A gaggle of outdoor scribes converged week for Jim Duckworth’s 13th annual two-day frolic of fishing and fun, officially known as the Outdoor Writers Conference.
We fished Old Hickory, Percy Priest and Center Hill, along with a private lake. The amount of fish we extracted didn’t exactly lower the water levels in any of them, but as is true with any fishing trip, the enjoyment can’t be measured simply by how many fish are flopping in the cooler at the end of the day.
The weather was perfect, old acquaintances were renewed, and we got a chance to sample some of the latest gear and tackle.
Duckworth, a professional guide from Lebanon, is an avid promoter of the outdoors at a time when coverage of fishing and hunting are largely ignored by the mainstream media. Bringing members of the outdoor media together to swap ideas and information is a great idea, and Jim is to be commended.
Also, due to a sagging economy many tackle manufactures are cutting back on marketing and promotion, yet Duckworth is able to produce sponsorships year after year. That’s due to his engaging personality and the fact that he endorses only products that he has personally used and knows that works as advertised.
This year’s sponsors included BnM rods; Driftmaster Rod Holders; Navionics navigational systems; Minn Kota/Hummingbird trolling motors; Road Runner lures, Bandit baits, Cajun Cooker, Silver Buddy lures, Zorro lures, Sure Life Lab, Buckeye Shad and Big Hammer swim baits.
Among the writers who attended the conference were three of my favorites – Jeff Samsel of Georgia, Paul Moore of Kentucky and Tim Huffman of Missouri. Most area fishermen have seen their by-lines in outdoor magazines. They’re not just great writers, they’re great guys.
Another favorite: T.J. Stallings, PR director of Road Runner Lures. The Road Runner spinner is a proven all-around lure – I used it to lower the white bass (stripe) population in the Cumberland and Stones River throughout March – and T.J. works tirelessly to promote his product. He spends weeks on the road, attending such events as Duckworth’s, from which he left to fish with famed Chattanooga guide Richard Simms.
Each writer was paired with an area fishing expert and I drew three dandies: Mt. Juliet’s Chuck Campbell, Sparta’s Buryl Shirley, and Chris Duraj and Bryan Montgomery, both of Lebanon.
Buryl owns Stan Sloan’s Zoro Bait Company which produces lures sold throughout the country. Chris and Chuck are pharmacists and Bryan is a relator. I’ve fished with Chris and Chuck in the past, and both are excellent anglers. Bryan is an aspiring pro fisherman whose Phoenix Boats sponsor helps him compete in mid-level tournaments while hoping to work his way up to the big leagues.
I was assigned to Center Hill Lake both days, headquartered at scenic Edgar Evins State Park. The cabins are the best I’ve stayed in, and the park rangers went out of their way to accommodate us – including showing up at dawn one day to open a cabin door for one of our sleepy-headed gang who accidentally locked himself out.
Although the number of fish was low, the quality was high. My partners and I boated a dozen smallmouth in the three-pound range. But again, the success of a fishing trip is not measured entirely by the fishing, and last week’s 13th annual outing was one of the best.
A fish fry, overseen by Jim’s wife Ramona and Chuck’s wife Poppy, was worth the trip. I’ve signed up for next year.