Mystery at Seminole Lake

The World’s largest bass?  22lbs. 4 oz.  Everybody has heard of it, dreamed of it, wanting to be the first person to break that record.  My brother Gary and I were no different than anybody else.

 

George Perry caught that monster back in 1932, just about 40 miles from where our Mom was born and raised, around Lake Montgomery.  Just between Lumber City and Hazelhurst.  That added extra incentive to us to be the holder of the next world’s record.

When Gary and I went fishing, he had it on his mind always.  If I were a big fat bass, where would I hang out?  More times than not, he’d hang a monster and put it in the boat, hoping it would be the elusive lunker we were praying for.

I don’t remember if it was Field in Stream or what magazine to be sure but Gary read an article that said that the next world record bass would be caught out of Lake Seminole, near Tallahassee, connected through a string of smaller lakes to the Chattahoochie River.

That was it for us.  Just point us in the right direction and let us go.  I worked for the City of Jacksonville and was paid every two weeks.  My next payday after we read that article, we loaded up the boat and tackle, stopped at K Mart for some supplies.  We included a small stash of pot for a victory joint after one of us set the new world’s record.  We just had enough for a joint; we didn’t roll it up, afraid that it would be too tempting to smoke it on the way.

We got up early, drank coffee and made sandwiches for our lunch, kicked the tires on the truck and boat trailer then headed west on I-10, full of excitement.

Pulling the boat I was scared to drive too fast, so it took us three hours to make our journey.  The trip was uneventful; we stopped only at the rest area to relieve ourselves of the coffee.

Once we got to Tallahassee we exited on Highway 27 and drove north.  Lake Seminole was only 30 miles or so from the Interstate but we had to stop to put gas in my truck and fill up the tank for a day’s pleasure in the boat.  A cup of coffee hit the spot, bring it on, we’re ready to go catch the World’s largest bass.

On the other side of the gas pumps was another fishing rig.  It looked like we were gonna have some competition for the day.  That’s okay, I had Gary with me.  Let me tell you what I know, you’ll never meet a better fisherman than my brother.

I didn’t see the guy who was driving; I just noticed his truck and boat.  It did seem strange that a man would leave the tarp on his boat to go fishing.  Most folks leave the storage tarp at the house.  It was a nice set up though; truck and boat seemed almost new.  Not like my set up.  I had a two year old truck but my old boat was at least 10 years old.

I went back inside the store to pay for the gas and buy some rolling papers and get some more coffee.  The sun was just coming up and I was eager to put the boat in the water.  Gary walked over to the guy getting gas and asked him directions to the boat ramp.  While he was at it, he asked the man for a light.  I never really noticed the fellow, just that he was wearing a red plaid jacket.  The kind you see outdoorsmen wear.

The boat ramp wasn’t very far, just down the road  a few miles, on the right.  The fog was lying low, so low that you couldn’t see the water.  We untied the safety straps on the boat, took our gear, sandwiches and drink cooler with us.  We didn’t bring any beer this trip, we we’re serious about catching that record bass.

We dilly dallied for a few minutes, waiting for the fog to rise.  It took its own sweet time about it.  While we were waiting, we half expected to be joined by the guy we saw at the gas station.  He never showed.  Well, the early bird gets the worm; the same is true for the bass.  We weren’t waiting for him any way.  The ramp wasn’t much to brag about, considering all the hype we read in the magazine and its close proximity to Tallahassee, but it was good enough for us.  Soon we were under way, just as the sun was coming up over the horizon to greet us.

We never saw a sign that said Lake Seminole, just the boat ramp, right off of the highway.  It wasn’t what we expected, if you haven’t ever been there, it is kind of strange.  We came a long ways to get there though and we were gonna make the most of it.  It is spread out, surrounded by flat terrain.  It went off to the left a good ways then made a dog leg to the right just as far.  Along side the shoreline grew reeds, sticking out of the water anywhere from 3 to 5 feet, not thick like you would suspect but kind of sparse.  Between the reeds and deeper water, were sprinkled patches of hyacinths.  It really looked like a great place to catch some fish; hopefully the bass we were looking for were hungry and waiting just for us.

The only draw back I could see at the time was we never found any “deep” water, six or seven feet at the most.  The water was clear, mighty clear.  You could flip a quarter in the drink and be able to tell if it landed on heads or tails.  Then we experienced a bad omen of sorts.  The ripples in the water were blowing from our right to our left.  Wind from the east.  Well every body knows that “wind from the west, fishing is the best.”

It didn’t stop us.  We fixed our gear with top water Rapallo’s, but with the wind blowing like it was, soon changed our minds and started using black rubber worms, with a weed less hook.  Bass beds were every where.  Every place we looked, we saw, round sandy bass beds spotting the bottom.

Such a beautiful day, I knew we were going to load the boat, but we had to catch that first one to break the ice, so to speak.  Gary was standing in the bow and I was standing up in the stern, casting left and right, dropping our worms right on top of the beds and reeling in slow, bouncing our lure off the bottom.

The bass didn’t ignore us for long.  We were getting what we thought were bites, all day long.  We snagged them and drug them to the boat.  We just didn’t put any in the boat.  We’d snag one and drag it off the bed, but before it got to the boat, it would spit out our lure.  The fish were taking our rubber worms in its mouth and then once it got outside of the bed, spitting it out.  They were just keeping their nest clean, that’s all.  They were not biting.

We had brought two bags of black rubber worms, one bag of black and white worms and one mixed bag with a variety of colors.  They hit them all, so to speak, but they weren’t swallowing them.  Just spitting them out.  We started to use a treble hook, to snag them with, but my brother said that wasn’t fair.  He didn’t want to break his self imposed code about being a sportsman.”

We tried every end of the lake.  The north east end was out of the wind a little bit, but it was shallower.  We tried a cast into every nook and cranny that lake had but to no avail.  The fish just weren’t biting that day.  We gave it everything we had, not wanting to give up easy, but come 4 o’clock and facing a three hour trip home, we decide to give it up, we were skunked.

Our hearts were heavy when we arrived back at the boat landing.  It was a small wonder why we never saw anybody else fishing on the lake all day, it sucked.  We were sure surprised when we got to the landing and saw a familiar rig, parked next to ours.  It was the same guy’s truck and boat we had seen early that morning just before daylight, except the tarp covering the boat was gone.

Not just his rig was there, we were pinned in by police cruisers and four wheel drive posse trucks and K-9 units, about a half a dozen all told.  There was even a “Crime Scene Evidence” van blocking the entrance to the boat ramp, sealing it off.  First thing that came to mind, I bought those rolling papers at the gas station this morning, that guy getting gas must have been a cop.

The cops waded out into the water, pulling my boat to shore.  No sooner were we ashore than they roped us off, searched our pockets then they separated us, putting me in one police car and Gary in another.  I told them we had fishing license, but then they asked “What for” You ain’t got any fish.”  Talk about rubbing salt in the wound, ouch that hurt but it still didn’t answer to us, why we were being man handled and just what were all of these cops doing here?

I’m sure Gary was thinking like I was.  We had rolled the joint before we put the boat in the water and hid it in the truck.  We wanted to smoke it after we broke the world’s record.  Just knowing how people are at a boat landing when they see unoccupied vehicles, I hid it.  I’m pretty sure even Gary didn’t know where.

They had the dog sniffing through the truck alright, then the reeds along side the boat ramp.  I saw them fish what looked like a guy’s red wool jacket out of the water in some reeds not too far from the “Port-a-John.”  I think the dog might have alerted on the pot, they searched and searched but never found it.  I mean it was just enough for a joint.  It was synscimellian though, it probably set off all kinds of bells and whistles.

The guy interrogating me asked me why we didn’t have any fish, if we had been out there all day like we said.  I told him “Wind from the east, fishing the least.”  He must not of been a fisherman, because I heard him ask some one else what that is suppose to mean.

I told him to check out our boat.  We still had all of the rubber worms that got tore up by those bass, when we tried to set the hook.  They were just lying in the bottom of the boat.  I probably shouldn’t have said that though, because then they went through the tackle box and found the rolling papers.  “Hey, what’s this for” and held them up in the air like it was a trophy or something.

I told them “Now you got me, you found my rolling papers, now can we go home?”

I was still of the mind they were searching for pot.  I knew Gary wouldn’t break weak, because he didn’t know where it was.  Then they started asking questions about the other guy’s truck and boat.  I told them I never saw the guy and that when we left the boat landing that morning, he wasn’t here.  This cop almost blew a gasket then.  “Liar” yeah he called me a liar.  “Tell me the truth, I know your lying.

I told him we had seen the truck at the gas station that morning but that was it.  Then he asked me what we did with the tarp cover for the boat.  That’s when I got the notion that he had seen a video from the store, because that’s where we had seen the boat and it had been covered with a tarp.  Now there was no tarp to be seen.

What a long day, up early, a three hour drive, no fish, all the money I had spent for gas, lures, ice and drinks and not catch any fish, and now this?  I told the guy that I never saw the man’s face and didn’t speak with him at all.

They kept at us for a few hours, I can tell you about the ninth degree.  They never got out of us what they wanted hear.  They talked like they were going to arrest us and hold us for material witnesses to maybe a missing person or maybe a murder.  When I heard this I went ballistic.  “What murder?  We’ve been fishing all day, I’m sure somebody saw us out on the lake.  It is out in the open, no cover of any kind, no trees, no house or buildings, just open space.”

Now they had let the cat out of the bag.  The guy was supposed to go fishing alone and be home by 1 pm.  When he didn’t show up his wife got worried and called the Fish and Game Dept.  They found his truck and boat but he was missing.  They had stopped at the convenience store, found out he had been there and even watched the video and seen my brother talking to the guy and getting a light for his cigarette.  They had noticed the boat covered by a tarp and couldn’t account for it.  Their thinking was we had robbed and killed the guy and wrapped him in the tarp, then dumped the body in the lake somewhere.

I told him he was warped.  None of that had ever happened.  He probably met his girlfriend and went for a ride in her car and hasn’t returned yet.  With them finding the man’s red hunting jacket kinda put the squash on that theory.

They took Gary and I both to the Tallahassee jail, we were locked up in separate cells “temporarily,” no phone calls, but we did get to watch ourselves on the 6 o’clock news in our cell.  Now we’re famous and haven’t done a damn thing.  The cop that interrogated my brother was on the tube, speaking with a news reporter.  They haven’t found a body yet, not sure if a crime has been committed, never found any evidence what so ever except for a red plaid wool jacket in the water and nothing else.

Standing next to him was the man’s wife, telling her side of the story, about the day’s events.  Standing next to her, was suppose to be her neighbor, giving her support.  Even though they said they had “suspects in custody” they weren’t sure if maybe he hadn’t been eaten by an alligator.

Gary recognized the neighbor as being the guy he had gotten a “light” from at the gas station.  The cops after hearing this went back the next day, out to the boat landing and found the man’s wallet, with cash and ID, floating near where they had found the jacket.  This was after they had already searched the same area, the day before.  We were in custody, so it couldn’t have been us.

The next afternoon or so, after almost three days, they let us go, released no charge, but before they did, they had to try us one more time.  They asked us about the pot, where was it?  There won’t be any charges but we need to have that pot.  I told them they were crazy, we had smoked the pot while we were out fishing.

They never did find the guy’s body.  They suspected the wife and the neighbor, especially after they moved in together.  The man had a large insurance policy.  They never had any proof other than Gary telling them that the neighbor was the man driving the truck that morning.  I guess they needed more than that.

Driving home, I waited until we got pass Monticello and then I popped the cover off the horn on the steering wheel and fished out that joint.  I told Gary don’t ever try to talk me into go fishing again.

Not quite the end.

This happened almost 20 years ago.  I wrote this story two years ago, 2 weeks after I posted it on Face book 6 months ago, her boy friend, the neighbor was convicted of kidnapping her.  After I posted this story on Facebook, the FDLE arrested the dead man’s wife.  Her neighbor and lover confessed to his involvement in the murder, he led the police to the boat landing, where he had buried the body in six feet of mud, wrapped in the tarp from the boat.

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