An Interview with Mr Jack Wingate
No one knows Lake Seminole better. Here is a man – nearly 78 years old now – that has a lot of life to pass along in his story tellin’.
An Interview with Mr Jack Wingate
Wingate’s Lunker Lodge
16 March 2007
Mr Jack Wingate and I met the first time nearly 15 years ago. I don’t reckon Mr Jack recalls meeting me, but the man did talk, can talk, and tells stories in a way no one else can. Here is a man – nearly 78 years old now – that has a lot of life to pass along in his story tellin’. He wasn’t a bad guide either – legendary from all accounts. No one knows Lake Seminole better – Mr Jack says local guide Randy Weaver knows it better now, but Jack still has an untold number of honey holes waiting to be fished. Wingate’s Lodge is now owned by brother and sister Dale Wilson and Gale Goodman – and Mr Jack is the well known head of public relations – as he can be found telling stories on the front porch almost every day.
On March 16th – I was fortunate to return to Wingate’s Lodge again – to do an interview with Mr Jack. What follows is a small opportunity to glimpse life through the thoughts of this Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer – Mr Jack Wingate.
Swede: about Jack Wingate. Who is this man we all know so well, but don’t know so well?
Mr Jack: Well, I was born and raised about 8 miles right behind me here. Spent all my life down here except 4 years off in the service.
Swede: What branch of the service?
Mr Jack: Navy – I was so damn glad to get back down here when I got out of the service. I had been everywhere I wanted to go and done everything I wanted to do. To give ya an example I had sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, I had witnessed the hydrogen bomb, the first hydrogen bomb blown up in the desert. We was in San Diego at the time. They told us it was gonna happen. A bright sun shiny day like this – the sun faded out – the explosion turned the sky solid white.
Swede: That was in what year? Late 40s?
Mr Jack: Yeah. And I went through the Panama Canal; saw Cuba while Batista had it. I went into the Bermuda Triangle and came out in one piece (chuckles) and saw the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, went into the outer banks, we had to stop one time – dead still in the water. They had so many of them little fishing boats sittin’ all around us – they just had to stop until they all could get gathered up and get back to the mother ship. I never would have believed I’d ever seen such a damned thing. Here we were waaaay out no where and here was at least 30 or 40 of them little ol’ boats, hand lining, above the artic circle. It was so cold up there you could take a dish rag in fresh water and sling it up a steel bulkhead and it would freeze before it hit the ground – that’s how cold it was. Every potato on the ship froze, every potato – ’cause they was stored outside. I had on all the clothes I could put on. I could hardly walk. We were north of Thule.
Swede: Oh were ya? – Thule, Greenland?
Mr Jack: (nods yes)
Swede: About when did you get back here? You opened this place up in ’57 right?
Mr Jack: Yeah.
Swede: And what brought you back here?
Mr Jack: My wife’s (Joyce) from Oklahoma – and Texoma was the first Corp of Engineer’s lake built. The rest of ’em had been Tennessee Valley Authority and all the other lakes like that generating power you see – it changed everything – goin’ out there to Oklahoma to see her and her parents. I couldn’t believe that the people had gathered there to fish for white bass. You never put white bass anywhere – you impound the lake and they’re there, for some reason. And they had – they called ’em sandies out there – sand bass. Saw what was goin’ on out there and I says Lord have mercy – lookie there – well that’s why we’re down here. We came down and started this fish camp. I think a lot about it. A new boat now – a boat, motor, a Ranger, a Triton, or any of em, is $50,000. That’s more than I give for this whole place back then.
Swede: How many acres did you get when you started?
Mr Jack: I believe it was 50 acres.
Swede: So this was Hutchinson’s Ferry Landing to cross the Flint River at the time?
Mr Jack: Yeah – they had a ferry boat down here that went across named after John Hutchinson who was Andrew Jackson’s nephew – that’s Rachel Jackson’s side – she was a Hutchinson. And he walked in here with Andrew Jackson in 1818 and said look up there on the top of that hillside. Ft Scott’s right straight out there (pointing). He looked up on top out there and says Uncle Andrew I sure would like to have me a plantation right up on top of that hill. Andrew Jackson being the scoundrel that he was, whipped out a damned piece of paper and wrote him a damned deed to 500 acres right up here on top of this hill and didn’t no more own it than I did. It was 1822 before he could occupy it. He moved down here – he was 22 years old. The reason why he was here was the Battle of Horseshoe Bend took place – a bunch of Indians overpowered and almost killed him. Sam Houston took two bullet wounds and an arrow that was fixin to be in Andrew Jackson. From then on he decided he wouldn’t be without his elite guards. And he (John Hutchinson) was one of his elite guards. And he had a hundred of them, wherever he went. And that’s the reason why this place is named – he left here the seat of government at that time was not in Atlanta, it was in Milledgeville. And he rode a horse from here to Milledgeville with that letter and his maps and everything and his letter of introduction from Andrew Jackson to the governor. I forgot what his name was – anyway the governor give him his land, and also the right to build a ferry boat, and operate the only ferry boat down here. That’s why it’s called Hutchinson’s Ferry.
Swede: Did you get a chance to fish in the Flint before they impounded the lake?
Mr Jack: Oh God yes.
Swede: And what was fishing like?
Mr Jack: We had very good fishin’. All kinds of speckled perch and bream – rock fish what we called ’em rock fish. They’re stripers now. We didn’t have hybrids back then.
Swede: Bainbridge was fairly well established at the mouth up here right?
Mr Jack: Bainbridge was established as a city in 1823. And it was a headquarters for normal river traffic. On flood stage they could go all the way to Newton. But at extreme high you could go a little bit further. You could go to Albany on a flood if you went and came on the same flood. You had to get up there and get back on the same flood.
Swede: Otherwise you’d be stuck.
Mr Jack: Right. And ain’t no tellin how long.
Swede: So what happened to Bainbridge then when they built the dam? Was it affected at all by the building of Seminole?
Mr Jack: Yes. Morton Salt immediately built a plant there – receiving salt from Louisiana by barges, had a grain storage business storing grain, propane we didn’t have propane pipelines back then. They built a propane yard up there – they had a huge barge with one tank. They would come up there and offload em into those tanks that they had out there. Georgia’s ex-governor then was Marvin Griffin who set right there – he set right there and organized this – the first BASS tournament right there.
Swede: The governor did?
Mr Jack: Yes. Ex-governor – he was just out of office. And he went to the bank and borrowed $5000 to put the thing on.
Swede: $5000 for the first tournament out of here?
Mr Jack: Yeah.
Swede: We have the 50th Anniversary celebration today for the Woodruff Dam – what is the biggest change you’ve seen in the lake in the 50 years since that dam was built?
Mr Jack: Well – we’re all sorry that its no navigation – you can’t navigate – you can’t bring barges up like you used to. Florida won’t let em dredge the channel and that’s the main problem. Seminole is as good as its ever been.
Swede: Do you think there’s a record bass in this lake?
Mr Jack: We know there is – they done shocked him up and turned him loose.
Swede: And how big was that fish?
Mr Jack: He was 25″ right at 25 pounds. And also the world record striper cause they had him in here at one time. And we hold the world record now – for the white amour carp (grass carp) – by 4 pounds – 78 somethin’ I believe.
Swede: What is the biggest speck you’ve seen brought in?
Mr Jack: We have had 4 pound specks and 5 pound white bass. Our shellcracker are gonna catch up too. The hydrilla out there is the cause of that. And the corkscrew snails – there is – you just can’t believe how many corkscrew snails there is out there and that’s what the shellcracker are eatin. We’ve got a three pounder on the wall right there.
Swede: Now there have been a lot of big names in bass fishing from this area of the country – Tom Mann just passed away here about a year and a half ago…
Mr Jack: I was at his funeral – yes.
Swede: How often did he make it down here and what kind of a relationship did you have?
Mr Jack: I have a picture somewhere in my collection of pictures before any of these roads were paved here – standing right out there with Ms Ann – him and her with a string of bass they caught.
Swede: I read his book – “Think like a Fish” – read about Mr Leroy Brown
Mr Jack: Big Bad Leroy Brown – I was at big bad Leroy Brown’s funeral.
Swede: Did you ever come across a fish with an attitude like Leroy Brown on Seminole here?
Mr Jack: I got one stump down there that I’ve lost 5 musky jitterbugs on. And I ain’t never turned him. I don’t know what it was. I never could turn him around and show him to be a bass, a hybrid, a striper, or whatever it was.
Swede: Now how much did you charge to go guide for a day when you first started out?
Mr Jack: We charged $12 and furnished the boat motor and gas.
Swede: Pam Martin Wells – she lives around here too doesn’t she?
Mr Jack: Yes – right across the lake – 300-400 yards.
Swede: Was she an actual guide out here too?
Mr Jack: She guides now, but she didn’t back then. I’m fixin’ to recommend Pam for the Outdoor Hall of Fame. I don’t know whether you know anything about her or not – she is a deep sea diver – certified. I imagine she’s had to drop that being she’s been fishin’ so much. She was certified for 200 feet. She could shoot a quail fast as she – she’s right handed, but shoots left handed. She can’t hit nothin’ if she shoots right handed, but she’ll drop that quail on the ground just as sure as – and she’ll take a pair of horns and rattle up a buck. She won’t shoot him – she let someone else shoot ’em. She can shoot em. She has a good rifle and everything – and she can call a turkey in that front door out there. Wonderful wonderful outdoor person. And I’m gonna recommend her, in fact I’ve already done it and sent it to the whatever the…
Swede: And what hall of fame is it?
Mr Jack: The Great Outdoors Hall of Fame.
Swede: What affect do you think she’s gonna have on the girls, the kids, as far as getting into bass fishing as a young girl.
Mr Jack: She’s already having that kind of affect. She likes to teach kids. She’ll teach em. She’s an exceptionally good teacher and well Tim Tucker’s gonna – have you read his books?
Swede: I’ve read some of Tim’s stuff.
Mr Jack: She’ll be on this issue, this issue of Bassmaster Magazine – comin’ out right shortly.
Swede: Mr Rick Clunn and Mr Roland Martin – I’m sure you’ve met them both?
Mr Jack: I have.
Swede: Who’s better?
Mr Jack: Scientifically – Rick Clunn. He used to stay with us here and he camped over here. He used my yard to park his boats in and he’d come out here in the campground – him and his sister – and camp. And he would sit down and do his yoga business you know and get his mind set. And Roland was here and it was here that Ann, his wife – Ann is from Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma which is 30 miles from Sulfer, Oklahoma where my wife’s from. And we got real close together before they had their divorce.
Swede: Every kid has a hero growing up – who was your hero? Who did you look up to?
Mr Jack: When I was growin’ up – well to answer you the best I can – I’ve got 20 somethin’ books on Andrew Jackson alone and my favorite movie is George Patton. In a related situation they was both closely similar.
Swede: Do you see yourself in them or them in you?
Mr Jack: I just admired their tactics. They didn’t wait and ask questions – they went ahead. They made decisions and followed them.
Swede: Have you ever fished with any of the presidents? Any of the presidents ever make it down this way?
Mr Jack: Had Jimmy Carter’s grandson fish down here and I fished the last Ray Scott tournament. Fished the first one and the last one at his home. OK. And George senior was at that tournament at Ray’s house and we entered – got to shake hands with him there. Quite a deal there. There was at least 10 secret service men at that tournament.
Swede: Oh I’m sure – how did they do in the fish catch-n business?
Mr Jack: They didn’t catch no fish – they were too busy with their damned Uzis. Every damned one of them had one of em under their arm. (laughing)
Swede: What year was that – was that after George senior finished up with his presidency?
Mr Jack: ’01…’01 I believe it was.
Swede: ’01 so George W just came into office then. Probably – just prior to 911.
Mr Jack: Right – yeah.
Swede: Was that up in Montgomery?
Mr Jack: Just this side of Montgomery yeah. Pintlala. Ray’s house. He’s got an 80 acre lake. An unbelievably beautiful lake. I caught so many fish you couldn’t believe it. I had the most fish – the most numbers. But mine – you had to fish with 4 pound test line and had to be 12 inches or under to keep em. I caught so many fish I just wore myself out.
Swede: What do you think the biggest mistake fishermen make while out on the water?
Mr Jack: Fishin too fast – fishin too fast. That’s the average fisherman. Slow down.
Swede: What’s your favorite bait you’ve ever used out here on the lake?
Mr Jack: Baby Zara Spook. The people sent – that I sent to Ray Scott – one of the names was Lefty Hardcastle. And Lefty Hardcastle was a basketball referee from Tennessee. Certified by the state. He refereed all the games in Tennessee. He could run faster backward than he could forward. Damnedest thing I’d ever saw. But he had the big fish on Beaver Lake one of the days of that tournament on that Zara Spook.
Swede: Was that when you started using it?
Mr Jack: No – I had run this camp 10 years before that Beaver Lake tournament. And if I had a listened to that crazy brother-in-law, which I thought he was crazy. He lived in Conway Arkansas. He said if you’ll take a Spot – now the Cordell Spot is the forerunner of the Rat-L-Trap. Cordell Spot. If you’ll get you a shad colored spot, and go up there you will catch a limit catch of bass every day. Beaver’s where the first Ray Scott tournament was and then Smith Lake was the second. I put the first Spot that anybody had ever heard of in Smith Lake and I come out third place in that tournament. Went back to it a year or 2 years later and placed fifth using that Spot. I put the first Spot in this lake anybody ever heard of and the first Spot in Lake Jackson. The first cast I caught a two pound bass.
Swede: So Zara Spook and Cordell Superspot. Mr Jack – thanks so much for your time and for teachin’ us all a little bit about yourself, your acquaintances, Lake Seminole, and fishin.
Wingate’s Lunker Lodge can be found not too far off Jack Wingate highway between Bainbridge, GA and Chattahoochee, FL. Phone number is 229-246-0658. From personal experience – they have an outstanding BBQ sandwich, and they are always willing to point you in the right direction when trying to find a keeper bass. Talk to Mike Sloan – he handles all the tackle at Wingate’s and is sure to put a couple baits in your hands that will put ’em in the boat. And for me – I can’t wait to get back for another stay.
Kevin “Swede” Oleen
President, Miracle Strip Bassmasters
NW Florida Regional Director, Florida Bass Federation
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