On September 1 of this year, Jack Wingate will be 76 years old. Sitting over breakfast in his lodge at Lake Seminole a couple of weeks back, I told him he looked 25.
“I feel 25,” he instantly retorted. “Most of the time. But this morning, I’ve already done shows for seven radio stations and a TV station, and it’s not 9 o’clock yet. When I went home last night I was so tired I could- n’t even chew. I ate three bowls of vanilla ice cream and went on to bed!”
The banter never ends. But make no mistake — behind it is a steel-trap mind with a running knowledge of every fish, animal and person within 20 miles. The man is a walking history book of Faceville and thesurrounding area. He is well-versed on a multitude of subjects, but fishing is what he knows best. And this morning he begins holding court with all the style of a long-practiced orator.
“It is a necessary fact that you’ve got to be a shellcracker fisherman if you’re going to be a bride in Seminole County. The boys around here won’t settle for anything else. They shut the local courthouse down when the shellcrackers go on the bed.”
He’s seen a little of it all in his 40-plus years of fishing out of Wingate’s Lodge, formerly World Famous Lunker Lodge. From moonshine stills on the lake’s remote islands to the devastating flood of 1994 and a comeback of epic proportions, Jack has been a constant. He shares his vast knowl- edge of the lake and its inhabitants with everyone from pre-schoolers fishing for bream to BASS pros fishing for tens of thousands of dollars.
“We had three or four real bad years following the flood in 1994, but the one in 1998 didn’t hurt us at all,” he says. “The fishing now is just as good as it was pre-1994. It’s not uncommon to see shellcrackers over three pounds brought in during the spring and summer. And I just had a man in here from Pensacola, a regular who sure-enough knows bass, tell me that he saw an 18-lb. largemouth on the bed but couldn’t catch it. Bass, shell- crackers, bluegills, they’re all here, all in abundance, all record-class. There’s never been anywhere else like this lake.”
And there’s never been anyone else quite like Jack Wingate, who has played a huge role in making Lake Seminole what it is today — one of the finest fisheries you’ll find.