If you'd known nothing about the life of Jimmy Johnson, all it took was one look at his funeral service in Ganado, Texas, Saturday to know this: He was a bass fisherman.
Next to Johnson's casket was a photo taken in April showing Johnson holding two largemouth bass on the weigh-in stage at the Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River, where Johnson led going on the final day before finishing second. Atop the casket was friend Craig Crim's replica of an 11.30-pound largemouth bass caught from Falcon Lake.
James "Jimmy" Johnson, 56, was murdered Sunday, Oct. 13, at a Jackson, Miss., motel, where he was preparing to fish the Bassmaster Central Open on Ross Barnett Reservoir.
Many of his friends who attended the service at the Triska Funeral Home in El Campo, Texas, knew Johnson through fishing bass tournaments, including Debra Hengst of San Antonio, who has competed against Johnson in bass tournaments since the late 1990s, including several Central Opens.
"Everybody in south Texas knew Jimmy Johnson," said Hengst, who made a 450-mile round trip Saturday to attend the funeral. "When he was in a tournament, you knew to watch out for him. He was good."
Hengst noted it was especially troubling to Johnson's competitors when they heard Johnson's longtime fishing companion – a dachshund named Jesse – barking. Jesse died earlier this year at the age of 16.
"Every time Jimmy caught a fish, Jesse would just go crazy barking," Hengst recalled. "When you heard that dog barking, you'd just think, 'Uh-oh, Jimmy's caught another one.'"
Johnson was a 17-year member of B.A.S.S. His friend Rick Shock gave the eulogy Sunday. He admittedly "tried to keep it light" on what was otherwise a very dark day for the friends and family of Johnson.
"We had the same birthday (Sept. 1)," said Shock, in recalling that Johnson always called him on that day to point out that Shock was four years older than him .
Mona, Johnson's wife of 37 years, told Victoria, Texas, TV station KAVU Newscenter 25, "Jimmy was my best friend. He was the type of person who would give the shirt off his back for you. He loved life, he loved fishing, he loved his family, he loved his friends."
Mona and Jimmy Johnson had no children, but niece, Fallon Johnson, was like one, according to the KAVU report.
"He was like my dad, really," Johnson said. "I lived with them just about my whole life. He was funny. He was the best person you could've ever met. I never met anyone else like him."
Added neighbor and close friend Adam Galindo, "With Jimmy, fishing came natural to him. He had the talent. You couldn't ask for a better friend. There are no words to describe him."
Seventeen-year-old Shawn Brown has been arrested in Jackson, Miss., and charged with capital murder in Johnson's death. Reportedly, Brown has confessed to Johnson's murder.
Various groups have been designated to collect donations in Johnson's memory, including Anglers for Access. Proceeds will be given to Johnson's wife, Mona, for funeral expenses and immediate needs of the family. Donations can be made on-line or by sending a check made out to Mona Johnson and mailed to: Jimmy Johnson Family Fund, C/O Tim Cook, 319 Pecan Dr. NE, McQueeney, TX 78123.
The family is asking for all donations to be made “In Memory of Jimmy Johnson” to Wounded Warriors Weekend or C.A.S.T. for Kids.
To donate to Wounded Warriors Weekend, contact Ron Kocian at 361-572-0001.
To donate to C.A.S.T. for Kids, contact Art Pasley at 972-913-2933 or 214-704-0085.
A bass tournament will be held in Johnson's memory on Dec. 7 at Coleto Creek Reservoir, Johnson's home lake, where he holds the lake record – a 12 pound, 13-ounce largemouth bass caught March 15. 1997, on a jig. For more information on the tournament, email Tim Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Texas B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Director Tim Cook asked some of the late Jimmy Johnson's friends to write their remembrances of him. The following are their replies to Cook.