For any of you who think Southern charm is a thing of the past, I am here to say it is alive and well in the town of Lax, Ga.
To call Lax a "town" is stretching things a bit because it is more of an intersection, with a church on one corner and a cemetery on another, but regardless of what it is, I have fallen for this chunk of the South in the middle of nowhere Georgia.
For the past three years, my good friend Capt. Trent Malphrus and I have become part of a unique pilgrimage of sorts to Willowin Plantation for a long weekend of bass fishing, duck hunting, pheasant hunting, quail hunting and even deer hunting. It all started when Trent guided Willowin's owner, Will Wingate, and somehow managed to get an invite to this annual cast and blast event.
As for me, Trent was told he could bring a friend and to this day I believe I was chosen for no reason other than comic relief. In all, there are usually 20 attendees, most all from the Atlanta area. Trent and I are the only representatives of the Lowcountry.
The three-hour drive to Willowin along rural roads is a trip in and of itself. You have never seen so many churches and pecan groves -- at first glance, it almost looks like a hard snow has fallen along these back roads. That white stuff isn't snow, of course, but cotton that has blown off tractors and trucks on their way to the cotton mills. It's absolutely everywhere.
Old barns and farms dot the landscape, and before long it becomes mandatory to find a country music station on the car radio. The scene becomes even more surreal with Hank Williams Jr. leading the way.
Arriving first, Trent and I immediately grabbed our fishing rods, and though the competition is friendly, we have fun seeing who can land the biggest largemouth in Willowin's lake. This lake is a bass fisherman's dream, holding some monster bass that lurk around massive cypress trees that line the shoreline.
Trent spanked me last year, but this year I redeemed myself with some fine big mouths. Just about that time, the Atlanta boys started rolling in, and Trent and I went to work preparing a Lowcountry meal for the group, something we do each year on that first evening.
With a roaring bonfire, introductions were tossed around, along with a cocktail or two, as Trent and I cooked up May River oysters and a Lowcountry boil for the masses.
If you ever want to make friends with city boys, the way to do it is with seafood that you have harvested. These guys tore through that stuff as if they hadn't eaten in weeks.
For some of us, the next morning started at 5. Struggling into waders, we trudged through a pitch-black swamp to do some wood duck hunting. It was chilly, but as the early twilight exposed our surroundings, you couldn't help but be awed by the cypress trees and black swamp water. Off in the distance you could hear the first squeal of a wood duck and you just knew they were coming.
Like rocket ships, the ducks weaved through the trees and if you were to hesitate at all, it would've been too late. In my opinion, wood ducks are the crème de la crème of nature's paintbrush, with the added bonus of being wonderful table fare.
After a breakfast of eggs, grits, biscuits and home-made cane syrup at Rusty's, Willowin's barrel-chested, Georgia Bulldog fanatic chef, it was time to do some pheasant hunting. A stiff breeze was enough to make these cackling beauties a handful to hit. How can you miss a bird that big and noisy? As many of the guys will tell you, it's pretty darn easy.
By the time we finished, I was ready for a nap, but there would be no rest for the weary this weekend. It was back to Rusty's for lunch and then quail hunting. To me, quail hunting is all about the dogs. Watching a good quail dog hold a point is a thing of beauty.
Trent and I started out slowly with a mix of release birds and wild coveys, but after getting past the initial jitters, we did pretty darn good, especially since we only get to do this once a year.
The camaraderie, along with exceptional flying birds, made it the perfect ending to our weekend -- or so we thought.
Heading to Rusty's for a rowdy last night, we were treated to a whole suckling pig and all the fixins.
In retrospect, I came home feeling as though I had stepped back in time to the South in the early part of the 20th century. I could have stayed at Willowin Plantation for another month, but even that wouldn't have been long enough. I did bring home some birds and a jar of Rusty's home-made cane syrup, so until next year, these two things will keep me salivating for my next trip down memory lane.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.