- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — One of the reasons I enjoy fishing in the freshwater impoundments of the Carolinas is that once you arrive in the South, you quickly discover that there’s more to life than hooking a bass. In North Carolina, for example, a good deal of this life concerns Dale Earnhardt Sr.

I’ve lost count of the auto and pickup truck window stickers, hats, expensive jackets, children’s lunch boxes, roadside diner place mats and heaven only knows what else that either bear the No. 3, Earnhardt’s picture, or both. Some even show this most aggressive driver in the history of NASCAR racing with a halo atop his head. A halo, for heaven’s sake! I’ve begun to believe that the now-departed Earnhardt is held in higher esteem than Mother Teresa.

Hoo boy!

Before I move on and recall the fishing at the famed Lake Wylie, how could I ever forget White’s Restaurant in the little town of Belmont? It’s family-owned and ever so popular with the residents who leave McDonald’s and Bojangles to the Interstate 85 exit crowd. I discovered the White’s eatery by accident during an early-morning breakfast search. There were no menus, only a friendly wait staff that rattled off the tasty possibilities, then served me steaming coffee and a heaping plate of hash browns, eggs so big I thought they were laid by a goose, fried liver mush, crisp bacon and the Southern staff of life: “beeskits” with butter and jelly.

But not even Dale Earnhardt nor jumbo eggs can top a day on the water with a Lake Wylie fishing guide who answers to the name of Jimmy Drumm.

Wylie is a big Duke Power water reservoir that straddles the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, not far from Mount Holly and just down the road from Charlotte. Not long ago, it was the site of the world championship Bassmasters Classic tournament that had few of the competitors complaining. The place is loaded with bass.

The 50-something Drumm, suntanned and easygoing, exudes a quiet confidence light years removed from anything that might be interpreted as braggadocio. However, even if you think you’re pretty good at the bass-catching game, don’t bet Drumm any money that you can “whup” him. It’s not likely to happen, because the man has X-Ray vision.

Drumm stood in the bow of his Ranger bass boat, wearing the same kind of polarized sunglasses that I did, but it was he who would say, “Over there, by that stump pokin’ out of the water, there’s a bass. I can see him.”

All I could see was the stump and water. Moments later, Drumm cast a shiner-imitating jerkbait toward the bass and — bang! — the largemouth got a face full of treble hooks.

Drumm turned, looked at me, grinned like the Cheshire cat, and as soon as he removed the hooks, put the fish back into Lake Wylie.

He did this again and again, slowly driving me batty, spotting and hooking bass in shoreline shallows and the backs of coves with unerring accuracy. He’d see them move slowly from their lair to investigate the sound and sight of a just-landed fishing lure while all I saw was water and plenty of fish-hiding stickups and brush.

To be sure, I caught bass, especially when I began to cast a garlic-reeking 5-inch Zero worm to likely looking spots or followed Drumm’s hand signals whenever he’d point and say, “There’s another one, a nice one, see if he’ll go for that worm.”

What bothered Drumm more than a little was our lack of success in finding the bigger female bass. Could be that they’d already finished spawning and were driven from the nests by the males, who will zealously guard a bedding area. Every fish we hooked appeared to be a male. But the action was fine because I had the good sense to spend my hours with a man who could see fish in places where an osprey would have a tough time. That makes Drumm an invaluable guide. Besides, you couldn’t find a more likeable companion to fish with. Should you ever come into the Lake Wylie area and require a guide, call Drumm at 704/827-3018. You won’t regret it.

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

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