G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Columnist
Will it ever be topped, that world record smallmouth bass that David Hayes caught from the Kentucky portion of Dale Hollow Lake 59 years ago?
The big ones – 10 pounds and better – swam in the lake’s 27,000 acres during the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s. Why would there not be one swimming down along those gravel points and underwater creek channels today?
Hayes was trolling a pearl Bomber lure in July 1955 off the steep bluff near where Trooper Island and Dale Hollow State Resort Park stand today. It was the most vicious battle the veteran bass fisherman had ever had. It startled him, but he recovered, held on, wore it down, and put it into the boat and into the world records listing.
It’s a record that no one has come close to beating. Five pounders seem to be about it these days.
Billy Westmorland, who started guiding fishermen for smallmouth on Dale Hollow when he was still a teenager, came the closest. And he said 15 years ago he still believed Dale Hollow was the most likely place to hook the record.
It was 2 p.m. on Christmas Day 1970 when Westmorland hooked but lost what he was sure was the new world record smallmouth. He was fishing on an old roadbed about 20 feet down. One side of the point broke off in 55 feet of water.
The fish hit in 20 feet of water, right at the break, just as he lifted a yellow Marabou Spinnrite off the bottom. His eyes probably looked like tea saucers when he got a look at the smallmouth — just before the hook pulled loose from its mouth.
In early March 1972 he cast a jig weighing one-eighth of an ounce, once again on top of an old roadbed in 20 feet of water. The smallmouth he boated that day weighed 10 pounds even.
“I had hooked and lost this fish in the exact same spot in 1971,” he said in a small booklet he published at the urging of his friend, Jack Huddleston. It’s titled “My 10 Best Ways to Catch a World Record Smallmouth Bass.”
If you think he wasn’t dedicated to the chase, he was on the lake at daybreak on a January day when the temperature was 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That morning, he was casting a single spin spinnerbait off a point in Horse Creek Hollow, when he caught a smallmouth weighing 9 pounds, 15 ounces.
TICKED OFF AT ME
I had but one occasion to fish with him while interviewing him. This was in the late 1990s, a few years before his death. I and several other members of the Kentucky Outdoor Press Association were staying on a houseboat moored to the dock at Jack Huddleston’s Horse Creek Dock & Marina on Dale Hollow Lake.
We began the day with Westmorland slightly ticked off at me. We had made arrangements to fish in his boat at a certain time that day.
I assumed he was going to pick me up on the back of the houseboat, which was moored about 200 yards down from the office.
But he was waiting for me in the office.
We got off late after he finally picked me up on the back of the houseboat. He never spoke except to say, “You’re late!”
Finally, though, as we began casting and talking about his pursuit of the record smallmouth, he warmed to the subject and became quite congenial. Billy was friendly to everyone he came in contact with.
We had turned left at the end of Horse Creek Hollow, toward the dam, and started casting crankbaits over the submerged village of Dale Hollow. The man liked to fish good structure.
He cast most of the day with a bright red Hot Lips crankbait that ran 10 or 12 feet deep. We caught three smallmouth, two by him and one by me. The biggest smallmouth we caught that day, taken by Westmorland, weighed less than 3 pounds.
He said he’s caught many big smallmouth while fishing a jig with porkrind trailing.
“A ladies old bathing cap cut into strips trailing behind a jig gave me some of my most vicious strikes,” he said.
Leadhead jigs with plastic grubs are also a favorite.
He said there is a “good copy” of the Marabou Spinnrite, which he helped design. It was manufactured in eastern Kentucky by John Meade and is called the Marabou Spinn.
Another favorite lure that goes down deep like the Marabou Spinn is another he helped to design, and also manufactured in eastern Kentucky — by Buddy Banks. It’s the Silver Buddy.
Billy turned pro in the 1970s. He won B.A.S.S. tournaments three times and fished his way into the Classic six consecutive times (1972-77)
For his three wins during his six-year career, he collected a total of $32,215. Today a winner can expect to be paid $50,000 and more for one win.
Billy lived in a home he built atop a high hill overlooking Horse Creek Dock. He died there after suffering a massive seizure on Sept. 29, 2002. He was 65.
Those who spoke at his funeral included Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Porter Wagoner, who fished with him often.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is gsampiattbooks.com. His phone number is 606-932-3619.