Jerry McKinnis is a prolific American storyteller. He made sure he had one every week for 44 years on his TV show, The Fishin’ Hole. He’s well-known around B.A.S.S. and his production company, JM Associates, to start an address with, “I have a story.”
Now he’s spun his yarns into a book, stitching together stories of his life into an autobiography, Bass Fishing, Brown Dogs & Curveballs.
“That is pretty awesome,” McKinnis said as he held one of the first copies Thursday. “Now that it’s over … that was a heck of a lot of fun.”
An awful lot of work, too, he added. More than two years ago, McKinnis began chronicling his adventures with pen and notebook paper. While at his cabin in northwest Arkansas, he’d write about his youth or his introduction to the nearby White River. Waiting on a plane as he headed off on B.A.S.S. business, he’d pen a piece on Forrest Wood, Bobby Knight or Ted Williams. On his way back, he’d hit on his best fishing outings, ESPN or his dachshunds.
In all, he penned 30 short stories, or chapters, even adding a halftime, but admitted he never really charted an outline, a blueprint for the book.
“I knew what the subject of the next chapter would be,” he said. “Then I’d get done and go to the next subject and start writing about it. Then I’d say the next chapter would be so-and-so.”
In all, he wrote more than 100,000 words. To illustrate his stories, he searched high and low, from old to new. He dug into his albums, took down framed pictures and employed James Overstreet to accumulate the 300 photos used. He then worked closely with designer Tiffany O’Brien on proper placement for a visually pleasing 365 pages.
“The writing of the book was easy compared to what we went through after that,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another book like it. The way it’s laid out and designed, it’s incredible.”
The book’s flow, with stories of the people and remarkable fishing trips interspersed in the chronology of his life’s adventures, are reminiscent of his shows. And, as a reader of his columns commended, he “writes like he talks.”
McKinnis details the important steps in his 78 years, and often uses the line, “Be assured that everything is happening exactly as it’s supposed to.” That came from a Christmas card he kept taped to his datebook, but he questioned it from time to time.
He looked at good times, bad times, the people, places, the baseball diamond, his dachshunds and even divorce. The process was also somewhat cathartic.
“You can go back and see old pictures, and that’s pretty neat,” he said, “but when you start diving in, it’s kind of like starting all over again and feeling some of that again.”
One example was figuring out why he was 10 before he met his grandfather. He came to love going to his cabin with a creek behind it – it’s where he attained the fishing bug – but only adult introspection unfolded nuances of his father.
“I know now that my dad was kind of ashamed,” McKinnis said. “This was as far in the boonies as you can be. My dad was embarrassed that his mom and dad didn’t live together. He was so quiet and shy that he didn’t sit and explain that to me. So he just didn’t take me there for years.
“If I hadn’t written this, I wouldn’t even think about that. But I went back and went through that again and understood. I got to go back through it as an adult who can understand all that stuff.”
Other inspections into the past produced similar thoughts, and one – from his baseball days in the 1950s – remains upsetting to him.
“I was just almost told you can’t associate with that guy over there because he was black,” he said of minor league teammate Chico “Flash” Gordon. “He was Cuban. God, he was the neatest guy. I loved that guy. When we got off the bus, I’d go back and eat with him in the kitchen, because that’s the only place he could eat. He couldn’t go in. Boy, I had no idea about that. I didn’t know anything about segregation.”
Several times during the project, McKinnis said he enjoyed the process of producing the book. It was a new, exciting endeavor. Humbly, he often downplayed any public interest, figuring it would simply be great for his children and grandchildren to understand him better.
There were even times that he wasn’t sure he would get it to print. Don Logan, who purchased B.A.S.S. in 2011 with McKinnis and Jim Copeland, pushed him forward with a great compliment.
“Six months ago, Don Logan wanted to read it. He wanted to read the whole book. That’s what he does. He took the book on a Friday; he called me like Tuesday and said I read the book. He reads a book every weekend.
“He said, ‘I got my pencil and paper with notes and I started reading it, and I was going to really critique it. I realize you can’t change this. Don’t change a thing.’ That was at a point where I was saying, am I really going to print?”
“It’s one of the best compliments I got on this.”
The book is now available at www.jerrysbook.com.Go there for a special preview of the book, and links to purchase information and its Facebook page. McKinnis is also sending the DVD of his final The Fishin’ Hole show to the first 500 who order.
In the office Thursday, McKinnis signed several copies as the crew who helped on the project gave it a look, congratulated him and posed for pictures. He said he planned to give the first book to longtime outdoors TV host Tommy Sanders. But he changed his mind, instead sending “No. 1/500” with Sanders to give to his brother, who is in Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Steve Bowman, who grew up on McKinnis' shows and now has worked at JM for 15 years, told him over and over he should write a book. He knew it would be entertaining, but also found it enlightening.
“This book proved to me there is so much more to Jerry McKinnis than any one person can know. In its pages, his masterful skill at story telling shines through like a beacon,” he wrote for the jacket cover. “And once again it was easy to sink my heart and imagination into his words: This time on paper, instead of film.”