Louisville Magazine

AUG 2013

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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a simple knot — Ralph wouldn't know a clove hitch from a clove — but it doesn't matter. One end of the boat is tied. Meanwhile, at the back of the boat, Big Dave has cranked up a little johnboat, and Spade Ricky hops in with him, taking a line from George, who is also known as "Tie Down" for his skill with ropes and boats. George quickly cinches two ropes together and begins feeding line out to Ricky as Dave zips the small boat across the cove's expanse. On the opposite shore Ricky ties his line to a tree, while George hauls in the slack to swing the tub around. And, just like that, the 64foot houseboat is tied up snug for the night, able to weather any sudden storm. A big lake such as Dale Hollow is like a tall mountain out West: It can make its own weather. And will. By now it is late afternoon of the frst day on the lake. Every summer this gang of guys takes its weekly card game on a long weekend fshing trip — and Dale Hollow is the dream destination. Te complications of city life disappear as quickly as last names and shoes. Te big boat becomes a kind of foating citystate as the houseboaters fall into Life on the Lake. Te frst night out there's time for a quick dip, supper, card game (Cabin Hearts, not boring poker), maybe fsh a little, look for something you can't fnd . . . and fnally — when all else fails — hit the proverbial hay. Perfect. Morning on the Lake Just a few hours later comes the frst light of dawn. On another houseboat, in another cove, an early riser is already on deck for sunup — black night turning to early gray to morning sunshine in just minutes. Wisps of fog lift and the Dale Hollow water begins to take on colors. "Te morning is my favorite time on the lake," says Martha, the early riser. "You get up and it's gorgeous. All the fog, and it's really quiet. And the water is so still." A fsh jumps, splashes back down, showing a fash of fn before it disappears with whatever it went after. Birds sing. Trees turn from vague shapes to real trees, with leaves brightest green high up where the frst sunshine foods the top of the hillside. People stir in the houseboat, too. "Somebody starts breakfast and it always smells so good . . . bacon frying, cofee brewing; it's just fabulous," Martha says. "We all sit down to a big breakfast, and there's an old TV set playing Andy Grifth shows. Everybody hee-haws over Barney and Andy and Aunt Bea." Funny how that works. Back on the Card Game houseboat, the boys relive episodes of the Andy Grifth Show without a TV. Ricky recalls Gomer catching Barney in another colossal blunder: "Don't ever call me dumb, Barney." By noon, the houseboats emerge from the coves for a day on the lake. It's the frst big day at Dale Hollow — Saturday — and all manner of craft are plying the waters. Te Card Game boys steam toward the expanse of mighty lake ahead. A long straight stretch. Ten a broad bend and another straight stretch of a half a mile or so, with skiers and tubers fying by. Jet-skiers, too. One of the big houseboats passes along the far shore. Bigfoot! Tat's the trade name for Queen Mary-size houseboats, and a Bigfoot has it all: staterooms, party barge attached, Jacuzzi on top, booming stereos, along with bathing beauties and their attendant admirers. When one goes by, it's like the into the Obey. A lucky thing that the frst hollow was named Dale Hollow and not Butcher Holler, or something. Te lake follows the old Obey River channel northward into Kentucky, and usually on one side or the other you'll see the tops of old rock blufs. With depths of more than 100 feet straight down below those blufs, Dale Hollow is one of the deepest man-made lakes in the eastern United States. So deep, and so clear, it's used for scubadiving lessons. So deep and so clear, too, that the lake is one of the farthest-south great habitats of the smallmouth bass, a classic middleweight fghter more associated with lakes and streams of the upper Midwest and Canada. In fact, the world record smallmouth bass — 11 pounds, 15 ounces — was caught here by David Hayes of Leitchfeld, Ky., trolling a Bomber lure somewhere near the state line, of Trooper Island, in 1955. He used a steel rod, before the advent of fberglass. In 1996, The complications of city life disappear as quickly as last names and shoes. The big boat becomes a kind of foating city-state as the houseboaters fall into Life on the Lake. Delta Queen passing Huck and Jim on the Mississippi. It's a big, big lake — wide across, despite how slender it appears on the map. Not as big as Kentucky Lake, or Lake Cumberland, but much bigger than, say, Rough River or Cave Run, which are nice lakes in their own right. Dale's size is totaled up at about 28,000 acres stretching more than 20 miles. On a high hill, Dale Hollow State Park Lodge commands a view over the broadest width of the lake. Up on a neighboring summit, even higher, eagles glide across the water, soaring back with a catch in their claws. Dale Hollow is a Tennessee Valley Authority lake impounded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1943. It was formed by damming the Obey River just a few miles before it fows into the Cumberland River. Te name comes from the frst hollow above the dam, Dale Hollow. In fact, the lake's famous coves are really long-ago fooded hollows, where small streams once fowed Hayes' record fsh was disqualifed based on an old afdavit that he had "weighted" the fsh. But an investigation discovered that the weighting claim was bogus, made by a disgruntled dock hand described as a "career liar." Hayes' record was re-established to the cheers of generations of fshermen who regard that leviathan smallmouth as a milestone in fshing. People also liked that the trophy was recorded the old-fashioned way: weighed on a scale, measured with a tape, and photo taken. Dale remains a renowned smallmouth lake, though not so much in the summer when the bass are down deep to stay cool. One fsherman told us that to catch the really big ones, try the very coldest months of winter, fshing on a day it snows. Brrrr. Speaking of records, the aforementioned Ralph did set an unofcial world standard with a smallmouth he caught. Tere's a picture somewhere of him holding his prize up next to a Bic lighter — and the bass is smaller than the lighter. George caught a 8.13 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 41

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