the logic of erecting a shopping mall in this remote wilderness, my GPS directed me to turn right onto a dirt road. (I should have turned around while I still had the chance.) The trail cut through a cypress slough and led to a campsite, where I hooked up with my cousin and his posse. Elwood made the introductions.

There was Chauncey, an aristocratic attorney from semi-nearby Augusta who, with his spotless white shoes, plaid trousers, pink Polo shirt and Rolex watch, looked like he’d just stepped off the 18th green at Augusta National — which, in fact, he had. And Yanny from North Dakota, who talked like Lawrence Welk. “Yah, sure, I know your cousin Elwood fer tirty-tree years! Wunnerful, wunnerful!”

Miles, a Harvard botany professor, gave me a weak-fish handshake. “I’ve come for some quiet reflection,” he said. Well, OK!

And finally I met the rotund Tiny, a 300-pounder from Macon who had volunteered to cook. “Wait’ll you try his Brunswick stew,” Elwood said. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before!”

“Hmmm, some of these dudes don’t seem like the outdoor type,” I thought to myself as I helped Chauncey unload the tents from the trunk of his Mercedes. “Where’d you get these all tents, Chauncey?” I wondered. “Daddy purchased them back in the ’60s for my Cub Scout pack,” he replied, adding proudly, “I earned my merit badge in jury selection when I was only 15!” Unfortunately, the tents were dry-rotted and barely big enough to shelter Snow White’s seven dwarves from the elements.

Supposedly there’s nothing more appetizing than the aroma of a savory stew simmering on the campfire, but whatever Tiny had cooked up in that big pot of his smelled like rancid sweat socks. “I hope y’all are hungry, ’cause I made enough for seconds!” he grinned as he ladled steaming, foul-smelling globs of the mystery meal into our tin bowls.

“Dear me!” Chauncey gagged upon tasting the slop.

“Yust vat kinda meat dida put in dat dare stew?” Yanny wondered, fighting back an upchuck.

“Squirrel,” Tiny replied proudly. “Been in my freezer since 1998, so it’s aged to perfection!”

To get the squirrelly taste out of our mouths — and to help ward off the hordes of mosquitoes descending on the camp — Elwood, Chauncey, Yanny, Tiny and I passed around a jug of medicinal liquid known locally as “Ol’ Stump Blower” while Miles serenaded us with Yugoslavian folk melodies on his pennywhistle. I was about to snatch the annoying instrument from his hands and break it over my knee when I heard a banjo plunking the theme from Deliverance in the distance. “If a big toothless guy in bib overalls walks out of those woods and tells us to squeal like a pig, everybody run!” I suggested.

It was getting late and the jug was empty, so we headed for our mini-tents. “Dudes, I put a rubber snake in Chauncey’s sleeping bag!” Elwood whispered. We all watched in anticipation as the rich lawyer entered his tent and tucked himself in. He shut his eyes, yawned, then burst out of the tent like a rocket, screaming like a little girl.

I awoke at daybreak to find the camp (and my head) shrouded in fog. The others were still sawing logs, so I grabbed my bass rod and headed for the lake. There I found Yanny casting a vintage Hula Popper with his spincast outfit. “By golly, there’s a boat over yonder!” he pointed excitedly — an ancient wooden scow was half-buried in the soggy bank. We jerked it out of the mud and slid it in the water. “Look out George Perry, here we come!” I said enthusiastically, visions of a new world record swimming in my mind.

We fished hard all morning, Yanny and I catching bass on nearly every cast — but unfortunately, they were all tiny! Only once did his discount store rod bend double, and that was when an alligator chomped down on a 10-incher he was reeling in. “Cut the darn line and let’s go get some lunch,” I grumbled, my voice thick with disappointment. “Looks like George Perry’s record is safe! With all those dinks messin’ up the gene pool, there can’t be any lunkers swimming in this lake anymore!”

Imagine our surprise when we returned to camp to discover Tiny serving up freshly grilled fish! “How ’bout this monster bass I caught?” he bragged, pointing to the enormous filleted carcass hanging from a tree. “Biggest one I ever saw! Weighed 25 1/2 pounds on my meat scale. I went down to the lake before daylight, caught it on my first cast and drug it back to camp. Here y’all, have some. It’s mighty tasty. Want some tartar sauce?”

I heard George Perry ate his world record, too, but in those days there weren’t a lot of uptight record-keeping organizations like there are today, so his name remains emblazoned in the record books. But something strange happened after I returned home from bass camp. While I have to admit that world record bass was mighty tasty, after I ate it, I sorta lost my taste for bass fishing … and started taking up golf instead! In fact, Chauncey invited me to play a few rounds with him at Augusta National next weekend. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my putting.

To read the entire November issue of Bassmaster Magazine, click here.

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