There are fishing trips you look absolutely look forward to – they’re so exciting that you write a giant circle with permanent market on a calendar. Sometimes it’s an exotic location (we book the Bahamas almost a year out), sometimes the bite’s on fire, and sometimes it’s who you’ll be fishing with. But then there’s Bienville Plantation.
I’m a huge fan of Ron Ryals. I’ve written about my admiration for Ron in the past. He’s been dealt a tough hand, and he never complains. Never. In fact, all he does is smile. The world needs more Ron Ryals.
In 1983, when Ron was just 5 years old, he went into surgery for a heart condition. Complications from that surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. What did Ron do? He did what any other outdoors lover does. He started fishing and hunting around Live Oak, Florida, with his dad – while in a wheelchair. Scuba diving after lobster – leaving the wheelchair dock side. Chasing after his dreams – with a smile wider than Lake Okeechobee.
When asked if he was ever held back growing up, Ron says,
“Not that I can think of, I did most anything I wanted to do. When I was young, spending the time with my dad hunting and fishing, I think it helped me, because I didn’t let the injury get in the way of anything I wanted to do. I am lucky that it happened when I was young, and never knew any different.”
During the early 90’s, Ron and his dad began competing in different bass tournaments with great success. Eventually, he became completely independent, started fishing solo, and 17 years ago began guiding.
I’ve hung out with Ron, met with him at shows, heck we’ve even played cards together (don’t let the smile fool you, he’s a stone cold bluffing machine at Hold ‘Em), but we had never fished together.
That was all going to change. Ron is a guide at Bienville Plantation. What do you know about Bienville Plantation? I knew very little. I knew Ron was a guide there, along with Ray Hill, Jut Parks, and a handful of other die-hard bass guys I know. I also knew a lot of professionals and celebrities fish and hunt there from time to time (which tells me the fishing is really good). I had no idea what all actually happens at their facilities.
I had fished there once over a decade ago, but it was a dark thirty a.m. to dark thirty p.m trip. I didn’t get a chance to see anything other than the back of Ray Hills head while he was working the trolling motor. Now, I was going to fish with Ron and Jimmy Johnson who runs the guides and more at Bienville. As a bonus my young friend Kase Britton was going to join us for some filming with some new toys (camera and drone).
We met Ron at the pro shop near day break and I was able to see him fully in his element. He dropped the boat back, jumped out of his truck, and tossed his wheelchair to the side. Literally. He just chucked it to the ground like he was never going to use it again, and I asked “do you want me to grab that?” he simply said, “Nope. Don’t need it.” Well, I was speechless (and that rarely happens).
He was right. He didn’t need it.
What I saw over the next 6 hours left me a speechless again…
Great guide and an even greater guy! Ron Ryals is an inspiration on and off the water ? Via @bienvilleplantation ・・・ Bienville guide Ron Ryals is one of our many talented guides! He guided @robchapmanart to an epic day recently ? #bienvilleplantation #bienville #largemouthbass #largemouth #bass #bassfishing #outdoors360 #florida #discoverbienville #followtheoutdoors
When you haven’t fished for bass in a decade plus there’s a learning curve. It’s humbling. Very humbling. It gave me a new perspective on the mission for outdoors360.com. I’m blessed. I have contacts everywhere in the industry and grew up with a fishing rod in my hand. On this day Ron Ryals was the master and I was the student. I have so much to learn about fishing and the great outdoors.
There are a few ground rules to Bienville Plantation you need to know right away. You don’t get bass the size and quantity they have by accident. ALL of the bass are catch and release. 100%. All of their bodies of water are no wake zone. That means these fish don’t deal with typical pressure a lot of fish experience. Nothing is done by accident. There are scientific studies, guides fish different lakes on a rotation, and much more. Less pressure means happy, hungry, and big fish.
So…we pushed off and slowly motored to our first spot – only 100 yards from the ramp. That’s it! Lines in. Within 5 minutes of fishing, Ron said: “I can’t believe we haven’t caught on yet.” I thought is he crazy? The last time I bass fished, I went 12 hours with one fish. 2 minutes later he was lifting the first bass into the boat. 5 minutes after that, another one. 2 minutes after that, another one. I looked at Kase Britton (my young friend who’s newly interested in video/mass media/fishing) as if to say, you see, you’re not the only rookie here!
So, Ron took the time to show me what he was doing. It was a weightless z-man watermelon fluke fished by feel – something that was like speaking in tongues to me. You mean I don’t fling it 5 miles and violently work it in? Nope. Finesse. Seriously. I was more lost than being cast in a music video requiring fast dancing. But, I listened. I watched. And, what I saw was Ron continuing to catch more fish. He was like Michael Jordan playing basketball in his prime, and I was like Michael Jordan playing baseball at some minor league stadium in Nowheresville, USA.
Eventually, I caught on, and admittedly it was torture. But, in fishing you better not be stubborn. The results started to speak for themselves. Soon I was plucking bass and with each bass caught I grew more comfortable working it super sllllllowwwww. Soon Kase even hooked up on a solid 3-pound bass. Here was a kid who looked like he hadn’t seen the sun in several years, and he was catching quality bass. Seriously …I thought how many bass must be here?
Talking with Jimmy
Soon I was joined by Jimmy Johnson, who’s the Event Guide Coordinator at Bienville. It was almost lunch time and he served me a full dosage of humble sandwich. His first cast he hung a solid 4-pound bass on a lure that looked as long as an anaconda. It was my first time fishing with Jimmy, but if I had known him previously I would have asked if he was Marlin fishing with that ridiculously oversized lure. He obviously knew what he was doing with that lure, and he obviously knows what he’s doing with the future of the fishery at Bienville.
It was refreshing to talk with Jimmy about the science and logic behind what makes Bienville such an outstanding fishery, but most importantly he gets ‘it’. Fishing isn’t always about fishing, in fact, he said they ran a survey of their clients and #8 on the wish list was actually catching fish. Having a good time, being outside, getting away from the office, and several other answers trumped the actual catching of fish. It’s the #1 thing I tell every potential person getting into our industry. First and foremost you are an ENTERTAINER. Never forget that. The fish won’t always bite. The weather won’t always cooperate. But you can control you. Be a professional and treat people the right way.
The future looks even more bright with new ownership at Bienville and a lot of new possibilities beyond just the fishing (more on both of these later). We fished, we talked, we told stories, and we brought Jimmy back to the ramp after a fun few hours of catching. We moved to another location and I had my personal highlight with a solid 5-pound bass on a bed. We saw her, I made a below average cast into some cattails near her bed and she absolutely exploded out of the water onto the lure. A few minutes later and I was lipping my personal best bass in probably 20 years! We continued catching at a ridiculous pace and by days end we had landed well over 70 bass.
We left them biting. Literally. As I was pulling into the ramp Kase Britton made one last cast just 50-feet from the ramp and pulled the biggest fish of the day. After some digging and drag pulling we netted Kase’s best bass of his life. A fat 6-pounder that was hanging by where our back tires had just dropped the boat in. After such an incredible day of action, so close to Lake City (just north of White Springs), I named this local fishing paradise the Disney World of bass fishing. It’s the happiest – bass fishing – place on earth, and it’s right in our own backyard.