As professional bass anglers, we don’t usually brag too much about our accommodations at bass tournaments. Our homes away from home are often of the econo-stay, “we’ll leave the light on for you” variety.
But at the last Elite Series event on the Alabama River, I stayed at a place that was so incredible, I just had to take a moment to brag about it.
Call me lucky, but I just happened to land an invite to stay at Ray Scott’s pond in Pintlala, Alabama – as in Scott’s “Presidential Lake,” the 55-acre bass fishing fantasy land that hosts the “Eagles of Angling” tournament where both former Bush Presidents have fished.
Back in the early 1990’s (when I was still fishing club tournaments) I can remember reading about the Eagles of Angling tournaments in Bassmaster Magazine and watching them on the Bassmasters TV show. Ray Scott would invite the President of the United States to fish with the top bass pros of the time – Rick Clunn, Gary Klein, Larry Nixon and Denny Brauer – on his super pond that was custom built for bass fishing.
That was a magical era for the sport of professional bass fishing. Back then the growth of the sport was on an epic incline. There seemed to be no limits to how far this sport could go. At times pro fishing was even touted to be the next NASCAR. After all, when you see the President of the United States fishing with your angling heroes on Ray Scott’s pond on national television, “the next NASCAR” sure seemed possible.
Now, some 25 years later, we all know professional bass fishing did not become the next NASCAR. Over the last two decades, the sport has sort of waxed and waned like a rising and falling tide. It’s not exactly front-page news like the other big sports, but when I see 8,000 fans attend an Elite Series weigh-in, I know it still has a strong heartbeat.
But back to my accommodations – when I had the opportunity to stay at a guesthouse on Scott’s legendary lake, recently, I jumped on it. I wanted to see if the legend and lore of “Presidential Lake” was everything I thought it would be and I was not disappointed.
The afternoon I arrived, I took a rod out of my boat, walked down the bank and on my very first cast, caught a bass. After catching a few from the bank, a guy who works on the property came down and told me I was welcome to use one of the small electric fishing boats kept on hand for guests.
So I grabbed a few more rods, hopped in a “Twin Troller” and headed out onto the pond. I had the whole lake to myself – catching bass after bass. As afternoon fell towards evening I came upon on sign on a stump that read, “Clunn’s Hole” and I suddenly remembered when Rick Clunn caught a 13-pound, 15-ounce bass – the lake record – in one of the Eagles of Angling tournaments. In that moment, I was taken aback to what it must have been like in those Eagles of Angling events 25 years ago. I could imagine the place buzzing with Secret Service agents. I could see the President casting intently in eager anticipation of the next bite. I could hear the voices of Clunn and Klein, steep with optimism for this sport. For me, it was a kind of special trip back in time to a golden era of our sport.
Later that night as I was finishing up my tackle and putting everything away, I noticed an odd green glow emerging on the lake. I went down to investigate the mysterious glow and found its source: two lights fastened to the bottom of the lake and pointed up, lighting up some 10 feet of the entire water column. As I got closer, I noticed swarms of shad swimming through the lights and an occasional big, dark shadow darting trough the beams, taking swipes at the shad schools. Like a kid on Christmas, I ran back up to my boat, grabbed a rod with a crankbait and returned to the bank to fire a cast across the lights. As my crankbait wobbled into the beam, one of those dark shadows shot out – I held on for the strike – a split second later a 6-pound bass loaded up on my rod. What an incredible experience! To watch backlit bass come from up under the bait and annihilate it gave me a new perspective I’d never seen before.
And with each cast out to the lights, I could see big, dark silhouettes streak across the beam after my lure. Each time, I clenched the rod in anticipation of that jarring strike – it’s the very moment I live for as a pro fisherman. Then it dawned on me: No, professional bass fishing did not become the next NASCAR, but it has not exactly disappeared into obscurity, either. It’s still here, surviving, mostly because we as fishermen all love the anticipation of that vicious strike.