Bass Pro Shops Celebrates 50th Anniversary With Star-Studded World’s Fishing Fair

by Jim Casey
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Bass Pro Shops’ founder/CEO Johnny Morris started selling fishing tackle in his father’s Brown Derby Liquor Store in Springfield, Mo., in 1972. Of course, Johnny’s fishing tale didn’t end there. Bass Pro Shops now boasts more than 170 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, with more than 40,000 employees.

But it all started 50 years ago because fishing fanatic Johnny, who qualified for five BassMaster Classics during his pro angling days, couldn’t find the lures he wanted in Springfield. So he got a loan for $10,000—cosigned by his father, John A. Morris—and he drove to Okiebug, a wholesale fishing tackle store in Tulsa, Okla. Johnny spent every penny and packed a U-Haul full of fishing lures. He began selling them back at his father’s liquor store. The rest, as they say, is history.

In addition to his Bass Pro Shops success story, Johnny’s accomplishments include building the world-class wilderness resort Big Cedar Lodge (with several Nature’s Finest golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, and more), Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, the Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium, and more.

World’s Fishing Fair

Johnny celebrated all things Bass Pro Shops during the World’s Fishing Fair at his national headquarters in Springfield on March 30-April 3. The one-of-a-kind showcase featured seminars, meet-and-greets, concerts and more from stars across the worlds of fishing, hunting, conservation, country music, and NASCAR. And Outsider was there to cover the golden anniversary. We sat down for interviews with Johnny Morris, fishing legends Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and Roland Martin, as well as NASCAR’s Richard Childress, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr., Noah Gragson, and more.

The best part of the five-day event? 50 percent of the proceeds from admission tickets support conservation. For the past decade, Bass Pro Shops has invested an average of 10 percent of annual earnings to support conservation.

Outsider’s Jim Casey chats with fishing legend Bill Dance (left) and Bass Pro Shops founder/CEO Johnny Morris (right).

“I’m very proud of our conservation,” says Johnny Morris to Outsider. “I think all fishermen, anglers, and hunters should be very proud of their role in conservation. Back in the days of Teddy Roosevelt and James Audubon, they were hunters and anglers. And by spending time in those pursuits, their passions, they became more connected to the nature and understanding habitat and the importance of conservation. And so, I look at our company and how we’ve been blessed from this.”

“So it’s our obligation. If we don’t give back, if we don’t spend a good part of our day trying to—part of it’s business, it’s commercial—but more than that it’s for people in our company and for myself. It’s what we love and what we’ve been blessed to do. I was brought up to have these opportunities and I’ve seen them get better in my lifetime. Like my parents did, and what can we pass on to our kids and our grandkids. And conservation is pretty much everything.”

More From Bass Pro Shops

Stay tuned to Outsider in the coming weeks for more great content from our visit to Bass Pro Shops. Upcoming interviews include: Johnny Morris, Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin, Ke’mari and Velt Cooper, Richard Childress, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr., Noah Gragson, and more.

Outsider’s Jim Casey interviews NASCAR’s Austin Dillon and Richard Childress (left) and Noah Gragson (right).
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