Talkin' Outdoors

For the better part of the past four decades, I’ve rubbed elbows with hundreds of other members of the outdoor media. I could probably count on one hand with a finger or two left over those of the media who have been less than creditable to the profession. The overwhelming majority are professional people who make sure readers, listeners or viewers get the outdoors story conveyed the way it should.

A handful of these professionals rise to the top like cream on sweet milk. They’re the best of the best and last week, I had the opportunity to share a fishing boat with one of the premier ones, T.J. Stallings.

I have never seen Stallings when he wasn’t, as my dad used to say “bowed up and gittin’ after it”. He is a busy fellow, who spends much of his time on the road away from his wife and three daughters with his sleeves rolled up, assisting media members in getting their stories out. Stallings works as a lure designer for TTI-Blakemore Fishing Group headquartered in Wetumpka, Ala. and when he’s not at the shop working, he’s somewhere around the country guiding members of the press on fishing forays, helping them collect material for articles and broadcasts.

Stallings was aptly described by fellow scribe, Keith Sutton, as one of the world’s leading experts on fishing tackle design.

“Before he was a teenager, he was tying jigs, building custom rods and studying fish behavior. His in-depth knowledge of fishing led to positions with big-name tackle companies,” Sutton wrote.

Among Stallings’ accolades is his design of the popular Daiichi Bleeding Bait hook, featuring a red finish that triggers the natural feeding response in fish.

Stallings is also co-founder of a new on-line crappie fishing publication, Crappie NOW at

I was part of a Cast and Blast South media trip to the Alabama Black Belt region with headquarters at the spacious Water Valley Lodge ( located just outside Gilbertown and owned and operated by Jake Utsey and his wife, Pia.

The primary function of the lodge and its 30,000 acres of available acreage is to offer deer, turkey, quail and hog hunting to clients. Deer hunting “pays the bills”, according to Utsey, but hunting the other species shares billing with chasing whitetail deer.

Utsey had an earthen dam constructed across a wooded valley on the property to form a 10 acre lake, and it was on these fishy-looking waters that Stallings and I spent one afternoon casting for bass and bream.

There is something special about sitting in a boat on an overcast spring day fishing a private lightly-pressured lake full of bass and bream. What made it extra-special was sharing the boat with Stallings.“Here, try this Chatter-bait; Wade Bourne caught a 7-pounder on it yesterday,” Stallings instructed as he touched the control on the trolling motor, easing the boat around and through fallen timber that just spelled B-A-S-S. While Stallings fished one of his Roadrunners on ultra-light catching both bass and bluegills, my Chatter-bait caught the attention of at least a dozen bass between two and five pounds.

The thing that most impressed me after spending an afternoon in a boat with Stallings is his passion for what he does and his quiet, easy-going and laid-back manner. T.J. Stallings is the type of fellow with whom I would gladly share a boat any time.