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A man sits on a blue bucket on the rocks, fishing
Jimbo Clark looks at the camera for a portrait as he fishes the Sardis Lake spillway on May 21, 2022. Clark, now 63, has fished at the spillway for nearly 40 years. Photo by Lukas Flippo

‘Sometimes They Just Come to You’: Fishermen Connect at Sardis Lake

“I like to be alone,” Tommy Strong says as he sits fishing at the Sardis Lake spillway at least 50 yards down the bank from the

nearest fisherman.

Soon to be 70 years old, Strong has fished the spillway for nearly 40 years. A couple of years ago, he quit. Life got busy, and Strong lost the motivation to cast a line.

But now he is back.

“I drove by two weeks ago and saw all the people,” Strong says. “I thought if they can catch ’em, then I can catch ’em too.”

A headshot of a man in a red Ole Miss hat
Tommy Strong looks out at his bait at the Sardis Lake spillway on  May 21, 2022. Strong recently began fishing at the spillway again after a two-year break. Photo by Lukas Flippo

This specific Saturday morning is a test of patience more than it is of water trends, bait strategies or casting distances. Cloud cover has pushed the temperature down to about 70 degrees, balmy for a late-spring Mississippi morning. Strong has seated himself about five football fields away from where the spillway sends a rushing fall of water into the lake, so the water is still by the time it reaches his orange bait, which sits in the middle of the dark green slush like a statue.

“Nothing wants to bite,” Strong says with a slight smile, lifting a cigarette to his mouth.

The patience required for fishing is just another lesson in persistence for Strong. He lost his wife to cancer and his son to a fatal car wreck two decades ago. He threw himself into his work at the Sears in Batesville, Miss., where he was a manager. He retired when the store was shut down in 2017, but he couldn’t simply sit at home for more than a year.

“It was boring,” Strong says. “After I lost my wife and my son, I wouldn’t bring anyone into my house. It was just me.”

Strong uses fishing at Sardis Lake as a form of meditation. This reporter decided to leave him to his silence, offering to send him this piece when it was published.

A man in a black tank top and camo head covering
Brandon Simmons looks out at the Sardis Lake spillway May 21, 2022. Simmons first fished at Sardis when he was 13 years old. Photo by Lukas Flippo

“I don’t have the internet!” he says, raising a fist to fistbump goodbye.

As the sun appears from behind the clouds and continues its bright ascent to the top of the Saturday sky, fishermen begin to line the rocky banks of the Sardis Lake spillway. The open spaces between their setups dwindle.

“I think we got crossed up,” Brandon Simmons, 22, shouts to Jimbo Clark as their fishing lines dance together in the water.

“Yep, got me again,” Clark, 63, replies with a smile as if to hide a hint of frustration.

Despite their rapport, Clark and Simmons had no prior relationship before that day.

“Just met him this morning,” Clark says of Simmons.

Simmons is not certain, though. Clark has fished the spillway for nearly 40 years, and Simmons for nine, after he attended a summer camp at Sardis. Surely, they crossed paths, he figures.

A man stands on the rocky side of a river holding a net of fish
Brandon Simmons retrieves his bag of fish from the water at the Sardis spillway on May 21, 2022. Simmons plans to cook these fish once he returns to his home in Memphis. He first fished at the Sardis Lake during a summer camp when he was 13, but now he returns weekly to fish the dam as well as meet and converse with other fishermen. Photo by Lukas Flippo

“Did I go get you Subway one time?” Simmons asks Clark. Clark shakes his head no.

Then, unexpectedly, Simmons’ bait that has been bobbing among the rocks just a few feet away from the bank sinks and snags his line. He has a bite.

A small fish rests on a man's hand
Brandon Simmons holds a fish before releasing it back into the Sardis Lake spillway on May 21, 2022. Photo by Lukas Flippo

Simmons reels the fish out of the water and counts the number of fish in his netted bag. Clark smiles at the younger man’s catch, his own lonely bait floating in the open water awaiting a curious fish.

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