Lebanon's Jerry Kilgore has been fishing most of his 80 years, and recently he made one of his most prized catches -- a three-pound smallmouth he wrestled from the cold, clear depths of Center Hill Lake.
"I'm so proud that my hat still won't fit on my head," Kilgore says with a chuckle.
Kilgore and his son-in-law Keith Humphrey were fishing with Lebanon guide Jim Duckworth when the big smallmouth hit. During the morning trip the group boated another three-pound bronzeback, a five-pound largemouth and 15 spotted bass.
The smallmouth and largemouth were released, and the spotted bass went into the cooler, destined for the platter.
"It was a great day on the water," says Kilgore, a retired railroad worker who owns and operates Kilgore Awards Store. "Jim does a great job. He works hard to make sure you catch fish."
Kilgore, a native of West Tennessee, grew up fishing in local ponds and streams with his father.
"We couldn't afford store-bought tackle, so my dad cut a cane pole and put a $1.99 reel and rod guides on it."
After his family moved to the Chattanooga area, Kilgore began fishing famed Chickamauga Creek. He recalls renting a boat and motor for $1 a day.
He moved to Wilson County in 1966, eventually retired from his railroad job, and in 1982 opened his Awards Store (kilgoreawardsstore.com) where he sells a wide variety of custom-made items. And all during that time he kept fishing.
At 80 he says he has "slowed down some" but has lost none of his enthusiasm for the sport.
"I enjoy it as much as I ever did," he says, adding with a laugh: "Especially when the fish are biting."
"It's very inspirational to see someone on up in years getting out and having fun fishing," Duckworth says. "It proves that you're never too old. I once took an 88-year-old gentleman out, and he had a ball."
Duckworth fishes out of a custom-built aluminum boat that is heavy and stable.
"It's perfect for older folks and kids," he says. "It's big and wide and you can move around without it rocking."
To accommodate his latest client, Duckworth welded a special extra aluminum step onto his boat.
"I call it the Jerry Kilgore Step," Duckworth says. "It makes it easier to climb in and out of the boat."
Using a guide service is ideal for fishermen who may take only a few trips a year and don't want the bother and expense of maintaining a boat year-round. Also, Duckworth and other state-licensed guides are first-aid trained and capable of handling any medical emergency that might arise on the water.
And, perhaps best of all, they know where to find -- and catch -- fish.
"I'm going to book another trip soon," Kilgore says. "Catching that big smallmouth was fun, and Duckworth clams he knows where there's more like it."