I was honored with an induction last year, along with Wilson County resident Leon Alligood, a long-time friend and fellow newspaperman. It will be special to be joined by Thompson and the other inductees, including Frank Gibson, Dan Whittle, Randy Smith and Channel 2’s Bob Mueller, all great guys and personal pals.
If you thought it was fun to watch Thompson’s features on Tennessee Crossroads, or read his newspaper columns – which could make you laugh one minute and cry the next – you should have shared a fishing boat with him.
I did for many years, usually joined by cohort Bob Sherborne. Thompson never allowed fishing to interfere with his fishing trips, and some of the hijinks are priceless.
During one overnight trip to Kentucky Lake, all Thompson and Sherborne could catch were drum, considered inedible in most of the civilized world. Not ones to allow civilization to stand in their way, Thompson and Sherborne decided to try some.
The drum smelled delicious while cooking, but when time came to eat them, the fish had the texture of rubber. Thompson suggested they throw out the drum and cook a tennis shoe instead – he said it would be easier to chew, and probably taste better.
We were fishing on Kentucky Lake one night when a snake dropped into the boat from an over-hanging limb. Thompson tried to climb out one side of the boat and Sherborne the other. I managed to flip the harmless water snake out of the boat before they capsized us.
On another trip to Kentucky Lake, Thompson was speeding across the water when the boat hit a wake, flipped upside down, and went sailing through the air. Thompson said he knew he was in trouble when he opened his eyes and instead of sky, he saw water.
Thompson lost all his fishing tackle, but he didn’t get a scratch. The same couldn’t be said for the boat.
At the start of one trip, Thompson and his brother Ronnie launched the boat, and it slowly began to sink. Ignoring the sinking boat, Jerry and Ronnie stood on the ramp and engaged in a heated argument over who was supposed to have put in the drain plug.
Thompson, Sherborne and I spent a week fishing in Louisiana one summer. Thompson knew some wild Cajuns who lived back in the bayous. They took us out fishing every day and out partying every night. A Cajun party lasts until sunrise, when it’s time to resume fishing. I think we caught some fish, but I’m not sure; the entire trip is still kind of fuzzy.
Thompson was a sucker for fishing gadgets. He once purchased something called a Scale-o-Matic – a wire basket inside which jagged teeth twirled as it was pulled through the water. The instructions said to put your fish in the basket, tow it around, and the spinning turbine-like teeth would scale the fish.
We tried it out during a trip on which we caught a batch of big crappie. Thompson dumped them into the Scale-o-Matic, closed the lid, and roared across the lake, towing the contraption on a rope behind the boat.
After several minutes Sherborne suggested they might be done, but Thompson wanted to make sure, and kept going. Finally he stopped, hauled in the Scale-o-Matic, and dumped out the contents. All that was left of the fish were assorted bones, fins and eyeballs. Our prize catch had been chewed to bits.
“Well,” shrugged Thompson, “it worked. There’s not a scale left on them.”
We lost Thompson a few years ago after a long, courageous battle with cancer. Fishing – and life in general – hasn’t been nearly as much fun without him.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.