Ken Woodring has his fishing vest on at 6:15 a.m. He wears it the way some people wear their blue jeans: every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This is Tuesday. Ken’s bass boat sits at The Lake Club docks, the motor looking as big and intimidating as a lion on the edge of a prairie. At the moment, it purrs while Ken speaks gently toward a light fog over Lake Oconee.

“There are fish everywhere,” he says.

He’d typically be out there with the fish by now, but instead he’s here at the dock to pick me up — literally and figuratively. I haven’t caught many fish during my few outings on the lake. More precisely, I haven’t caught anything. Not a bass, not a brim, not an old shoe, nothing. I need help, which is why Ken and his friend, Al Mayoros, have arrived before the sun. Ken is a three-time season champion of the Lake Oconee Angler’s Club. Al gives him a run for his money (cash prize for each tournament is $20). If anyone knows how and where to find fish among 400 miles of shoreline, it’s these guys.

“Buckle up,” Ken says. I pull a vest over my shoulders and sit in the passenger’s seat, clutching a chicken strap in preparation for a white-knuckle ride. Just beyond the no-wake zone, the motor growls. The bow of the boat rears up briefly, settles back down, and we’re sprinting to what I assume will be a honey hole miles and miles away.

Twenty seconds later, we’re turning into a cove framed with trees and fallen branches. Ken shuts down the motor. “This is a good spot,” he says, stepping onto the bow platform to drop a trolling motor into the water.

If it weren’t for the wall of trees in front of us, we’d probably be able to see our trucks in The Lake Club parking lot. I’ve passed this cove dozens of times en route to distant locations that to my naked eyes look like they must be wild and active with fish. In hindsight, they’ve been hit or miss, random at best.

“We don’t have to go far to find fish,” Ken says. “Getting them to bite is the point.”

I’m thinking maybe he doesn’t want to reveal his best spots for this story, until Al idles his boat within 30 yards of us.

“See the dock with the director’s chair?” Al says, his voice traveling easily through the quiet morning air. “That’s one of my favorite targets.”

Ken must see the question frozen onto my face: Is this really our destination? So, he vividly describes to me what it’s like to be a fish — a lesson in empathy, if you will.

“Fish don’t have eyelids,” he says as we cast in separate directions, with our backs to each other. “They have to stay out of bright sun. That’s why they hang out under docks, in brush, or along shaded riprap. They sit with their noses up to the cover, waiting for something to swim past so they can ambush it.”

He’s helped me visualize everything about a fish except its nose, but at least … was that a splash?

“Got a bite,” Ken says without making a fuss about his rod bending over like a candy cane. He unhooks a two-pound bass and briefly shows it to me as proof that, yep, fish are here. Then he puts it back into the lake as if lowering a puppy into a bathtub.

I’m thinking maybe I can repeat exactly where and how Ken tossed his lure, and perhaps drop mine into a family reunion of bass. Four casts produce no results. There’s a splash on the other side of the boat again. “Here’s another one,” Ken says matter-of-factly. By his fourth catch of the first 30 minutes, he stops saying anything out of respect for my pride. Then he politely suggests I try another color of plastic worm, a kind way of saying, “It isn’t you. It’s the worm.” A lighter color might draw more attention with the fog still hovering just overhead. If nothing else, I find the lure dialogue amusing.

“Al, what are you using over there?”

“A Rage Tail Toad,” Al says.

“How about you, Ken?”

“Wacky-rigged Senko.”

I’ve switched to a June bug-colored shaky head. We can see everything around us on Ken’s Mega 360 sonar. Rocks. Sunken trees. A June bug-colored shaky head going right past the nose of a fish.

“Sometimes they just aren’t in the mood,” Al says from his boat. “When you reel, try pausing after every two rotations. Give ‘em a longer tease.”

He and Ken have been in these shoes. Before moving to Reynolds, Ken fished in mountain lakes, reclaimed mining pits, golf course ponds, tributaries, and big reservoirs. Before owning a bass boat as a youngster, he’d use a rowboat so he could fish as often as possible. When his house was being built at Reynolds, he asked the construction crew to finish the dock first so he could fish while watching the house take shape.

“Early on, I didn’t fish much with other people,” he says. “It was a long learning process until I met a great angler, Bill Evans. He became a good friend and showed me a lot of hidden gems, like blow downs [trees lying underwater], some special docks, and places to avoid.”

Ken learned the lake section north of I-20 is shallow and difficult to navigate, for example. The guys have also discovered a couple homes away from Reynolds, where non-angler residents will turn on sprinkler systems and run boatlifts up and down to cause a commotion and run off the fish.

“It’s funny when you think about it,” Al says, “because we’re really careful to not cause any disturbance.”

The fog has dissipated, giving way to the sun. Without anyone knowing it, Al has quietly reeled in two bass. “Small ones,” he says. Each little tug on the line is enough to keep us focused, as if waiting for a raffle number to be called. This is exactly what Ken was doing on New Year’s Eve 2015. He’d come onto the lake that warm day to pass some time when a 7.5-pound bass yanked him into a private celebration. A few minutes later, a 6.5-pounder joined the party. In a short period of time, he caught six bass, none smaller than 2.5 pounds.

The last day of the year had, out of nowhere, become his best day ever on Lake Oconee.

“Crazy fun,” Ken says.

“But that’s fishing,” says Al. “You’re always thinking ‘this is the cast … just one more.’ Because you never know what might happen.”

And so, we stand at attention, casting and retrieving. Waiting for the next splash to break the silence.

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