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The Beauty of a Home Lake

J.D. Blackburn

When I meet someone from another state and find out they fish, I try to guess their “home lake.” I can name it within one or two guesses most of the time. For example, if you’re from Huntsville, Alabama, you fish Lake Guntersville a lot, and it’s your home lake. If you’re from Charlotte, North Carolina, you probably fish Lake Norman.

kayak fishing

Your home lake is usually the closest lake to your house unless a particular lake reasonably close is just exceptionally good. For example, if you live in Nashville like me, many people would have called Kentucky Lake their home lake before its unfortunate decline in fishing quality due to Asian carp, here in recent years. Kentucky Lake, and even Lake Barkley, were just so good that we would make the 1 ½ to 2-hour drive to fish it instead of the lakes within 30 minutes of home.

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But, for the past twenty-plus years, my home lake has been J. Percy Priest. I called Old Hickory Lake a secondary home lake for a while, but I’ve now settled on “Priest” as my home lake. It’s where I fish for bass and crappie 95% of the time when I’m in Middle Tennessee. 

Priest doesn’t hold national-level tournaments, so outside of middle Tennessee, it is not well-known. The second-ever Bassmaster Classic was contested here, but due to its small size, roughly 11,000 surface acres, the lake is too small for a Bassmaster Elite Series event. Maybe someday the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour will compete on it for a Stage. (Their 40-angler daily fields lend themselves to the possibility of competing on smaller fisheries.)

Whatever lake you consider your home lake, there are a couple of important observations I’ve made that might further endear the fishery to you, at least it did for me.

fishing cast

The first is that each trip is a trip down memory lane. I can ride down the lake and be flooded with memories; fish caught, who I was with, inside jokes, even bits and pieces of conversations. From the dam to the upper sections of the Stones River, I remember hundreds of fish caught and who I was fishing with on that trip.

For me, these memories add another dimension to every trip. Percy Priest has been the location for some of my best days in life, and being on the water jogs those memories.

My youngest daughter caught her first fish in Elm Hill Marina. She was two, all four of us Blackburns were in the boat, and I think about it every time I get near the spot she reeled in that little bream.

My dad passed away in the fall of 1999. That summer, after he had retired and moved to Tennessee, we fished together one evening. It turned out to be our only trip on Priest. Anytime I’m close to the sailboat cove in Hamilton Creek, I think about that time with him and smile. I fished Priest alone the day before he passed and still remember where I caught my limit and told him about it that night.

There’s the bank by the Hobson Pike bridge where Carson Pearman and I won our little church tournament in 2020 – the only bass tournament I’ve ever won. I caught a 3 ½-pound smallmouth around lunchtime to seal the win. I remember the dozens of pleasure boaters zipping back and forth near the main lake channel right there. I would like to forget the summer crowd on that lake!

fishing home lake

One observation about a home lake is that fishing it with many different people helps make sweeter, more vivid memories. Having a regular fishing partner is great, but I tend to remember more about a trip when I take someone new out. I remember where they caught their fish and their sense of joy about a unique experience and the chance to step away from their regular lives. After a while, the fish we caught on the trip become synonymous with that spot on the lake and end up being the memory I take from that day.

Now, there can be some negatives to having a home lake. Sometimes you can fall into the trap of fishing spots where we caught fish in the past, not fully remembering that it was ten years ago, and water temperatures were a lot warmer that day. Memories are recollections from the past, but it’s often hard to recreate them on the water. (Or in life, for that matter.) Take each day as a new day.

As a final word of caution, the person fishing with you that day may tire of hearing about all these fish caught in the past, so be judicious in sharing them. Stories of trips with mutual friends tend to be more relevant to people, so hearing about the giant catfish your former co-worker hooked into eight years ago on a shallow point might be a tale to keep for another day.

But rest assured that you will both have new stories to tell by the end of the trip, and you’ll bank them into the memories that make your home lake so special.

What’s your home lake?

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