Welcome to The Land Show, our weekly podcast where we discuss anything and everything related to land and investing in land. From farming to hunting, fun seasonal events to wild game recipes, we have a little something for everyone.
The first segment of this week’s edition is transcribed below, or click here to listen to the entire show online or subscribe to the podcast.
On this week’s show
Announcer: It’s time for a new edition of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny. On the show today with the guys Kay Donaldson, program director for the Alabama Bass Trail, Tyler Briggs with the National Wild Turkey Federation, Brian Watts with your Timber Talk segment, Russ Walters with your farmland report and of course the Wild Man himself, Tim Baker with your wildlife update. Sit on back, relax, and enjoy a new edition of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny.
Dave Milton: Hey everybody. Welcome to The Land Show with Dave and Johnny. I’ll tell you what, it’s been kind of a rainy time here in Montgomery, Alabama but I’ll tell you, spring is just coming early here Johnny B.
Jonathan Goode: It is, man.
Dave Milton: I’m proud to be with you Johnny B. Goode. Dave Milton, The Land Show. How are you doing, man?
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. I’m good, brother. It’s good to be back in the studio. This weather is crazy. Just a little over a week ago they were calling for a big snowstorm and then this week I’ve seen a lot of shorts and flip-flops out. It’s just Alabama in the springtime.
Dave Milton: Yeah, it’s kind of put a little bit of a damper on the end of deer season. I’ve really appreciated these extra ten days that we have now to hunt on into February. It’s the last weekend.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah, for sure.
Dave Milton: I need to put another doe in the pot. My wife’s let me know we don’t have enough deer meat in the freezer so pressure’s on to get one more this weekend.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah, I think I may … We’ve put three in the freezer and probably need to do one more. As an outdoorsman I enjoy the extra ten days. I think it helps us sell land to people getting to hunt into February but dang, sometimes I sure wish it would end in January so we could get back to work. But anyway, it’s good looking forward to trying to get in the woods. Today I’ve got a big day, my son turns three, we’re celebrating his birthday so I’ve got a lo of folks coming to the house after the show today. You know, it’s fun. You and I both like to entertain and Whitney says I’m grilling for 35 folks today, so that’s fun. I at least know they’re going to get to eat one good meal this week, so that’s fun.
Dave Milton: Johnny you’re like me, you grew up with selfish motives there.
Jonathan Goode: Oh, I do. I’m going to be eating Conecuh sausage, I’ll be grazing the whole time I’m cooking burgers and dogs for the family, so it’ll be fun, man. But you know, we are moving into the time of the year if you like the outdoors. I know you love the small game part of it too, you grew up doing that.
Dave Milton: Yeah. You know, it’s a good time to … People think hunting season is over, it’s the time between deer and turkey, but that’s so much of our hunting heritage, back to the small game. My dad, when he grew up hunting in Alabama and Mississippi, they didn’t have any deer. They hunted squirrels and rabbits and quail and that’s really what I grew up hunting. We didn’t do a whole lot of deer hunting when I was real young until we ended up with a better place to go. If it’s been a long time since you’ve been hunting or maybe you want to introduce a child or grandchild, a real inexpensive way is to go to outdooralabama.com and get your regs for the national forest, the state keeps various national forests, the state keeps adding Forever Wild properties and most of those are open to hunting. You can get your regs and go out and kill some squirrels. We’ve got squirrels … I’ve never seen more squirrels than I’ve seen this year and people don’t hunt them. Squirrels are good to eat. They kind of look like a big rat, but they’re good to eat.
Jonathan Goode: I do like squirrel, but I’ll tell you one of my favorite uses for squirrel is something else you can do in the springtime and that’s making those squirrel tail jigs. I love brim fishing and bass fishing, crappie fishing with Dad as a kid. We had a guy that made … I always wanted to learn how to tie them and I never did so I just had a big pile of squirrel tails.
Dave Milton: I’ll tell you what else I’m excited about is that when I was a kid we had a lot more rabbits and the rabbit population, and this is just my experience this year going and talking to … A lot of places have more rabbits. I’ve got a buddy with some dogs and we’re going to try to go at least once. There’s nothing I love more than a good rabbit hunt, a good chase, and then rabbit is excellent table fare.
Jonathan Goode: Right. It is fun getting a kid in the woods to do that kind of stuff. Squirrel hunting, you don’t have to be nearly as still as you do for deer hunting and if you get one of those little squirrel calls they can sit out there and bump it the whole time and make the call sound.
Dave Milton: There’s so many ways to do it. You can shake vines, you can beat trees and it’s a lot of fun if you’ve got a little squirrel feist or a friend with dogs. It’s a big part of our heritage here in the South and a lot of fun.
Jonathan Goode: Oh sure. I grew up with a Marlin .22 and loved it and then my dad bought a Ruger 10/22 and I’ve probably got a half dozen of those because I love them so much. It’s just fun to get out with a .22 and shoot. This is also the time of the year you like, it starts warming up and you like to get out and do a little fishing.
Dave Milton: I do, man. This is a great time to hit the lakes, right here before the spring and on a warmer day those fish just seem to come alive. A lot of the rivers are hard to fish right now because they’re kind of swollen from so much rain.
Jonathan Goode: You just fish fast.
Dave Milton: That’s true.
Jonathan Goode: You just fish fast.
Dave Milton: No, they’re hard to fish but the big impoundments, this is a good time, this is a really good time to get out and especially bass fish right now, these bass are coming alive with the warmer weather.
Jonathan Goode: Well you’re leading us right into our first segment, Dave. Right now we’re going to talk to Ms. Kay Donaldson. She is the program director for the Alabama Bass Trail. Ms. Kay, how are you this morning?
Kay Donaldson: I’m doing fine, guys. Thank y’all for having us on. It’s go time for us.
Jonathan Goode: It is. Tell us, for our listeners, I think you said that you’re entering your sixth season for the Alabama Bass Trail. It’s hard to believe it’s been going on that long, but y’all have been building some tremendous momentum here, haven’t you?
Kay Donaldson: We have. It’s almost unbelievable that we’re already going to be in our sixth season. The anglers have really responded across the Southeast, we’ve got great participation. This year probably one of our lead stories was how fast we sold out. Our Southern division, which is in high demand, sold out in 16 days.
Dave Milton: Wow.
Kay Donaldson: 61 people on the waiting list for that division. In the North they took a little bit longer, 36 days. We have about 44 people on the waiting list in that division. Just the amount of popularity that the trails received and the TV show and what it’s brought to the table for us, it’s really been a great ride so far.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. Let’s talk about that. The Alabama Bass Trail is divided into two divisions, you have a South division and a North division. How many tournaments are held in each region?
Kay Donaldson: We have five tournaments in each division and all the anglers accumulate points throughout their division based on their finishes. We take the top 75 in points every year to our championship along with the five winners in each division, the top 15 high school student teams and then five college teams and five couples teams, if we have that many. This year I don’t think we’ve quite reached five in the couples and in the college, but we’ve got almost 30 high school teams fishing with us this year. That’s the most we’ve ever had as far as student teams. We’re looking forward to a big year. Again, just selling out so fast. These guys have been anticipating this since August, so there’s going to be a lot of really anxious people come next weekend.
Jonathan Goode: How many teams can each tournament hold?
Kay Donaldson: 225 boats; 450 anglers is the maximum that we’ll take and a lot of that’s limited, especially in southern Alabama. We just don’t have the larger boat ramps, a lot of the bodies of water are smaller. Lake Jordan is just 12,000 acres so to put 225 boats on that body of water is pretty tough, but it’s always responded. We’ve had some excellent tournaments down there and one of them two years ago when we had it there in March really set records. We’re excited to return back to Lake Jordan but those guys sitting on the waiting list really wish we would expand the field, I know.
Jonathan Goode: Oh, I’m sure.
Dave Milton: Well you talking about Lake Jordan Kay, you’re in one of my best friend’s back yard, old Chris Rutland, he knows how to fish.
Kay Donaldson: Old Chris Rutland.
Dave Milton: He knows how to wear Lake Jordan out, doesn’t he?
Kay Donaldson: He does. For him not to have a win on that lake really surprises me. I know he’s got a couple of second places on the lake, but he and Coby are so strong at Lay, they’re strong at the Alabama River and Lake Jordan, but certainly Lake Jordan has got to be on his mind. I think he’s probably going to be geared up for that. I’m looking forward to it. I talked to Chris yesterday and, of course, they’re all excited. They’ve been with us every year. We’re very thankful for those guys that have been loyal to us.
Dave Milton: Well, I’ll tell you, Chris and I, he and I are both pushing 50 and that is a competitive guy. Yeah, I say Chris … I just like to fish for fun, but he loves the competition and it really draws people like Chris that have that competitive fire and I’ll tell you, the level of fishing … You hear about guys like Chris, you’ve got some people out there that are as good as any pros in the United States. Some of them make lifestyle choices to not want to travel the whole country, like my friend …
Kay Donaldson: That’s really, Chris was faced with that decision several years ago and he just didn’t want that living on the road lifestyle. He kind of liked his going to work and fishing when he wanted to and it not being his paycheck. He certainly has the talent. We’ve got a lot of guys that have gone on from our trail, like Jesse Wiggins who is now fishing MLF, he fished the Elite Series. Justin Atkins, who won the Forrest Wood Cup two years ago who is now fishing MLF. Dustin Connell, who won the knockout round the other day, he fished with us, great friends with Gerald Swindle. Gerald came to my championship two years ago and stood in front of these guys and said, “I’ve fished next to Craig Daniel, I’ve fished next to Jesse Wiggins, I’ve fished next to these guys. I got a few more breaks than they did, I got a few more sponsors. They gave me a chance, that’s the only difference that separates them from me.” That really is the truth. We’ve got some of the guys out here that have fished the Bassmaster Classic. We’ve got the only two women that have ever fished the Bassmaster Classic fishing with us this year and they’ll be at Lake Martin, Pam Martin-Wells and Kim Bain-Moore.
Jonathan Goode: Very cool.
Kay Donaldson: We’ve got a high level of competition on our trail for sure.
Jonathan Goode: Right. The prize money for these tournament winners is nothing to sneeze at. You pay out $10,000 to the winners, is that right?
Kay Donaldson: Yeah, $10,000 for the winner and I would be surprised if nine out of ten of those guys that win our tournament this year are not going to have some type of boat contingency. It’s going to start at $5,000 and go up to $10,000 so they could … Let’s say Chris Rutland wins, he’s got a potential of winning somewhere around $19,000 on a one-day tournament because of his boat contingency money and because of his Garmin contingency money. That’s the possibility of winning almost 20 grand on a Saturday.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. That’s not a bad day’s work.
Kay Donaldson: That’s pretty good money.
Jonathan Goode: But those guys, they fish so hard. Help me understand the rules, Ms. Kay. If you are a current member of Bassmaster, that tour, or the FLW you can’t fish in these events, is that right?
Kay Donaldson: Right. All of the major professional bass leagues, whether it be the Bassmaster Elite, the FLW tour or the Major League Fishing organization, you cannot fish the Alabama Bass Trail. If you have fished that, Taylor Ashley for instance fished last year, he has to be out of that circuit for 12 months before he can rejoin the Alabama Bass Trail. We really are an amateur trail, even though I think some of these guys could go and compete any day, but we do have that contingency in there that they do have to stay out of that tour for at least 12 months before they can fish with us.
Jonathan Goode: What a great experience for these high schoolers and these college students. How phenomenal is that to get out there to compete in some of these big tournaments. 225 boats sounds like a lot of folks fishing in a tournament and you’re up against some of the best competition in the sport, so you’re really providing a great opportunity for these folks getting started.
Kay Donaldson: The high school fishing has just exploded, and college as well, but high school, you may go there and there be 300 boats but I think this kind of takes … I mean, you’ve really got to go out there and fish hard against this competition and you don’t have a boat captain so your partner is your boat captain so you really don’t have a boat captain that’s out there to chauffeur you around and all that. You really have to make that decision of can you make that run and get back on time. Is this fish a short fish, am I going to get penalized for it? Really managing the care of your fish because we have such a high death penalty, one-pound penalty and you can only weigh in one dead fish. It’s learning how to manage your fish, learning how to be conservationists. Learning how to manage your gas, can I make this long run, will I be able to get back? There’s a lot of things they’re learning and people don’t understand. I preach to kids all the time about going to school and getting your education because when you’re trying to factor in gas mileage and how far you’re running and your overall points and if I get to this level I’m going to jump 60 points or I’m going to do this or that. There’s a lot of science that goes into this and a lot of mathematics and figuring out what your budget is and what your hotel room is going to cost you and how much gas is going to cost you. Do you have the money to do this? There’s a lot of things. We love for kids to go fishing, but we really want them to think about it from a life lesson standpoint too. There’s a lot of money that goes into this and if you cash a $5000 check, really how much have you made? When you take all those expenses out of it, okay now what have you made? There’s a lot of things that I try to teach them when I go into their classrooms and talk about bass fishing. It’s real fun 30 minutes on TV but you’ve got all those other things that you’ve got to think about. Insurance on your boat and all this kind of stuff. We try to really impress upon them those kinds of things because it’s not always glamorous like it is on TV.
Jonathan Goode: Sure. Well everybody always assumes that the grass is greener no matter what somebody’s doing. But you said something about science, and I think you told us off air, there’s some neat things going on as far as studying the genetics of some of the bass in our lakes. Tell us about that.
Kay Donaldson: The Alabama Bass Trail has now entered a partnership with the Department of Conservation and Auburn University to have some of the graduate students from Auburn to visit each one of our tournaments over the next three years to do some genetics testing. They actually do gill samples and different genetic testing while on site with us. It’s really cool to have some of those larger fish put into that genetics testing. We’ll start seeing the results from some of the testing in a year or so, but this is a three-year ongoing partnership so we’re looking forward to seeing some of that. Places like Eufaula or places like Guntersville, Neely Henry and all of that to see the genetics testing and what that’s going to bring back and what different lakes are going to look like. Just maintaining the health of the lake is utmost importance to us and we think this is a great step in doing that.
Dave Milton: Well Kay, this is really … What you’re talking about, the testing and the studies, that really ties into what we’ve already been doing in the state and hopefully will enhance that even further. The state has added Florida Strain Bass over the years in certain impoundments and then Tiger Bass in certain impoundments. I hope they’ll continue to do that because I think that’s a good investment. If we can grow bigger and bigger bass, that’s a good investment for everybody in Alabama.
Kay Donaldson: It is. Talking about the science and stuff, the one thing that you’re able to do is also look at the weather conditions. Last year we had a tremendous winter, a lot of torrential rains and things like that. We had a huge shad kill because of the extremely cold temperatures and stuff. We saw some of the best years of catching bass after that shad kill and when you can go on the lake and you see bait balls of two football fields long and they’re … It’s almost as if the water is moving out from under you because there’s so many bait fish. It just depends when you can go back and kind of forecast and look back and say, well in 2018 we had a major shad kill along the Tennessee River, fishing was up, so it does help and that’s one of the reasons why Alabama Bass Trail is quick to get our reports in to the state on how we’ve done on certain bodies and it just makes this particular study that much more important for us.
Jonathan Goode: Well Kay, right now somebody’s driving down the road and they’re thinking that they’ve got what it takes to be on the trail, to win the trail and there’s an open tournament with their name on it. How do they sign up to do that?
Kay Donaldson: We’ve got a really exciting open coming up in November, this is the second time we’ve done this particular tournament. It gives guys an opportunity to dedicate themselves to one weekend a year, not necessarily be tied down five or six weekends with us. It gives them a chance to compete on one weekend, it’s November the 9th, it’s on Lay Lake. We’re really, really excited about that. Shelby County has stepped up big to help us with this event, the improvements they’ve made to Beeswax Landing is awesome. But they just need to go to the Alabama Bass Trail website, take a look over the rules first before they sign up, then click ‘register’ and sign up with us. It’s a $300 entry fee, $15,000 first prize. We’re going to pay out over $70,000 in fifty places.
Dave Milton: Wow.
Kay Donaldson: Looking forward to a big, big tournament there. Like I said, Shelby County rolls out the red carpet, they’re a fantastic host.
Jonathan Goode: You still have open spots for that tournament right now.
Kay Donaldson: We do. I have not looked this morning, but we’ve probably booked 90 or so spots already so they are kind of filling up fast, but we’ve still got slots open and would love to see some new guys on the trail. We love seeing those guys that are so loyal to us, but really this does give a chance to someone who has never fished with us to jump in there and fish one tournament.
Jonathan Goode: Well this is a call for all of our listeners out there. You need to go to the Alabama Bass Trail website and do that. Kay, what is the Alabama Bass Trail website, how do people get information about your organization?
Kay Donaldson: They would go to alabamabasstrail.org and get all the information there. They can see photos from years before, they can read all the rules, see results from past tournaments. Everything they need to know about the Alabama Bass Trail tournament series is going to be located on that website, alabamabasstrail.org.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. Dave and I were having lunch with some other folks this week and they were talking about people from different parts of the state, how you had come and spoken to groups that they had been affiliated with and you just get around and you make the … You preach the good word about the Alabama Bass Trail. We appreciate all the good work you’re doing and wish you and all the competitors a happy and safe sixth season. Thank you so much for being on The Land Show today.
Kay Donaldson: Thank y’all so much. You’re great supporters of ours and we really appreciate any time y’all let us on the radio. Thank y’all so much and tell Mr. Chris Rutland, get ready because it’s coming up soon.
Dave Milton: I’ll tell him he better win it this year, now. I want him to win it.
Kay Donaldson: Tell him I’ll put that horse on his back.
Dave Milton: All right. Good deal.
Kay Donaldson: All right. You guys have a great day.
Jonathan Goode: Thank you Miss Kay, have a good day. Dave, it’s always cool to talk to her. She is very well-connected, got her finger on the pulse of the bass scene. It is cool that you were roommates with one of the best fishermen in the state of Alabama.
Dave Milton: Yeah. If Chris Rutland’s listening, I’m not trying to give you the big head, but Chris really is probably one of the best fishermen in the Southeastern United States and could have been a big time pro, but just didn’t want that lifestyle, that much travel and he’s got a successful insurance agency and loves to go deer camp and hunt and be close to his family. But there’s a lot of opportunities for guys like him to make money, to make some legitimate money and fuel that competitive fire. He’s a lot more competitive than I am because boy he takes that fishing seriously and there’s a lot of guys like him.
Jonathan Goode: Oh sure.
Dave Milton: It’s a great thing here in Alabama, huge industry, a huge economic boost for tourism all over the state and the rural parts of the state. We’re just fortunate to have the Alabama Bass Trail.
Jonathan Goode: Yeah. I’m going to issue a challenge right now to my brother-in-law Chris Huntsler. He is a heck of a fisherman, probably the best fisherman that I’ve fished with. Chris, I will pay your entry fee if you’ll fish in this Alabama Bass Trail open tournament, so I’m throwing down the challenge for you. Y’all do go to the Alabama Bass Trail website. We really appreciate Ms. Kay Donaldson, who is the program director for the Alabama Bass Trail, being on with us. Y’all, we’re going to take a quick break, we’re going to hear from some of our sponsors. We’ll be back for more of The Land Show with Dave and Johnny.