This article is from the fall edition of Mobile Baykeeper’s print quarterly, CURRENTS. The magazine is mailed to active members who have given more than $50 in 2023. To get on the magazine’s mailing list, donate here.
by Nick Williams | Photo and video by Caine O'Rear
As the managing editor of Great Days Outdoors magazine and the host of the “Alabama Freshwater Fishing Report” podcast, it’s my job to know lots of good hunters and anglers. It’s my hope that, one day, interviewing all of that talent will rub off and make me somewhat better at hunting and fishing than I am now. But that may take a while. I’ve been told that watching me pitch a bass jig or blow a duck call is similar to watching a kid tie their shoes by themselves for the first time.
As I’ve struggled to better myself, I’ve had to ask, “What makes a good outdoorsman?” Success in the field and on the water, obviously. But is that it? Is it enough to just catch more pounds of fish or put more ducks on a strap than the other guy? I’d argue that no, it isn’t.
A good sportsman, and I mean a really good sportsman, isn’t just somebody who finds success. You have to also enjoy the sport, respect the resource, and be willing to share that joy and respect with others.
I’m blessed to know a great many hunters and anglers who meet those criteria. But if I was forced to pick one individual who best represented those values, it’d be the Delta’s very own resident crappie-fishing expert, Dip McMillian.
Dip has become a regular on the podcast whenever it’s time to find out what crappie, long considered one of the best freshwater food fish, are up to in the Delta. I know when I pick up the phone and call him that I can count on three things: Dip will be happy, Dip will know what the crappie are doing this week, and Dip will have a story to tell about whoever he just took fishing.
You see, Dip utilizes his skills as an angler as a crappie fishing guide, but instead of pocketing the money those skills generate, he devotes them to “Dippi Outdoors,” a nonprofit focused on introducing kids who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to enjoy the outdoors. To raise awareness for this project, he chronicles his days afield on his Youtube channel, OutdoorsWithDippi. Subscribers know that few anglers can match Dip’s ability to locate big crappie, which he jubilantly refers to as “donkeys” on the channel.
Dip is always generous with his time when the topic pertains to hunting and fishing, and he was kind enough to grant me an interview on a particularly hot South Alabama evening.
What was your introduction to the Delta?
I grew up ‘coon hunting and deer dog hunting with my cousins and my friends up there. You know, at eight or nine years old … you either want it or you don’t and I wanted it! It just got me hooked and I’ve stayed hooked ever since. I loved that Delta tremendously as a kid. And when I turned 16 years old and got my old-school Toyota truck, every chance I got I was on the Delta.
What was your first boat?
Right about the time I got my truck I got me a small jon boat, a 10-foot one. And I saved up enough money to put a trolling motor on it. And let me tell you, I used to be up there religiously on French Lake and all the little creeks up around highways 225 and 59. I grew up hunting and fishing out of that little boat.
How did you start “Dippie Outdoors”?
I used to work for the Baldwin County School Board, and these kids … I tell people every day, “The kids need us, man.” And right after I had gotten my new boat, I’d talk about it a little and these kids I worked with would come up to me and say, “I wanna go fishing, Dip!” And I’d tell them, “Well, you can come fishing with me anytime. Just let me talk with your parents first.” So I started taking these kids fishing and they would just have a ball! They didn’t know anything about the Delta. They’d never gotten to experience the outdoors the way that I had. And you could just see that enjoyment on their faces.
I took a good number of kids fishing that way, and eventually one of my good friends, Jake Marcus, he said to me, “You need to make this a real thing and put it up on social media. These kids need this, and you’re the right person to do it.” And he sat down with me and helped me set up “Dippie Outdoors.” And it’s grown to be way more than I ever thought it would be. We do a kid’s crappie tournament every year and it has grown absolutely huge. We’ve been blessed with lots of sponsors and can do lots of really cool prizes and giveaways for these kids now. And I really can’t thank Jake enough for helping me with that.
How do you think the Delta has changed since you yourself were a kid?
It has changed tremendously over the years. When I used to hunt with my cousins up there, you could run dogs all day and never see another hunter. Now, there’s so many folks up there, it’s gotten almost too dangerous to hunt in my mind. I don’t do the deer drives anymore. I stick to running my ‘coon dog and squirrel hunting. There’s just too much pressure [human activity that changes game-animal movement] for me to want to deer hunt it. And that road, you know, sometimes they keep it in good shape, and sometimes not so much.
Have the game animal populations kept up with that increase in pressure, in your mind?
No, I don’t think they have, to tell you the truth. Maybe the ducks have, because they can just fly away! But as the hunting pressure has gone up and as much as the place floods, I don’t think the deer and the hogs and the ‘coons can handle that. We used to go up there and every night, you’d see four or five deer just crossing the road. And it used to be where you could go out with a new puppy and just ride the roads and see a ‘coon run across and jump out and put your pup on a fresh track. But that’s gone, now. It’s not like it used to be at all. And it kind of hurts, to tell you the truth. To see it change that drastically in such a short time.
Do you think we can turn that change around?
That’s a tough question. No, Nick, I don’t know that we can. Between the pressure and the changes to the flood patterns, I just don’t know.
I was surprised to hear such a somber reply to my question. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Dip be hesitant, much less melancholy. His response is sobering given how well he knows the Delta. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I can’t help but feel that Dip and sportsmen like him have to be part of the solution. If people don’t know and appreciate the Delta, they won’t make efforts to save it.