Modern day bass fishing began its transformation a little more than 40 years ago when an Alabama insurance salesman named Ray Scott had the idea of an organized bass-fishing tournament series. It was a long, hard road for Mr. Scott, but his name and the association he started, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), have transformed a hobby into a billion-dollar, sport-fishing industry. But, even Ray Scott admits he couldn’t have ever had his first tournament without the help of one Georgia boy he described as “an angel.” That Georgia boy was, and is, Jack Wingate, the man who built the world-famous Wingate’s Lunker Lodge on Lake Seminole.
Ray’s introduction to Jack Wingate was nothing more than chance, but it’s a chance that Ray is glad happened. After Ray came up with the idea of organized bass tournaments, he needed to actually have one. So, he contacted the Chamber of Commerce in Springdale, Ark., along the shores of Beaver Lake. They agreed to have him visit and propose his idea to the board of directors. Meanwhile, Ray continued his livelihood as an insurance salesman while he prepared his proposal in his free time.
Ray made a business visit to Montgomery, Ala., just a week before his meeting with the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. He was trying to sell insurance to Charles Willis, a physician and also the county coroner. Ray said he wanted to sell Dr. Willis some insurance, but before he could give him the spiel, Dr. Willis said he only bought insurance from one man, and it was his college roommate from Georgia Tech. Not wanting to waste either of their time, Scott said he understood and changed the subject to bass fishing, anticipating the trip to Springdale the next week. Scott asked him if he bass fished at all, and Dr. Willis responded.
“I don’t personally care a thing about fishing, but I’ve got a brother-in-law, and he is eat up with bass fishing. He goes down there somewhere in Georgia.”
Dr. Willis then pulled out his desk drawer and handed Ray a brochure.
“Here’s where he goes to catch fish,” Dr. Willis said.
The brochure was a simple, one-fold brochure for Jack Wingate’s Lunker Lodge on Lake Seminole. Ray didn’t pay any attention to the brochure that day and just threw it in his briefcase under all of his other paperwork.
Ray said he went to Springdale and gave his proposal, and then the board of directors asked him to leave the room while they discussed it. He said he was really nervous, but when they called him back into the room they said he could hold his tournament on Beaver Lake. However, they didn’t want their name involved in it at all, in case the whole thing flopped. They did, however, offer him a storage room in the back of the Chamber building to use as an office while he organized his tournament.
Ray said a few weeks later he was in his “office” at the Chamber of Commerce in Springdale and was beginning to look for anglers to compete in his fishing tournament.
“I might have had four names of people who might, might would come all the way out to Arkansas to fish,” said Ray.
But, Ray had a plan. He had purchased a WATS telephone, which allowed him to make unlimited long-distance calls. He purchased the line with a $2,500 loan he had received from a friend, Dr. Applegate. If the tournament was a success, Ray could pay Dr. Applegate back. The only other condition was that Ray couldn’t ever tell Dr. Applegate’s wife he’d given him $2,500 if he didn’t make it.
Ray agreed to the conditions and began to call anglers from around the nation. Every time he got one angler to commit, he asked for a referral name, just like he did in his insurance business. It gave him another person to contact. He said he had called everyone he knew, and he had maybe 25 people who said they would come. That’s when he remembered the brochure Dr. Willis had given him and found it in the very bottom of his briefcase.
Ray said he called the number on the brochure, which is still the number at Wingate’s, and a sweet lady answered the phone, “Wingate’s.” He asked to speak to Mr. Jack Wingate, but she explained he wasn’t in. He was fishing, and he would be in directly.
About 6:30 that evening Ray’s telephone rang, and it was the Jack Wingate. Ray explained to Jack that he was putting on the first super-duper fishing tournament with $5,000 in prizes, and he wanted Ray to come fish it with him. He told him it would be a fair tournament, paired with a different person you didn’t know each day, and there would be no cheating.
Jack said he’d be interested in coming, and that’s when their relationship began. Ray said, “Mr. Jack, I need other good men like you that will come pay and play by the rules, and I need over 100 men.”
Jack responded “I know a right many. Here is a name. Stan Sloan. Here’s his address and phone number.”
Then Jack started peeling off names to Ray’s surprise — he was looking in his directory of customers that came and stayed at the lodge to fish. Ray said Jack must’ve given him 30 names on that one pass.
“These are all real good folks,” said Jack.
Jack then traveled all the way to Arkansas, and he even placed in the Top 10 in what was soon to be B.A.S.S. but at the time was the All-American Invitation Bass Tournament. Ray said from the first time he met Jack at Beaver Lake, Jack was determined to have a tournament on Lake Seminole.
Jack returned home from Beaver Lake and told ex-Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin, and owner of the Post-Searchlight Newspaper, that they needed to do what Ray did in Arkansas on Lake Seminole. Marvin thought it was such a great idea that he went with Jack, and manager of the Corps of Engineers Pop Alcorn, to Ray’s second tournament at Louisville Lake.
Before long, Marvin was at the bank getting the $2,500 the Chamber of Commerce needed to sponsor the fishing event. In February of 1968 the trio of Ray, Jack and Marvin sat at a table at Wingate’s Lunker Lodge and founded B.A.S.S. The first B.A.S.S. sign went up at Ray’s third tournament at Lake Seminole. There were 150 men from 15 states in attendance. The tournament was held at Booster Club Landing, and bass tournaments are still held at that landing today.
Jack began tournament fishing the B.A.S.S. trail, but after a short while of being gone all the time, he decided he couldn’t leave his wife Joyce to tend to the Lodge and hung up his tournament-fishing career to guide and man the lodge.
“I couldn’t leave Joyce here by herself, and I couldn’t live out of a hotel room. It just wasn’t for me,” said Jack.
Not only did Jack guide and manage the lodge, but he also held a boy’s camp on Lake Seminole for 33 years. He said the camp focused on outdoors, teaching boys how to drive a boat, shoot guns, fish and swim.
“I never made a cent off of it, but by God I had a good time. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” said Jack. “You ain’t never seen an excited face until you’ve seen a kid catch his first bass, God knows.”
Jack probably saw that exact smile on more than 2,000 boys’ faces in his 33 years holding that camp.
He doesn’t get out on the water much anymore because his years in the sun have forced him under the knife to have 114 spots of skin cancer removed. Jack credited his livelihood to the skin cancer.
“I used to leave here before daylight and come back after dark with nothing but a pair of pants on,” said Jack. “There wasn’t no such thing as sunscreen.”
Now Jack only fishes early and late because his skin has spent so much time in the sun. He said he’d love to be out there all day, but he can only stand the sun before it reaches the tree line or after it has dropped below it.
Jack’s 1971 Ranger boat still rests in the marina at Wingate’s, and he still fishes out of it. He said he bought it in 1973, and the boat has a double-plated hull specifically built for fishing Lake Seminole. He said it’s never even had a hole knocked in it.
In May of 2006 a portion of Highway 97 that connects Bainbridge to Chattahoochee, Fla. was named Jack Wingate Highway in honor of Jack’s contributions to Lake Seminole and its surrounding areas.
The resolution introduced by Rep. Gene Maddox read, “WHEREAS, Mr. Jack Wingate has lived a life most people can only dream of, making a living in the sport he dearly loves, as fishing guide; and …Mr. Wingate has almost single-handedly been responsible for garnering for Lake Seminole a national reputation as one of the country’s premier fishing and hunting locations, and as a result, thousands of sportsmen visit Georgia each year to fish and hunt at Lake Seminole, contributing greatly to the state and local economy.”
Jack is not only a fishing legend in Georgia and the United States, being in the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide, but he is a friend to all.
That’s just how Ray Scott described Jack when he said to me, “I’ve got lots of friends, but I’ve only got one Jack Wingate.”
Jack no longer owns Wingate’s Lunker Lodge, but since he lives right up the street, he’s there almost every day. He can be found most mornings in the dining room of Wingate’s restaurant and then in the rocking chairs outside for conversations with the anglers and anyone else who shows up. He has call-in shows on weekday mornings to several local radio stations as well. In his own down-home friendliness, he gives a lake and fishing report.
Just up the road, a largemouth-bass mailbox marks the driveway of the log cabin Jack built with his own hands in the 1980s. The inside of his cabin is filled with artifacts found along the shores of Seminole and the Flint River. Pictures of Jack with many famous people such as past President Ronald Regan, Gov. Lawton Chiles, Red Holland and many other famous anglers fill his living room walls.
Jack says Seminole has had two 500-year floods and a 10-inch rain, and it’s still “spewing bass out.” It commonly takes more than 25 pounds to win a tournament on Seminole.
Not only has Jack been a good friend to Ray and B.A.S.S., but in 1968 he was also on the second cover of B.A.S.S.
Jack has probably had an effect on your life if you’re reading this magazine. Without the anglers’ contact information which Jack gave Ray to start his first tournament, there might not have ever been any organized fishing tournaments. Jack didn’t know he was helping change a hobby into the future of bass fishing at the time, and he probably doesn’t care now. He was just helping folks out because that’s what Jack Wingate did, and that is what he still does today.
“Anywhere I have been and asked Jack to go, he is there — anywhere. I have never known a man with the quality of the personality of Jack Wingate,” said Ray. “He is a straight shooter, and he has never been anything but a fair and honest friend to me.”
And that’s all Jack Wingate has been to anyone he has ever met — an angler and a friend.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Wingate’s Lodge on beautiful Lake Seminole, go to <www.wingateslodge.com>.