March 16 2018 was a cold morning at the Flemingsburg Old Reservoir and two men, neither young, were the only anglers hardy enough to brace the harsh conditions to fish for stocked rainbow trout. Martin Dillon—known as Mark or Marky to his friends—and his brother Barry had come early to the right side corner of the dam.
“I was fishing for trout—I gave away 129 during the winter and spring—by dropshotting a live minnow,” Mark Dillon related. He had a bite but instead of the relatively mild resistance of a trout when he set the hook, the weight and power were a shock. When the wake and waves had settled his medium action Ugly Stick rod and Shakespeare spinning reel spooled with gossamer-like 4-pound test monofilament had helped him best two feet and eight pounds, fifteen ounces of largemouth bass.
That Mark Dillon accomplished such an angling feat hardly surprised those who know him. From his childhood in the Foxport-Pleasureville community he has had the reputation for being a fisherman of remarkable knowledge and gift—along with the added measure of good luck all great anglers admit they must have. It is a further tribute to his sportsmanship that he spared the giant bass from terminus in a skillet or taxidermy shop. Mark Dillon is a great outdoorsman, a gardener, and a man of faith.
Skipping forward almost a month to April 11 at the Old Reservoir, I was leaving after spending a fruitless morning trout fishing from the dam. That was only my second trip there, my first having been at the ending of the day and very successful. April 11 was a clear sunny morning that cast long shadows far out over the water at the dam, not only from angler movement but every walker or jogger that crossed the top of the dam. As I was leaving I met the Dillon brothers as they were arriving. We had never met before but struck up a conversation. It turned out they were readers of my columns and we made plans to get together to fish.
On my way home I stopped at a pond on a sudden whim to make a few casts with a deep running crankbait. I had never had much luck at this pond before, but in less than 30 minutes I landed one 18” and two 19” bass. That was my second episode of great luck that day. The first, meeting the Dillon’s and beginning new friendships was the better.
To spend time talking with Mark Dillon is to tap into a deep data bank of angling advice and experience and of local history. He is an encyclopedia of information about entire families and the land they owned and that owned them, and of the private lakes and ponds that hold fish. Because of his reputation as a person of high integrity and Christian character, Mark has access to and can facilitate access for those he recommends. I had the privilege on a hot day this week of touring a portion of what we country folks would call Marky’s “stomping grounds” in the scenic and often rugged northeastern part of Fleming County. He is also a historian of a time when that area was a paradise for small game and upland bird hunters: squirrels, rabbits, quail, and grouse.
I have a theory that great fishermen are born with a destiny to fish and a natural gift for doing it, but a gift that one must work to polish, preferably with a good mentor. Mark cites such a figure in his angling education. “Archie Doyle taught me a lot about how to fish,” he said. “Archie was a master bass fisherman. One of his pieces of advice was to keep your line in the water. If he noticed that you didn’t have your line out or that you weren’t casting, he’d remind you that you weren’t fishing. He was also a fine Christian man.”
Mark was also a friend of the late Delbert Grizzle, of South Shore, whose 13-plus pounder caught from Greenbo Lake was the Kentucky state record largemouth for many years until 1984. Mark remembers that Grizzle was strictly a night fisherman who would use nothing stronger than a penlight while fishing. And the tackle he used was primitive by today’s standards: “Delbert used a fiberglass rod with a closed face Shakespeare reel and a purple worm lure to catch that record fish,” Mark recalled. “And he said that he hooked and lost an even bigger bass than that one.” Grizzle’s mounted bass hangs in the lodge at Greenbo Lake State Park.
Mark Dillon has probably caught more lunker class bass from area ponds and lakes than anyone, but he rarely bass fishes, which demands much activity and movement, anymore because of age and health issues. He still fishes every day that he can by sitting in a chair and angling for panfish: bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish, and crappie. “I want to be outside and enjoy nature,” he said. One of his crappie catches this year was a 17” trophy. One of his favorite lures is the tiny Keystone Jig, which comes with a bitsy soft plastic minnow. He fishes these with two techniques, each employing a float. When the wind is right he simply allows the wind to move the lure through the water, and under calm conditions he works the bait with short twitches of the rod. In one of our outings I made this technique work with a Keystone to catch a crappie, but I must admit taking a cue from Barry Dillon and sexing up the jig with a bit of red worm. (Barry uses grub-like wax worms to enhance the Keystone.)
Mark is a 12-month fisherman. He fishes all winter, often in brutal conditions that freeze his hands and I know exactly how severe a miseryt this is from my own experience. Taking up winter fishing for stocked trout has been changing my approach to angling for a while and my association with Mark is pushing me farther into year-round fishing for other species.
Our journey took us past numerous fishy-looking ponds and lakes, many un-fishable because of weed growth, which is really bad this year. Aquatic vegetation is costly to control and has shut down angling in many good built holes until fall. Of most every pond we passed Mark would say, “It has good fish in it and I can get into it,” or when we passed a side road or lane he would gesture and speak of good waters there. Near our trip’s end we drove by a tiny pool—little more than a puddle—near the road and I asked, “What about that one?”
“It has monster catfish in it if you want to catch them,” Mark replied.
I think I’ve found relief from the misery of modern gun deer season: so many ponds and November is a wonderful time to fish.