Lebanon's Jim Duckworth hosted his 14th annual Outdoor Writers Conference last week and it was its usual great mix of food, fishing and fellowship -- with an added touch of frostbite on the second morning on Center Hill Lake.
Every spring Jim invites members of the outdoors media and tackle reps from throughout the Southeast and pairs them with local semi-pro fishermen on area lakes and rivers. He does it for a simple reason: to promote fishing, and the companies that support the industry.
He urges writers to give his various sponsors an occasional plug, and to help promote the excellent fishing opportunities in and around Middle Tennessee.
I don't know of a better ambassador for angling in our area than Jim. Certainly, nobody works harder at promoting it.
And so, in forthcoming articles, don't be surprised to see a mention of everything from Edgar Evans State Park (the event's idyllic headquarters) to historical, home-produced Buckeye Shad lures.
Other participating companies include Bandit Lures, BnN rods, Big Hammer Swim Baits, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Sure Life Labs, Road Runners lures, Minn Kota/Hummingbird motors, Cajun Cooker, Stowmaster Nets, Buckeye Shad and Zorro Lures.
What I like about Jim's approach is that he uses all of the products he endorses. If something doesn't perform as advertised, he doesn't endorse it.
For example, the event kicked off with a cookout. Jim used one of number of various-sized Cajun Cookers to deep-fry mounds of golden fish fillets.
During the fishing sessions, anglers often used tackle, lures and gear supplied by the sponsors. It was the ultimate field-test.
A few years ago I was introduced to Road Runner spinners through one of Duckworth's outings. Company rep T.J. Stallings gave me a supply and asked me to give them a try.
I was immediately, well, hooked.
Today I use Road Runners exclusively for white bass, and much of time for crappie. It's one of the most reliable, versatile lures I've ever fished, and I discovered it through Duckworth's outdoor get-together.
During the recent opening session I fished with Mt. Juliet fishing buddy Chuck Campbell during the morning and Lebanon's Bryan Montgomery in the afternoon. Chilly, high winds made for rough water and rough fishing, but we still had a fair day.
I met both Chuck and Bryan during past writer outings -- another positive benefit. Bryan is a personable young man and excellent angler who fishes numerous weekend tournaments. Like Duckworth, he relies on sponsors such as Phoenix boats, Mercury Motors, Nashville Marine and All-Pro Rods. The companies that support Bryan couldn't ask for a better representative.
Today's pro fishermen pattern themselves after NASCAR drivers, with a quilt-work of logos on their uniforms. And, like race drivers, they make sure to give their sponsors a plug in interviews.
Such positive exposure is good for individual tackle companies and good for the sport in general. It counters some of the negative propaganda spewed by PETA and other anti-hunting and fishing organizations.
Fishing is a good and wholesome activity, and a billion-dollar industry in Tennessee. Duckworth -- and the companies that support him -- are determined to get the word out.