As I dabbed my cornbread in the cocktail sauce meant for the tender fried catfish, I gazed upon the water used to cool Jim Beam’s equipment. It’s at this lake where Booker Noe fished with his grandson, Freddie Noe, and nobody else was allowed. To this day, the lake is closed to the public and all persons, even his father, must go through the 27 year old Noe for permission. He rarely says yes, keeping the large mouth bass, fat crappies and muscular catfish all to himself and select people.
On this day, as a part of the second annual Bourbon Affair, I and other Bourbon Affair guests enjoyed country cooking and then grabbed the Jim Beam branded Zebco 33 poles to fish the same spots as the great Booker Noe.
In case you’re wondering why I am just now publishing this fishing expedition, Bourbon Affair recently announced its return for June 14 to 16, 2016. This year, there is a Louisville food festival prior and Whisky Live Louisville debuts after, making that week an incredible, Bourbon-filled trip.
Ran by the members of the Kentucky Distillers Association (Buffalo Trace is not a member), the Bourbon Affair dishes up unique experiences and not holding back on creativity. In the first year, you could shoot guns with Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey or sip 1950s Old Forester in the archives of Brown-Forman. In its first two years, the distillers have linked Kentucky culture with Bourbon lore, and it’s simply the next step in the iconic spirit’s evolution.
If you can only visit Kentucky once in your life, you should attend the Kentucky Derby. After the Derby, the Bourbon Affair or the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September is number two for a truly wonderful Kentucky experience.
For me, nothing says Bourbon culture like fishing. At the Beam fishing tour, he or she who caught the biggest fish would win a prize, and well, I’m kind of a competitive guy. I wanted to win.
Several branded lawn chairs stretched across the lake’s opening for attendees to sit and relax, where no trees or brush could impede casters. But that’s not where the fish would be, I thought, so I walked through the woods with my pole, tackle box and three fingers of Booker’s in a plastic cup.
I forged a trail through thorn bushes, slicing up my calves and snagging the pole on a tree before I even threw a line in the water. I attempted to hurdle a large branch only to awkwardly fall flat on my face and stepped over potential wildlife areas, knowing I could easily discover a fox den or skunk haven.
And snakes. Oh, God, do I hate snakes! And rats. Well, you get the point. I tried to avoid things that give you rabies.
Through the entire trek to the honey hole, I didn’t lose a single drop of the Booker’s. I fished for 30 minutes. No bites. Moved across to an open spot on the other side. No bites. Time was winding down, and somebody else would soon win the contest. I was on the move once again in hopes of finding the perfect spot. I climbed over a few broken trees, lost my shoe in the mud and saw a buzzard circling overhead.
Then, I found the honey hole, just behind the spraying pipe that transports water for the Beam equipment and helps keep the lake warm year around, which is why the ducks and geese love Jim Beam.
I sit down and spill my Booker’s. Can you believe that? I went through the whole damn forest without spilling a drop, but lose it all when I am relaxed.
My line sits in the calm water, a subtle breeze cools my neck, and the line moves; I pull back and set the hook. It’s a large mouth bass. When I pulled her out of the water, she was swollen with muscles and nearly the length of my arm. I knew I was in contention to win the contest.
She would be my only fish caught, and as I sat there alone, sipping a Jim Beam pre-made cocktail, I realised this is the true meaning of Bourbon. Not the scores or the brand marketing. Not the hype or history. It’s all about the total experience.
The only thing missing in this moment were friends, but I took a selfie and shared the fish on Twitter, so that’s kind of like sharing the experience.
Oh well, at least I caught the biggest fish that day.