“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”
I can’t think of a more fitting opening when I start talking about Bankhead Lake and staying a few nights at Jerry and Glenda Blankenship’s place in Oakman Alabama.
If I’m going to review fish camps and do some travel reviews for this blog I need to say up front that many of them will be similar to this one. There may be some reviews of, for lack of a better term, upscale places in the future but I’m a simple guy. I don’t need a lot, especially when I’m fishing or hunting.
I grew up about 45 minutes east of Bankhead Lake in Fairfield and there was no place I’d rather spend time than on “The River”. Bankhead Lake is an impoundment on the Black Warrior River but it was always simply “The River” to us.
I’ve got so many sweet southern memories of days gone by there. My first is from about the third grade when a school buddy, David Blake, invited me on my first actual fishing trip with him and his dad. It was introduction to spinnerbaits and the color chartreus. It was also an introduction to catching springtime largemouth in Duckweed. Duckweed which has, thankfully, long since been eradicated.
I remember barges of coal, eight, 10, 12 of them, being pushed down the river to the gulf and wondering if it would be fun to some day work as a barge hand. I’ve got memories of sitting on the piers of my friends at night shining our Kmart flashlights at those tow boat captains so they would hit us with spot lights so powerful it seemed like high noon. And I’ve got memories of riding the wakes alongside, and even behind, those barges in a 14-foot jon boat so close that I shouldn’t be here to type this. I remember swimming across that green river while my buddies rode that same jon boat alongside in case one of those barges came along and doing the same for them
But the fishing, that’s what I remember the most. Between a floating Rapala and a Beetle Spin I bet I’ve caught enough Bass to fill a 50 gallon drum from The River. I learned how to catch schooling Largemouth, and later White Bass. I learned you can throw a Lil’ George a mile! My own dad wasn’t much of a freshwater fisherman but he loved me and my cousin Doug enough to buy a Sears aluminum boat to cartop and he took us many an afternoon. He taught me that I could catch those White Bass trolling behind a 7.5hp Sears Gamefisher motor.
When I moved to Atlanta in 1991 I rarely visited The River anymore. I didn’t have any place to stay, all my friends had grown up and moved on too. I looked for some lodging and even called a buddy who had a cabin there years before. Google offered me no solutions and my buddy said that, sadly, after his parents had passed, their cabin had fallen into such disrepair that it was uninhabitable.
But then I got a break, via Facebook. Glenda Blankenship had a small house and a couple of camper trailers that she was renting for $50 a night. I’m in!
I said in the beginning that the accommodations were humble, and they are. Everything is always clean and tidy and stocked but there is nothing luxurious about a camper unless you’re Keith Urban or U2. With that said, there are some intangibles I wouldn’t trade for silk sheets and some stupid mint on my pillow for the rest of my days.
It all comes down to one word; hospitality. I take that back…two words, southern hospitality.
The first time I took our family of five there was about 3 years ago. When we arrived Miss Glenda met us with a bottle of muscadine wine and chatted with us for 30 minutes or longer. Any place and staff can give you a bottle of wine ask “So, where ya’ll from?” but sincerity comes when you chat about who you knew that worked at the Steel Mills and how Willard Smith was doing.
There’s more though. I didn’t have a boat when we first visited and I mentioned to Jerry that I needed to get one before we came again. “Heck, use mine! Its got a trolling motor on it already.” This trip was no different with Jerry letting me launch from his backyard ramp and Glenda having our trailer’s AC already on.
This article is about this trip though. I took Nathan, our eight year old. He’s my fishing partner. That kid is amazing he can’t stop wiggling when he’s on the couch with you watching television but tell him to fish a Shakey head really slowly in February and he hardly moves it. I couldn’t do that at his age.
We also had a first on this trip. I thought I might break down and do this one day but I never figured it’d be on what is basically my home water. I’ve roamed these creeks since my childhood but…I hired a guide…and it was worth it.
I contacted Reed Montgomery with Reed’s Guide Service. It’s not that I thought I needed to spend money to catch fish in the Warrior River. I spent the money for a lesson in where and how to fish the Warrior better. And we got it.
It’s no mystery that summer in Alabama is hot. It’s stinking hot. Oppressively hot. This trip was no exception. I’ve spent many an afternoon flipping the shade of all the boat docks on The Warrior and had some success. My other go to tactic has been to find Lilly Pads or grass close to deep water throw a buzz bait at them. This has worked too. Reed took us way up one of the creeks and we caught several decent Bass and had several others either short strike or get off. Here’s the thing though. Surface temps on the main lake were in the upper 80’s and low 90’s. They were in the upper 70’s in this creek! No wonder these fish felt like biting.
The camper is always clean and well stocked. You couldn’t ask for any more gracious hosts than Jerry and Glenda. And Bankhead Lake well, I challenge you to spend a day fishing there, watching a barge chug by, getting your line tugged and then grilling some burgers at the camper.
If you want to get away from it all. I mean you want to really get away from it all as in deer jumping out in front of you on the road away, I’d highly suggest staying with Jerry and Glenda and fishing “The River” a little.
That’s right down my alley.