Jimmy Houston is one of bass fishing's all-time greats and a true ambassador for the sport. The two-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 15-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier has hosted his own television fishing show for 35 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Catch Jimmy Houston Outdoors on the Outdoor Channel.
Originally published October 2011.
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1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in San Marcos, Texas, but raised in Moore, Okla. My friend and country music star Toby Keith jokes that I was the most famous person to graduate from Moore High School until he got there.
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2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
I really don't remember the first time I went fishing or the first fish I caught. My father, grandfathers and uncles were always carrying me fishing. I fished my first bass tournament when I was a senior in college, but you could say that my love affair with competitive fishing began in 1962 when I was in high school and the World Series of Sport Fishing came to Oklahoma. That's when I met Virgil Ward, Glen Andrews and Jim Rogers, who were all big names in bass fishing back then. My dad owned a store on Lake Tenkiller, and I gave those guys some information on how to fish it.
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3. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
I'm not sure I've realized it, yet! I won the Oklahoma State Championship when I was a college senior and finished third in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year rankings in 1975, behind Roland Martin and Bill Dance. That told me I could play at that level, and I remember telling Ray Scott that I would win Angler of the Year in 1976. It became an obsession for me — it was all I thought about — and when I won I didn't care anything about winning it again. When I did win it again in 1986, it was almost by accident. It wasn't a big deal because I had already done it.
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4. What’s the biggest bass you’ve ever caught?
I caught a 13-1 from Lake Hanabanilla in Cuba, but I'm more proud of the fact that I've caught 37 bass over 10 pounds in my life. I never dreamed I'd do that!
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5. What do you love most about bass fishing?
I guess it would have to be the unpredictability. You never know what's going to happen — on each day on the water or even each cast. If you talk to people about what they don't like about their jobs, they'll often tell you that they're predictable and boring. Bass fishing is just the opposite. Maybe that's why so many people love it.
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6. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
That would definitely be the private lake on my ranch in Oklahoma — or Lake Tenkiller, where I grew up. I love fishing at home. Travel is nice and exotic waters can be great, but that kind of fishing is hectic, too. I'd rather be home. I also have a lot of affection for Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Toledo Bend and Lake Guntersville. Falcon Lake and Lake Okeechobee may be the two best lakes in the country right now, and they're a lot of fun.
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7. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
Probably that I've shown people that fishing is fun. My goal in television has been to show people how fun it is to fish. I also love working and fishing with kids, the Make a Wish Foundation and raising money for St. Jude's Children's Hospital — more than $4.2 million, so far.
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8. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I'd like to become the oldest angler ever to qualify for a year-end championship like the Bassmaster Classic or FLW Championship. I'll give FLW a try again next year. The problem has been finding the time to fish enough to make it.
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9. What are we doing right as a sport?
We're bringing people from outside the sport into it. College fishing is great and has a bright future. I see lots of opportunities there. If I could have been on a bass fishing team in college, I might still be there! Our fishing is better than ever, too.
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10. What is the biggest challenge we face as a sport?
It's the same challenge we face as a nation — the economy. Fishing companies are struggling with health care costs and taxes. The challenge is to get advertising dollars to support the sport of competitive fishing. We also need to do something about the cost of fuel.
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11. What is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
I'm not sure there are any misconceptions about me. I'm a pretty open book. But what people don't always understand is that fishing on television is hard work. There are all kinds of constraints and demands, and there's a tremendous amount of expense involved. It weighs on you mentally. I'm not just out there having a good time, even though I love many aspects of it. Personal appearances are work, too, and I make more than a hundred of them a year. People see me laughing and joking and think I'm having a ball — and I enjoy a lot of it — but it's still work and time away from home and family.
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12. If you could do one thing over in your career, what would it be?
No question about this one! I wish I had run for Congress after I graduated from college. If I knew then what I know now, that's exactly what I would have done. I had a political science degree and wanted to go to law school, but I was tired of being broke and needed to make some money, so I got a job. I love politics and would have really enjoyed trying that.
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13. What is your greatest strength as a professional angler?
That would have to be my casting ability. I can still throw a lure really well, and there was a time when I could do it better than anyone. I lost my first casting contest this year to my friend Dave Lefebre. I was just as accurate as he was, but there's a time component, too, and he was faster. I'm also strong with flipping and pitching. I got a reputation early in my career as a spinnerbait fisherman, and I still love throwing a spinnerbait, but the top notch anglers can do it all well. I've won as much money pitching a jig as I have casting a spinnerbait.
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14. What is your greatest weakness as a professional angler?
Preparation. I never really had the time to practice like you need to if you want to do well. I still practice really hard when I have the time — before sunup to after sundown — but I was always busy making a living at a job or working on my television show, so I didn't practice like I needed to. Today, there's the internet and GPS to help save some time, but there's no substitute for time on the water.
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15. What question do you get asked most by fans, and how do you answer it?
How did you start kissing fish? And honestly I don't remember how that came about. I believe it started when we were filming a show for television. The cameraman would usually tell me that we needed a closing fish. We always wanted to leave the audience with a really big fish — end the show with a bang. Of course, they don't always bite when you need them, so when I'd catch one I'd be so excited and so thankful for it that I'd kiss it. It really caught on with the audience, so I kept doing it.
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16. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
No, I'm a man of faith, not a man of superstition. I didn't even know that bananas are supposed to be bad luck in boats until a B.A.S.S. tournament on Lake Champlain in 1997. My wife, Chris, and I were staying in a hotel that had bananas and muffins and things like that available at breakfast. I grabbed a banana and was going to put it in my boat when she stopped me. "Don't you know that's bad luck?" she said. Then she told me to eat it first. I told her, "But that way the banana is still in the boat!" I finished fourth, so eating it first must be OK.
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17. Did your television career have an impact on your tournament fishing?
I've never really thought of myself as a tournament fisherman; I make a living at other things. The television show definitely took time away from my tournament fishing. I never had time to practice. If there was a three-day practice period, I might get out there for one or two days. Sometimes we'd take the camera crew out and shoot a program while I practiced, but that's a tough way to do things because your goals are so different. In practicing, you want to locate good areas and then leave them for competition. In television, you want to catch a bunch of good fish.
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18. What has been the biggest change you’ve seen over the course of your career?
Definitely the equipment. GPS technology has changed fishing and especially tournament fishing in a big way. Rods, reels, lines, lures, boats, motors, hooks, sinkers — they're all better today. When was the last time you sharpened a hook? I don't even carry a hook sharpener any more. Everything has improved so much and bass tournaments are the reason for it. They created a demand for things to be better.
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19. Who or what is the next big thing in bass fishing?
I don't know, but I'll bet it will be something related to technology. The internet has changed the way we prepare to go fishing. GPS has definitely helped. When I started, you had to triangulate your best spots. We're still learning about transmitting sound in the water and the effect it can have on fish. If we could just catch a bass and interview him, we'd have all the answers!
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20. When it’s all over, how do you want the bass fishing world to remember you?
I'd like for people to have respect for what I've done to make our sport better and to know that I never put my personal agenda ahead of the best interests of the sport. Young anglers need to keep that in mind. If you put the future of the sport ahead of everything else, you'll do OK. Put the fish first, the sport first, the profession first, integrity first.