Coming Home

Photo by Kenneth Boone

Two days before this article was due to the editor, I sat down to write. I stared at the screen of my outdated laptop trying to decide what I would write about this month. It’s not uncommon to experience a little writer’s block, but this was an unusual case. I originally had it planned out. I would write about the role of sound and scent on baits and how I felt that sometimes they make all the difference and other times maybe not so much.

As of 9 p.m. the day the article was due, I decided to sit down and try again. Let’s re-visit the sight and sound topic another day. This month, instead of writing about how to conquer the fish of Lake Martin, I wanted to pay my respects to the lake and to the community that surrounds it. I don’t live far from the lake now, but when I push a boat off the trailer and onto the waters of Lake Martin, I truly feel I’m home.

I feel very fortunate to have had great parents who worked hard to provide for me and my brother David growing up. They also worked hard to teach us right from wrong, and I’m forever grateful that they raised us in church. I’m thankful for having the opportunity to play several sports in city league and for Benjamin Russell. I learned many valuable life lessons through sports from my coaches and my teammates.

But, I also owe a debt of gratitude to Lake Martin because it’s on the lake that I really found my independence.

At 12, I was paddling around the lake in a Jon boat, and I remember feeling the most exhilarating level of excitement as I pushed the boat away from our dock in Bay Pines. A few years later, my Dad gave me permission to take his bass boat out by myself. I was so excited I ran out into the lake and stopped because I didn’t even know where I wanted to fish. I felt free, like it was just me and the lake.

We swam in the summer and fished under our dock light at night. I guided for crappie off a homemade barge that I helped my neighbor, Doug Patterson, build. I was a deckhand for Doug who happened to be one of the best stripe guides on the lake at the time. He taught me to catch catfish on a rig with the weight at the bottom and tiny hook suspended up the line (we call that a drop shot in the bassin’ world now).

I fished my first bass tournament on Lake Martin with my Dad, who was a die-hard Federation angler back then. The students at BRHS used to kid me about how they could get my dad off of Alabama History and onto fishing with one simple question. Usually it was about his biggest fish ever.

My mom used to get up before daylight and drop me in at Bay Pines Marina, so me and my buddies could have two- and three-boat fishing tournaments. We had birthday parties at the lake and would throw the watermelon shells in the water and watch the turtles bob on them for hours. We even rode to Kowaliga in the bass boat to watch the July 4th fireworks – once.

I took my girlfriend out on Lake Martin in our bass boat, and we knee boarded. Most guys would be proud to take their girl out in their car, but I wasn’t old enough to drive yet. I even got her to fish some. Her name was Stephanie. Now we’ve been married 16 years, and she’s by far the best catch of my life.

I used to run to Elkahatchee Creek religiously when I was learning to fish on my own. Everybody knew that was the best place to go back then. I would fish alone and pretend that I was in a big tournament. I would fight the fish as if my livelihood depended on it, like every bite was critical. I acted like I was fishing against the best fisherman in the world. I remember feeling that it was weird to be that way when nothing was on the line and no one was watching. Yet I felt that someday I would be back, competing in a big bass tournament on Lake Martin. At the time, it seemed unrealistic as I cast from our 15-foot boat with a 40-horsepower outboard. But, that time has now come, as the Bassmaster Elite Series comes to town Feb. 8-11.

I’m excited to showcase the beautiful waters of Lake Martin through the Bassmaster event. It really is a place where dreams can be realized. I know that there are thousands upon thousands of people who have their own stories about the great and memorable experiences they’ve had on and around Lake Martin. We are fortunate to have these clean waters to visit right here in our own backyard, whether we are recreational boating, fishing or just wanting to have a drink and watch a sunset with some friends from a lakehouse deck.

Steph and I have a son now, Gaige, who we’ve taken to Lake Martin since he was tiny so that we can share some of those good times with each other and hopefully teach him to appreciate the joy and value of the outdoors.

I’m grateful that Lake Martin was designated as a public water body when it was built, and I hope that will never change. It’s main purpose when the dam was built was for hydropower and flood control, but who could have imagined it would provide so much enjoyment to so many people from all different walks of life?

It is my hope that with the Bassmaster Elite Series coming to Alexander City, Wind Creek and Lake Martin this month, the rest of the world will get a chance to see something special. Thousands will follow BASS Live with live tournament coverage online at bassmaster.com. The show will later appear on ESPN2 and the Outdoor Channel.

Photographers will capture the moments that all anglers cherish when the battles ensue and the fish are landed. They should see our amazing sprawling lake with nearly 900 miles of shoreline that is full of fish, especially bass. This is a community that loves its lake and loves the outdoors, and the people work hard and play even harder. There’s a top-notch facility in Wind Creek State Park that people from all across the country can visit to camp, play and fish. Lake Martin and the surrounding area truly is an awesome place to live and play.

Most importantly, I hope this event will inspire someone just to get outdoors, and maybe even chase a dream. Maybe it will be a kid who just can’t get enough fishing and, when no one is looking, pretends that he or she is on the biggest stage in bass fishing. I hope they know that those types of dreams can be realized, as one of mine will when I walk across the stage on Day 1 of the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake Martin. Now it’s time to focus on the fishing!

Greg Vinson is a full-time professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series and PPA tours. He lives in Wetumpka and grew up fishing on Lake Martin.