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 [email protected].
Friends remember Jimmy Johnson
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.
From Craig Crim:
You were asking about Jimmy. I can't remember when I first got to be friends with him. When he first moved to the area it was, ‘Who is this guy with the weenie dog?’
He fished with his dad at that time and was starting to get into our back pockets in the local tournaments. Over time we became acquainted and became friends running in a group to the different tournaments around South Texas.
In the last six or seven years, our relationship grew from friends to more like brothers. I have traveled from South Texas to East Texas to Louisiana to Oklahoma with him. Jimmy was a loving husband, son and brother… and loyal friend. He had a highly competitive personality but at the same time he would go out of the way to help anyone, giving advice in tournaments when most wouldn't.
He never asked for recognition for the things he did and, as much as I traveled and fished with him, I didn't know the extent he was involved in Casting for Kids and The Wounded Warriors Project. I do remember him talking with pride about some young person he helped get started but not asking for any credit.
When you asked about any stories we had, I think you guessed that we could come up with enough that it would take a couple of months cover-to-cover in Bassmaster Magazine to tell them all, and then as we sat around together we would think of another one. I think that the Jimmy Johnson stories will be told and retold a thousand times as long as there are a couple of us left who were lucky enough be his friend.
Which story to tell? I don't know, so I'll tell you about how much of a competitor he was. The last couple of years his legs had been bothering him with a circulation problem. He kept pushing through it and fishing when the rest of us would have put our boats on the trailer. Mona and I kept at him to take care of it, but there was always something he wanted to fish before he would get it fixed.
Finally, he decided it was affecting his fishing and got something done. Once he got it done, he started fishing and again it was Jimmy back up finishing in the money. I think if he had been able to continue he could have gone on to possibly reach his goal of winning a Central Open and making it to the Classic, which was one of his goals to say he had got to the big show, maybe not win but to have been there. He had more commitment and drive than anyone I've ever known, and as far as winning, we'll never know now. But I remember him telling me as we were going to another tournament that he thought he was back.
For any more stories, you will have be there when all of us get together and lean up against the boat, red Solo Cup in hand and start remembering the days our friend was there with us. For now, I will tuck those stories I have in that corner of my heart where you put memories of friends like Jimmy.
For now, I will remain here and finish the time that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives me and remember the days when Jimmy would call and say there is a tournament somewhere and do I want to go (never was smart enough to say no), and I'll look forward to the day when I walk down to the ramp and there is Jimmy and his dog Jesse waiting. Jimmy will look up and say, ‘I ain't scared, you scared?’
From Rick Shock:
Tim, this is from the heart. I hope this is what you are looking for. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to help us with the loss of a friend.
Jimmy Johnson was "The Texas Legend" – a legendary bass fisherman in Texas. I believe he was born with a fishing rod in his hands. As early as three years old, he was fishing with his dad out of an aluminum boat with a 6-hp motor and a Zebco 33. I recall him telling me that those were some of the best times of his life.
He was a great mentor for both kids and adults. He loved participating in the B.A.S.S. CastingKids competitions and was always eager to pass on his skills to both kids and adults. He was a big supporter of the Wounded Warriors events and got great satisfaction in giving something back to these men and women that gave so much for our freedom.
His accomplishments in bass fishing are too many to mention but I think one of his best memories was leading the Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River in Shreveport and also being a two-time Texas B.A.S.S. Nation state champion.
He also loved supporting his sponsors – Boerne Marine, a Skeeter Boats dealer in Boerne, Texas, and Waterloo Rods, a custom rod company in Victoria, Texas. He had such a deep appreciation and admiration for the two men that sponsored him – Ken Parker of Boerne Marine and Jimmy Burns at Waterloo. These guys were his heroes. He was just so awed that they would support him in his fishing.
For the young man that took his life, I will pray for your soul. You took a good man from us. However, I pray that you repent from your sin to God so that one day you can apologize to Jimmy. I know Jimmy would be forgiving. That was the kind of man he was.
—Rick Shock, Victoria, Texas
From Larry Nors:
What can be said about Jimmy that has not already been said? Jimmy was the friend of a lifetime. No matter what happened or what I needed, I could always rely on Jimmy to be there – anytime of day or night.
It's been said that "a person will only have five close friends throughout his/her lifetime that they can always count on through thick and thin." Unfortunately, I have lost one of those rare friends that cannot be replaced. I have not lost just a friend but a brother, father, neighbor, fishing buddy, fishing competitor and a mentor. He was all those to me wrapped up in one unforgettable man.
I have a lot of great memories of Jimmy over the past few years. We were getting ready to add more - we were going to fish the Bassmaster Central Opens next year. I had been undecided as to whether or not I was going to fish them until the Saturday prior to his passing. I sent Jimmy a text message while he was driving to Mississippi and let him know that I had decided to fish the Opens next year.
Mona said Jimmy was ecstatic over the news. She said while Jimmy was driving that he kept looking at her and then back at the road until finally she asked him, ‘What are you thinking about?’
He told Mona that he enjoyed her company at the Opens, and not to take it personally, but, ‘Me, PaPa (Craig Crim) and Larry (Nors) are going to have a blast next year!’
Then, after hearing the news about Jimmy, I decided not to fish the Opens next year. I just didn't have the desire to do it without him. But after hearing what Mona told me, I knew I couldn't let it go.
I will not only be fishing for myself but for Jimmy. He will be on my mind and in my heart every time I pick up a fishing rod. This is one of the things that I admired about Jimmy; he would get me so excited and pumped up to go fishing.
Again, I will miss my friend. I will miss talking to him about life in general, not just fishing.
—Larry Nors, Ganado, Texas