My crankbait splashed down in front of the windblown point and within a few turns of the reel handle, a largemouth bass smashed the lure. This was one time I was glad to be in the back of a boat because bass pro, Penny Berryman, was on the front deck working the trolling motor hard to handle her 19-foot Nitro bass boat in the 20 mph wind.
When the fish got close, I could see that only one point of the rear treble hook was barely in the fish’s lip. My fault – too much slack line and not enough ‘oomph’ on the hookset. Sure enough, it came off alongside the boat. No big deal, we were finding good numbers of eager bass on this windy spring afternoon.
Berryman was practicing for an upcoming Bass N’ Gals tournament, moving often to establish a pattern that would hold up for the next two days. Living in Little Rock, Ark., she was no stranger to fishing highland reservoirs in the spring. She knew late February into mid-April offered a hot pre-spawn bite. Highland reservoirs like Greers Ferry and Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas or Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee usually come alive in February.
In March, big female bass warm up in lakes like Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock in Missouri, Cumberland in Kentucky, or Grand Lake in Oklahoma. One of the last highland reservoirs for bass to enter the pre-spawn is Mark Twain in Missouri.
Highland reservoirs have unique personalities that create an aquatic habitat different from hill-land, flatland, or marshland flowages of the upper Midwest. They exist at the lower-end of the great glacier where it deposited huge quantities of limestone and the soil is clay colored and sandy, laced with pea gravel and broken chunk rock.
Most of a highland reservoir’s flooded timber consists of cedars and oak, which do not decay as fast as flooded maples and elms in the upper Midwest. In older reservoirs, standing timber has degraded to the point where only the main trunks and major limbs remain. In newer lakes much of the Cedar tree’s small limbs are still intact.
While fishing Lake of the Ozarks with Berryman, it was interesting to watch her methodical approach to locating pre-spawn fish. She fished laydowns and chunk rock banks with a white
Spinnerbait, and worked main lake and secondary points with crankbaits like Bomber’s Model ‘A’.
To catch fish around planted brush near docks, she pitched a Texas rigged Zoom lizard. “I like to dip the tail in dye to show the fish a little something different. I actually fish a Texas or Carolina-rigged lizard all year. I especially like them in the winter around deep brush,” said Berryman.
Page 2 of 2 - She noted each spot we fished with a unique number on her ever-present Fishing HotSpots map (this was before GPS electronics were fully developed) and then used her tape recorder to make verbal notes about the area and tips on how to fish it should she return during the tournament.
“I’ll spend most of each evening going over the maps and notes I’ve recorded, and then prioritize spots for the morning, noon, and afternoon. That way I won’t waste my time planning the day during the tournament,” said Berryman who placed second in Bass N’ Gals Missouri Invitational three days later.
The angling world lost a great ambassador of the sport last September when Berryman succumbed to cancer. She was dedicated to succeeding at whatever endeavor she chose. For instance, Berryman was the First Runner-up in the Miss Kansas competition leading up the Miss USA Pageant. An accomplished water skier, she won Third Place in the Nationals Water Skiing Championship.
After marrying Dick Berryman, the man of her dreams, she went back to her first love, which was fishing. She was a daddy’s girl and he had introduced her to the sport, so it is no surprise that she turned her hobby into an amazing career.
She pioneered and achieved the highest honors in the fishing industry by qualifying over 25 times in the Classic Qualifier of the Women’s Pro tour plus winning the 1985 Bass N’ Gals Tournament of Champions, the 1987 Bass N’ Gals Georgia National Champion, the 1989 Lady Bass Missouri National Champion, the 1992 Bass N’ Gals World “Classic” Champion, and the 1995 Bass N’ Gals U.S. Invitational Champion.
Her greatest accomplishment was winning the Bass N’ Gals “Angler of the Year” award in 1997. In 2004, Berryman was inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors National Hall of Fame. It was no easy road to get there, but she made it, determined to make a friend and leave a footprint to all who wanted to follow.
Penny Paulette (Payne) Berryman will be greatly missed by her family and the angling community.