While addressing company meetings and get-togethers, Jerry McKinnis would almost always say, “I want to tell you a little story …”
McKinnis, who died early Sunday morning at 82, put life into storytelling, and his life was quite a story. Growing up in St. Louis, his infatuation with playing baseball was replaced with fishing, and he worked to become one of the most influential people in the outdoor fishing industry.
“It’s a sad day,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “Jerry packed a lot in those 82 years, that’s for sure. I was joking, it was just like Jerry to get an extra hour. He was always getting the most out of a day. To the bitter end, he got that extra hour in last night. He’ll be missed, for sure.”
For 44 years, McKinnis told homespun stories of people and places on his popular show, The Fishin’ Hole, ESPN’s longest running behind SportsCenter. His connections with the network and meticulous broadcast standards led him to become an icon in outdoors TV production and eventually a part-owner of B.A.S.S., where he worked on his dream of escalating the sport and the anglers.
“B.A.S.S., the organization, was important to him, and the anglers were really important to him,” his son, Mike McKinnis said. “I was in a lot of meetings with Dad, where tough decisions were being made. You’re trying to make good decisions for the business, but he always had the anglers at the top of the list.
“I’m not sure people know how much he cared for the anglers and how much he wanted them to have professional careers like other sports.”
McKinnis’ ideas for competitive fishing on TV helped launch the FLW Tour, and in 2001 his JM Associates in Little Rock took over production of The Bassmasters on ESPN. Raising pro fishing in the national conscience was his greatest hope.
“Every time he talked about anglers, even in FLW days, it was ‘What can we do to elevate these guys? What can we do to make them household names?’ That’s what he wanted,” TV host Tommy Sanders said. “He thought fishing could be one of the top sports, and that anglers could be one of the idols of the youth that great football and baseball players had been.”