Bass fishing legend Jimmy Houston will probably never be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for it, but there’s a good chance he has kissed more fish than anyone on the planet. With his trademark mop of blond hair and infectious laugh, Jimmy has been laying the “smack” down on national television for more than 40 years, including two decades on ESPN’s Jimmy Houston Outdoors.
And he can back up every one of those kisses with some serious fishing credentials, including winning two B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles (1976 and 1986). Jimmy is also a member of just about every fishing hall of fame, including the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame, and more.
Outsider caught up to Jimmy at the World’s Fishing Fair in Springfield, MO, to ask him 5 Questions about Bass Pro Shops founder/CEO Johnny Morris, making family memories on the water, his favorite lure, the one that got away, and more.
1. You’re here today celebrating 50 years of Bass Pro Shops, but you’ve actually known founder/CEO Johnny Morris longer than that?
Jimmy Houston: Johnny fished the B.A.S.S. tournaments, and I didn’t really fish all of the B.A.S.S. tournaments that they had in a year’s time until 1975. But I fished my first one in 1968. And I would fish one or two a year. And Johnny actually was fishing them all. When they started, he qualified for the first five Bassmaster Classics. He’s an exceptional fisherman. People don’t realize. They know he knows how to sell fishing tackle, but he knows how to use it. He really does. We go back to, I don’t know exactly which tournament, but probably ’70, ’71, somewhere right in there.
And it’s amazing that we’ve got all these great Bass Pro Shops stores around the country 50 years later. And to be here with all the people. I was here at the ’88 World’s Fishing Fair also, and this one is even more amazing.
2. You’ve taught multiple generations how to fish on TV. How did you hook this new generation on YouTube?
Jimmy Houston: Oh, it’s amazing. And I told my buddies Bill Dance, Roland Martin, and some of the other guys like Ricky Clunn, Larry Nixon, that as we get older, our audience is going to get older with us and we really won’t have much influence on the younger fishermen coming up. But ironically, it’s been just exactly the opposite of that. One of the things that we’ve always tried to do in television and also on our YouTube channels is just show having fun. We’ve never taken the game too seriously, even though I did fish tournaments for 54 years. It’s a fun game. You go out there to have fun. And you have fun if the fishing’s good. You have fun if the fishing’s bad. You have good if the weather is whatever. Now you have special days where everything’s perfect and the fish bite, but you have fun every single time you go out.
3. What’s one of your favorite fishing memories?
Jimmy Houston: Well, from a tournament standpoint, winning Angler of the Year titles. I’m fortunate enough to win those. And winning Angler of the Year titles is the most important from fishing, but my most precious moments involve my family fishing, not me. My daughter, who’s obviously a grown woman now and has kids and grandkids of her own, but when she was 12 or 13 years old, on the television show, she caught her largest bass ever, which these days we call a PB [personal best]. Back then, we just called it, “My biggest bass ever.” And it was seven pounds and something, and her reaction when she caught it and how excited she got and how frantic she got as a 13-year-old kid about getting that fish and catching it and actually getting it in her hand and holding it up. That’s probably the most dramatic moment in all of my fishing was watching her catch that fish.
4. Every fisherman has the story about the ‘one that got away.’ What’s yours?
Jimmy Houston: Well, you have a lot of fish that you lose in a tournament that you never forget. If you’re up close to the top where you might have a chance to win the tournament, and you lose a fish or you catch a fish that you think, “Well, this fish might’ve won it or might have got me a check.” Sometimes you’re fighting just to get in the top 50 to get a check and make some money. Since we’re right here on Table Rock Lake [in the Missouri Ozarks], I can remember my wife fished the Bass’n Gal tournaments for 21 years. She won several Angler of the Year titles and several Classics. I can remember one Bass’n Gal tournament here that she finished second, which is good.
When you’re second, you’re so close to first, or even third, fourth, fifth, you’re usually one fish away. You’re getting beat usually by one fish. And she had lost a fish about noon that day fishing way up the Kings River. And I remember her telling me, she said, “That fish probably will cost me this tournament.” And sure enough, it did. So the most dramatic fish you lose, if you tournament fish, are always some that cost you. And sometimes it’s just a matter of having a fish that maybe it got stuck in the tongue or something and you have a hard time keeping it alive. The fish dies and you’re penalized eight ounces and those eight ounces keep you from winning or they might keep you from winning a $10,000 check. So those are the losses that really hurt.
5. What’s the one lure that is always in your tackle box?
Jimmy Houston: Spinner baits. We actually brought it back out this year. Luck-E-Strike just put it back on the market. Jimmy Houston Redman Spinner Bait, which is a retro bait. Retro baits, I think, as the time goes on, will become real popular because there’s a lot of old baits that were dynamite. I know that Bill [Dance] caught a fish back when he was just a little bitty kid on a jitterbug. And jitterbugs are still being made. Not a lot of people throw them, but we brought back that Redman Spinner Bait. Can’t hardly build them fast enough. It’s a short armed spinner bait and it’s dynamite. A lot of vibration. And I’ve probably, in my Angler of the Year titles, I’ve probably caught 70 percent of the fish during those years on that Redman Spinner Bait. So I don’t love anything more than I love my wife or I love my God, but that spinner bait’s a real close third.