Team Toyota’s Gerald Swindle sat floating on the front deck of his boat at the iconic Beeswax Boat Ramp after a long day of practice Tuesday, wearing a heartfelt grin as he recounted 30 years of treasured memories on Lay Lake, one after another, like the steady flow of the Coosa River behind him.
“Lay is where we’d come to fish when we’d get rained out back when I was still working as a house framer with my Uncle Jimmy and Dan Hayes,” recalls Swindle.
“The three of us spent a ton of rainy days backing a boat into that current up in the river, and I was always the guy that got picked to ride the trolling motor, trying to keep us from drifting too fast downstream. Of course, there was no such thing as Spot-Lock on a trolling motor back in 1992,” laughs Swindle.
Laughter has always been a core quality for Swindle, so much. Hence, he admits he and his young buddies would arrive extra early to tournaments at Paradise Point on Lay just to laugh at the stories older fellas like Tim Cornelius would tell while drinking coffee around the marina boat ramp before blast-off.
“Heck, I didn’t even drink coffee back then. I just wanted to hang out and laugh at all their funny stories,” he admits.
The laughter never disappeared, but before long, it became apparent Swindle was a serious threat in local tournaments when he and his 6’ 10” buddy, Jason Crain won a big Airport Marine tournament on Lay by drifting heavy ¾-ounce jigs in the current up lake.
“We would bring a sack full of nothing but ¾-ounce jigs back then and spend all day drifting them in the current. I still love doing that, and I love seeing all the places where I have memories tied to certain fish catches. Like the time I had a 7-pounder hooked along some rip-rap, and my buddy Crain couldn’t net it because he was fishing with a broken hand that day,” smiles Swindle.
Of course, Swindle also participated in the well-known Mark’s Outdoors Lay Lake Open, held once each year which attracts hundreds of teams that compete not only for prize money but also truckloads of free fishing equipment. As time progressed, Swindle went from a local participant to one of the featured celebrity pro anglers who always attended to mingle with amateur anglers and represent sponsors.
But perhaps his favorite memory on Lay Lake is tied to family and their participation in a mid-1990s Red Man tournament.
“I’ll never forget it. It was me, my dad, brother Ernie, and brother Tony piled into one cheap hotel room the night before the tournament, and I’ll be danged if we didn’t sleep in and wake up in a panic to get to the launch in time,” he recalls.
“But the funniest part was Tony being fully dressed and waiting on the rest of us out in the truck in under two minutes. I swear he had to sleep in his clothes because I’m not sure it was possible to get ready that fast,” laughs Swindle.
One thing becomes apparent when you listen to Swindle tell stories about his many times on Lay Lake. It’s not about the fishing so much. It’s more about the people he shared time with on the water.
“I grew up an hour and twenty minutes from Lay, but I swear I wore out four sets of truck tires on I-65 coming down here to fish over the years,” he smiles.
Indeed, nothing would punctuate a book full of treasured memories on this Coosa River impoundment more than for the lanky former house framer to collect his first Elite Series win here, especially with several potentially rainy days forecasted during the four-day competition.