By John Wilson
The 2017 Bassmaster Classic is coming up; the chatter about the $300,000 prize among the leaders in the field is to forget the science and concentrate more on technique and momentum. In thinking back on fishing, especially bass fishing, I cannot think of anyone who had more technique and momentum than the late Judge Solomon Blatt, Jr.
After a day on the water and standing on the bank with our bountiful catch, I mentioned to him that perhaps we should go up to Greenville for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic and give it a whirl. Get a couple of jumpsuits with sponsor logos on them and show those sportsmen a thing or two on Lake Hartwell. After inquiring what the Classic was, exactly, and giving me the “look,” I dropped the subject.
I was attending a cocktail party at a home on Murrcay Boulevard one evening and happened to be in the kitchen with another individual, who I recognized as the great attorney Ron Motley; I introduced myself. As I congratulated him on his recent accomplishment of taking big tobacco to the mat, I asked him if he attributed his grand success to any one factor. Simple, he replied: Judge Solomon Blatt. He explained, “I was his law clerk when I started out and when I get on the courtroom floor I start to think like him and then begin to talk like him.”
The Judge had a melodious Southern voice and when I was lucky enough to be in the boat fishing with him it seemed to be more pronounced when he was talking with the fish. “You know you want it,” he would say. “Come on, you know you want it. Go on. Go on,” as he tweaked the line. When we first started fishing together, we would do things in a parallel system. Ready the rod and bait, which was usually a fresh plastic worm; then get into position to focus and get busy. I was always sitting behind him with the command of the electric motor asking him where he thought we should go and wet our first hook.
It became apparent immediately who was catching fish and I sat there and marveled that he was pulling back his rod with a new fish about every nine minutes. I have been bass fishing all of my life and I had never seen anything like it. I then began to set my rod down and just paddle the boat and watch his prowess of bass fishing. And after our first round of fishing, I never bothered again with the rod and would just be his guide as it was so much fun to watch him catch fish after fish. There is a particular feeling you get when in the first hour you already have three nice-size selected bass in your wet net and lunch is planned on a beautiful old hunting lodge dining table two hours away. You know you want it, come on now … pow! … and the fish would soon be in the boat. Call it “technique and momentum.”
I first met the Judge formally at Hall’s Chop House through his old friend Bill Hall. After our introduction I told him that of my father’s accomplishments, his having a federal judge as his best friend was at the top of my list of admiration. He asked who was the judge. I said Hobart Grooms in Alabama. He immediately said, “Oh, I know Hobart.” Two weeks later when I walked into Halls, the Judge was standing there with three other distinguished looking fellows and when he saw me he said to the men, “Excuse me gentlemen, it’s my best friend.”
He walked over to me with a wink and a warm handshake. We indeed became good friends. It has been said that in your lifetime you will only have a few good dogs or perhaps horses. I guess the same can be said for friends. I asked the Judge one day if he would like to go fishing. His response was yes — as long as it is not saltwater and that he was a pond man. It was well known that his father, who served as a South Carolina legislator for 53 years, 27 of which were as the Speaker of the House, would solicit the Department of Natural Resources for pond stock for his constituents.
The Judge was from Barnwell, South Carolina and he knew pretty much where all the good ponds were located around the state. The one he loved the most when we fished in his later days he called “Bass Heaven.” It was Pierre Manigault’s pond on the Santee Delta. I would take him occasionally to different places; one was Mike Bennett’s Quinby where we would have a wonderful fried chicken lunch before going on the pond. Both Mike and the Judge were boxers in college and both men loved pond fishing. But when I would inquire about getting out to go fishing and where he wanted to go it was always Bass Heaven on the Santee Delta. Once we got to fish Pierre’s grandmother’s pond in Goose Creek. After the afternoon’s fishing and standing in the lodge at Medway, Pierre asked the Judge if it was true that he had never missed a Carolina-Clemson football game. He paused for a moment and said, “Well, there was World War Two when I missed a few but I always tried to make it.”
Bill Hall said that going to the Carolina football game with the Judge was an experience. About 10 miles from Brice Stadium on I-26, two motorcycle patrolmen would come alongside the Judge’s car where the two were in the back seat and bring them to the stadium. And when they arrived a gentleman in a blue suit walked up and opened the car door for the Judge and asked him if he wanted to go straight up to the Governor’s Box or go over to the Cockaboose. “Well,” he usually said, “lets just go on over to the Cockaboose for a bit and then go up to see the governor.” It was something you rarely saw with the Judge. If you were ever with him at the courthouse or anywhere, everyone that worked there in any capacity got equal attention. He usually always drove himself around and always would stop and talk to everyone with the same respect that they gave back to him. He was just a fine and humble man, working most every day at the Four Corners of Law until his passing at 94.
The Judge in the kitchen was also a matter of course. He had a particular way to clean the fish, then in cooking preparations he had certain tried and true methods. There was never a question that the bass would be prepared a certain way. Usually it was fried in a skillet but one evening we did the ultimate dinner at Hall’s upstairs with the fish prepared by the chef however he wanted to cook it. Wonderful it was. The Judge loved the blind piano player at Hall’s, a fellow named Anthony. The Judge played drums in a band for many years and had a great appreciation for music. He was a good friend of Charleston resident Calhoun Witham’s parents in Aiken. One of Callie’s fondest memories is standing at one of his parent’s parties looking in wearing his pajamas as a young man and watching the Judge hammer it out on the drums, wondering who he might be.
I thought perhaps that one day soon I would attempt to have Bass Heaven dedicated in the Judge’s name. I contacted Ben Moise and got his advice. He thought it best to go to a gravestone mason and have a small square inscribed and place it where you pushed off on the bank of the pond. This was an excellent idea from the game warden wordsmith. Pierre Manigault blessed such a dedication but asked that no one tell exactly where the pond is located on the Delta. So, soon, the Solomon Blatt Jr. Bass Heaven Pond will stand the test of time and be dedicated to his honor — wherever that pond might be.