Bassmaster Magazine, volume one, issue one—his face was on it. The sheepish grin peeking out of from under an orange-brimmed hat belonged to Jimmy Holt. Presumably, he’d hoisted the three-fish stringer of bass resting in his hands just moments earlier, fishing through the rain on some stormy spring day in 1968.
When anglers received their very first copy of Bassmaster Magazine that year, Otis Redding would have been topping their radio charts, and Jimmy Holt would have been the face of their sport.
Before Bobby Murray or Don Butler, Bill Dance or Roland Martin, Rick Clunn or Hank Parker, and Denny Brauer or Kevin VanDam, the bass fishing world saw Jimmy Holt, the fishing editor at the Nashville Tennesseean.
Holt passed away Wednesday evening due to complications from cancer. He was 86 years old.
Though Holt’s B.A.S.S. career lasted only through its first ever tournament, he leaves behind a Hall of Fame career as an outdoor writer, having shared a 2002 induction to the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame with Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Earl Bentz, and Charlie Brewer.
More than a one hit wonder, Holt chose to share his love of fishing by bringing the world on the water to those who were off of it. In 1952, he began a career at the Tennesseean that saw him rise from the ranks of its photographers to become the outdoor editor in 1972. By that time, he’d been hosting a Nashville-area outdoors show on WDCN -TV for three years. The Tennessean Outdoorsman Show was so popular that it once hosted President Jimmy Carter as a guest, and its run on public television lasted from 1969 to 2001.
Holt remained the face of it for three decades.
“When I got here 37 years ago, he was one of the guys that was already doing a lot of TV,” says Tennessee’s Wild Side Radio co-host Joey Monteleone. “Jimmy’s show was for the everyday angler. It was like sitting on a front porch listening to a storyteller, and that had a global appeal for lot of people. He had a way about him that made everyone feel comfortable. It was a southern charm as much as anything.”
Holt’s charm won the hearts of viewers across the Southeast, and eventually the votes of fellow citizens in Nashville, who elected him as a Metro councilman in 1994. In the mid-90’s, Holt—already a survivor of a battle with lung cancer a decade prior—co-sponsored a bill to restrict smoking in all city buildings.
“Jimmy never met a stranger,” remembers long-time friend a fishing legend Bill Dance. “I don’t care who you are, when you walked away from Jimmy, you had a smile on your face.”
“Jimmy was a tremendous fisherman,” Dance recalls. “I remember he participated in that very first tournament we had on Beaver Lake, and I believe he weighed in the smallest stringer of bass that’s ever been weighed at a B.A.S.S. tournament, but he really was an excellent, excellent fisherman. He was the who’s who of fishing at Dale Hollow, Old Hickory, Center Hill and all of the lakes around Nashville.”
Dance recalls seeing Holt on the cover of the very first Bassmaster and realizing that bass fishermen’s dreams were starting to come true. “I thought it was a fantastic thing,” he adds. “It was Ray [Scott’s] dream to promote the tournaments and to promote our sport, and Jimmy was behind it 100-percent. Jimmy helped Ray a lot back in those early days. We were only as good as the writers that helped support us.”
As for Holt’s continued legacy in the outdoors? The man with his own orange-brimmed hat says Holt’s impact will continue to be felt in fishing.
“When you come to Nashville and ask for Jimmy Holt, you are going to miss him,” he says. “I know I’m going to miss him, but as long as you call his name, he’ll always be remembered.”