- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

COUNCE, Tenn.

On a misty, sometimes rainy morning, David Harbin shook hands with me and an old friend, Tommy Akin, then said, “Before we go fishing, let’s have a good breakfast.” We did. In fact, the bacon I had with my grits and eggs was the best I’ve ever had.

That out of the way, Harbin — an ace Tennessee River fishing guide and president of Pickwick Outdoors Inc., an organization that wants vacationers to come to Hardin County — drove down just below the massive Pickwick Dam and prepared to launch a comfortable bass boat into the river.

When asked just what it was his company would do for visitors, he smiled through a graying beard and said in typically relaxed Southern speech, “We’ll arrange lodging, fishing trips, golf outings, camping, even boat rentals if they don’t want me, and we can also point the way to Hardin County’s historical sites.” (The place is steeped in history. For example, does the Civil War’s battle at Shiloh ring a bell? The battlefield is in Hardin County.)

“Get in,” Harbin told us after he slipped the boat from its trailer and moments later idled across the swift-moving Tennessee toward a quiet eddy. As he moved across the water, the boat bristling with fishing rods and all manner of lures and bait, it struck me that the public water access below Pickwick Lake’s dam was free. There was a fine double-wide launch ramp, shoreline fishing (as evidenced by several dozen bait slingers scattered up and down the river) and a huge parking lot — all for the people. How I wished the Washington area was as user-friendly. On the broad, tidal Potomac and some of its feeder creeks, I believe only Charles County, Md., has free boat ramps and shoreline access.

Harbin finally settled into the eddy, holding the boat in place with a quiet, battery-powered trolling motor, and began to feed a live shiner onto a Number 1 hook tied to 10-pound monofilament line. A large splitshot a few feet above the bait completed the setup, and the shiner was cast toward the edge of the moderate river flow. (All but two of the dam’s 10 floodgates were shut.)

In less than five minutes, Harbin battled a wildly objecting white bass to the boat. “Easy, boy,” he said. “I’ll let you go.” And he did.

Meanwhile, Akin and I preferred to use artificial lures. Akin was slinging a Strike King spinnerbait into the river, allowing it to roll along in a narrow stretch that was buffeted by moving river water on one side and a quiet side pocket on the other. Harbin noted this was an area where predator fish would hang out, waiting to ambush unsuspecting baitfish.

Bang! Akin set the hook to something, and soon a fat smallmouth bass danced across the surface. Harbin knew his business; that much was certain.

I had been using a medium depth, firetiger color Strike King crankbait and had not caught more than floating leaves and grass, but when Harbin moved down to a rocky shoreline, I connected almost instantly. A hickory shad slammed the treble hooks of that -ounce crankbait. In 50 years of fishing, I have never had a shad grab anything bigger than a ⅛-ounce — or smaller — shad dart.

Not to be outdone, Harbin also nailed a shad, then a youthful rockfish, while Akin stuck the hook to a largemouth bass and a Kentucky (spotted) bass. I had another shad.

Talk about variety, this was it — and the company was the best there could be.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com

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