“Legend of the Outdoors”. If you’ve traveled and fished much in the Deep South, that phrase brings to mind one true legend in his own time: Jack Wingate.
Known as the “Sage of Seminole,” Wingate has served for over five decades as the unofficial spokesman and conservation leader for one of the country’s most treasured outdoor gems: Lake Seminole.
Situated in the southwest corner of Georgia, this sprawling man-made reservoir on the Chattahoochee River and the pristine Spring Creek is regarded by bass fishermen as the land of lunker largemouth bass.
There’s some question as to which came first—Lake Seminole’s big bass legend or Jack Wingate’s angling lore. As to fact, Wingate arrived first. His family settled on the land and Jack was born and lived his ______years on the very ground the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed and constructed the George Woodruff Dam to flood the Georgia piney woods. Having prowled and hunted the very land where Lake Seminole was spawned, it was little wonder that Wingate would grow up to be the lake’s best known angler and guide.
As a Seminole’s reputation for leg-long lunkers spread, Wingate’s fame gained widespread notoriety. His big-fish fame put Ol’ Sem on the angling map, and sparked a migration of fishermen south. And, Jack Wingate was on hand to greet them at the front door of his newly founded Lunker Lodge.
A combination country store, tackleshop, marina and restaurant, Lunker Lodge was the destination point for serious bass anglers from across the Southland. Almost as famous as the bass fishing, was Wingate’s café fare for whipping up a first-rate hamburger steak smothered in onion gravy. Also, Jack’s collection of Indian artifacts—gathered from the countryside—were displayed on the log-cabin-like walls as well as hugh mounted largemouths.
In 1967, Jack Wingate’s reservation logbook for his cabins contributed much to the evolution of the sport of bass fishing. A Montgomery, Alabama insurance man—named Ray Scott—called to invite Wingate to fish in the first All-American Invitational Bass Tournament at Beaver Lake, Arkansas.
Scott was promoting his idea of a play-for-pay bass fishing contest. The entry fee was one-hundred dollars ? a steep tab for the times. Wingate liked the idea of testing his bass skills against other fishermen and signed up to fish the June 6th tournament.
Scott asked Wingate if he could “nominate some other real bass anglers.” Wingate flipped open his logbook, and rattled off a list of top names. Fishermen from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky, who kept the road hot coming to Lake Seminole. From the list and Wingate’s connections, Scott recruited over two dozen avid anglers among the 107 fishermen to fish the historic tournament at Beaver Lake.
Ray Scott credits Wingate’s influence with much of the success of his off-the-wall tournament idea. One of Jack’s pick was a fisherman named Stan Sloan of Nashville, a Tennessee Department of Corrections Officer, who proved to be the best in the “Test-of-the-Best” at Beaver.
The tournament lured fishermen from 13 states and served as a melting pot of new fishing ideas and techniques. From the Beaver Lake venture, Scott developed the Bassmaster Tournament Trail of professional fishing and created the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), the world’s largest fishing organization.
Wingate fished many of the early-day Bassmaster Tournaments, and served as host and Chamber of Commerce spokesman for numerous B.A.S.S. events. He fished in later years on Lake Seminole.
Among Wingate’s contributions to the outdoors is his hands-on work with youngsters. For several summers, Wingate, with the help of some fishing friends and pros, held a Wingate’s fishing Camp for Boys at his Lunker Lodge near Bainbridge, Georgia. Besides how-to fish, Wingate instructed the youngsters in environment, awareness and respect for the fishing resource.
And, always as a resource for fishing information, Wingate was the subject of magazine and newspaper fishing articles across the country. Charles Salter, fishing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, painted word pictures of Wingate’s homey Lunker Lodge and home-spun fishing tales that proclaimed him the “Sage of Lake Seminole.”
Wingate, himself a newspaper contributor, for years published a fishing column and weekly report on Lake Seminole in the Bainbridge, Georgia newspaper.
Wingate has slowed down a bit in the recent times. He sold to local folks the famous Lunker Lodge and restaurant, but can still be encountered on the establishment’s front porch in a caneback rocker, and willing to spin tales of Lake Seminole for those that ask.
There’s a special wit and wisdom about Jack. You had a hint when entering the Lunker Lodge gate: The welcoming sign stated: “You should have been here yesterday!” Upon leaving the backside of the same sign echoed: “Come back. They’ll bite tomorrow.”
A true “Legend of the Outdoors”…..Jack Wingate, a keeper among fishermen.