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Gone (cat) fishin at Beards Lake

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Beard’s Lake 

What: Catfishing

Hours: Open 4 p.m. Wednesday (must check in no later than 10 p.m.); Open 7 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; Closes at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Cost: 12 hours of fishing for $10 a person; ages 7 and under free with a paying adult.

Limit: Six fish per person up to 10 pounds of fish. Extra charge of $2 a pound for fish weighing over 10 pounds that are kept (a 12-pound fish would cost $24).

Note: No fishing license necessary since it is a private lake.

Phone: 237-3292

Location: 5642 Poplar Hill Road

Directions: From Lebanon, take Highway 70 East (Sparta Pike) toward Watertown. Two miles past Interstate 40, turn left on Poplar Hill Road. Go six miles to Beard’s Lake sign on the right. 

By KEN BECKSpecial for The Wilson Post

In the murky depths of Beard’s Lake, hidden beyond the sight of those soaking their lines in its spring-fed waters, lurk giant catfish.

How big?

In 2008, a local fisherman hauled out one weighing 72 pounds. Less than a month ago, an angler wrestled out two catfish that combined tipped the scales at 120 pounds. And there is talk of a leviathan in these waters that tops 100 pounds.

“We’ve got a lot of fish out there,” said Owner-Operator T.C. Beard, 70, the man who named a pay-fishing lake after himself. “I’d guess there’s about 4,000 pounds of catfish swimming in the lake now.”  

Located in the boondocks of Wilson County between Lebanon and Watertown, Beard’s Lake offers a tranquil spot to bask in Mother Nature, while away the time of day or night, and, if you get lucky, you might just hook a big ’un.

The depth of the 2½-acre body of water ranges from 8 to 19 feet. Five springs feed the lake, which has a solid, rock bottom, while a pump constantly gushes water 5 feet up into the air, to the tune of 500,000 gallons a day, as it aerates the pool with oxygen for its bewhiskered inhabitants, blue channel and hybrid catfish.

Three small, covered sheds pose around the bank of the lake so that fishermen can continue their pursuit out of the way of direct sunshine or pouring rain. Light bulbs strung along lines running from pole to pole circle the lake. The lights are turned out at sundown, so nocturnal sportsmen can spot their bobbers atop the surface.

“When we started this off, I was putting  in 400 pounds of fish a week,” said Beard of his catfish that are hauled in from Georgia. “Seven hundred to 800 pounds of fish were put in last year. I like to put fish in it every two to three weeks.”

He likes to add 200 to 300 pounds of fish at a time, most of them 2- to 3-pounders, if available, although in 2007 his fish supplier launched 29 fish into the lake that weighed 999 pounds, an average of about 34 pounds a fish.

“Most of ’em (the fishermen) come out here, catch and release (the big catfish) ’em,” Beard said. “I’ve asked them, ‘Why don’t you keep them fish that you are catching?’ They said, “We just wanted to catch ’em.’ I’d say 90 percent of the people come here, catch and release.”

Catch and release is pretty much the style of three Macon Countians who make frequent trips to Beard’s Lake and have uncorked some of its secrets.

On a late Saturday afternoon in April, Garry Smith of Lafayette hooks a 20-pound catfish and hauls it in with the assistance of his future father-in-law, James Weston, who nets the slippery creature and hefts it to the bank.

“We’ve been here since 8 a.m. You shoulda’ been here earlier on,” Weston said, referring to an hour before when Smith tugged in a 40-pounder. “We love it here because you never know what you’re gonna get. I caught one this past Saturday night that weighed 30 pounds. I can’t think of no better way to pass the time away. Just you and the fish. You either win or you lose.”

“I wouldn’t want to fish nowhere else,” said Angela Reecer, Weston’s daughter and Smith’s fiancé, who snagged a 35-pound catfish this day and a 53-pounder last year. “I absolutely love it here. We know that there’s big fish here. It’s beautiful. It’s very peaceful.”

“We come about every weekend,” Smith, 31, said. “I started coming here when I was 13. I just enjoy doing it. I like it because it’s exciting.”

The biggest fish that whopper-catcher Smith has netted here weighed 64 pounds, and less than four Saturdays ago, he caught 58- and 62-pound behemoths on the same night. “It’s a little luck and some skill,” Smith said.

By the way, the trio uses skipjack as bait.

J.C. Morris, a life-long friend of Beard who lives a mile from the lake and mows the grass around the bank and parking areas, is the man who thus far has pulled the heaviest fish out of these waters, a 72-pound mammoth cat that took 25 minutes to land.

“You know it when you hook a big ’un by the way they pull,” Morris said. “There’s one in there over 100 pounds. I’ve seen it. He’s been in there a long time. They’s people hung him. When you hang him, he don’t move, he lies still like a log. He’s learned that he don’t have to move.” 

Needless to say, the big fish of Beard’s Lake appear to be earning their keep as live bait to entice the dozens of fishermen who come week after week. And that was Beard’s game plan from the beginning.

Beard, who was born in a farmhouse that stood less than 200 yards from the lake, graduated from Watertown High School and worked for AVCO for 22 years helping build airplanes. He is married to the former Judy Donaho Gann and has two step-sons, five step-grandchildren and two step-great-granddaughters and has lived in Lafayette for the past 19 years. He created the lake in 1979.

“I’ve been here 30 years this year,” said the outdoor businessman. “My daddy (Claude Beard) and mother (Vallie Puttie Beard) and I drove to Brown’s Lake (a pay fishing lake) in Scottsville, Ky., and I decided I wanted to build one over here. My daddy didn’t think it was too good an idea. He thought there were too many lakes and rivers around. I thought, ‘Well, we’ll always have a place to fish ourselves.’”

Beard hired a guy with a bulldozer and two pans, who dug and hauled dirt for 21 days and then it was simply a matter of waiting for water to fill it, add fish and put out a sign by the road.

The lake is closed Sunday through Tuesday, and Beard opens at 4 p.m. Wednesdays and allows fishermen to fish for 12 consecutive hours for $10. He opens at 7 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and shuts the fishing hole down at 7 a.m. Sunday morning. He limits patrons to six fish per person up to 10 pounds and charges a rate of $2 a pound for those over 10 pounds. In fact a sign near his office door announces: If you drop a big catfish, you will have to pay $2 a pound for it.

“The big ones ain’t as good a fish to eat as a 2-pounder,” Beard said, and that’s another reason catfish fanciers release the heavier fish and take home more of the pan-sized ones.

He opened this year April 1 and normally closes the lake at the end of August. Children ages 7 and younger fish free with a paying adult, and no fishing license is needed since it is a private lake. Anglers do need to bring their own rod, reel and bait.

Clients come from across Middle Tennessee and have ranged in age from 3 to 80-something. Beard has had some youngsters who catch fish that weigh nearly as much as they do.

His rustic office just 10 yards from the lake features a barn-wood interior, couch, refrigerator, piano and desk. Underneath glass on the desk more than 20 snapshots offer proof of whoppers and strings laden with fish. Above the piano more photographs capture the moment of anglers hoisting fish weighing 40 pounds or more.

Near the back door, Beard keeps his scales to weigh the fish. “Most of the time when they walk up here, I just about tell them what they weigh within a pound,” he said.

In 1981, he witnessed two friends that fished side by side with the same equipment and the same bait. By the end of the day, one of them caught 24 fish weighing more than 100 pounds, while the other only caught two fish.

“They even swapped rods and reels and bait, and the same fellow never did any good. Some people fish better than others. I’ve had 50 to 60 people fishing at a time, and a few are catching fish, while the rest are not catching anything. That’s the way the fishing goes,” he said with a shrug of the shoulders.

Whether the catfish are biting or not, for Beard the business is for keeping him close to his old home place and providing the opportunity to renew friendships.

“I have a lot of friends that come out, and I just enjoy being out here in the country,” Beard said. “It’s relaxing and I meet a lot of folks.”

Similarly, a few lucky fishermen hope to relax at Beard's Lake and meet a lot of mighty big catfish at the end of the line.

Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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