Jerry's B.A.S.S. Blog

Nov. 29, 2010
Culture of the green machine

I stood in front of the giant fish aquarium at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., the other day and kind of went into a trance watching the fish. You ever been there? It's worth a trip even if you're not there to buy something. Just go to one of the aquariums and watch the fish. Go at feeding time if at all possible and I dare you to not buy something.

Anyway ... I was fixed on a 2-pound bass who was just suspended there, gills barely flexing and his big eyes, or I guess I should say his big eye, was looking right at me. We were in a stare-off, and as this was happening I would like to think that the thoughts going through that bass' mind were grand pertaining to his world and outdoors in general. But truth be told, I'm sure he was only wondering when the next feeding time was.

My thoughts were a little deeper. I was thinking what an incredible green machine he was. How dominating he was in his own environment with his instincts so top level that we have a hard time evaluating them.

Then I thought about something that I'll bet never occurs to most people. This little guy and his family lives under the water and we only see him occasionally, yet he has created a whole culture. A culture that spends hours upon hours trying to figure him out, trying to anticipate his next move in order to win a few battles against this little green fish, from time to time.

Fortunately for him, as smart as we think we are, his instincts or knowledge trumps ours most of the time, but that's another story. I'm thinking about what a bass does for our life.

Did you ever stop to think how much money is spent on travel, equipment, education, etc., that's pointed toward outsmarting this creature? Is there any other example to compare this to? Probably, but I don't know what it is.

Look at that big fully rigged bass boat drifting along the shoreline of your favorite lake. 250-horsepower engine, trolling motor, the best electronics, Power-Poles, livewell and on and on ... You know what that rig cost? I don't need to tell you, and that fish I'm staring at caused it all. "When's the next batch of minnows going to show up?" That's all he's worried about.

Then you look around Bass Pro Shops' awesome facility and you see giant waterfalls, more aquariums, restaurants, outdoor clothing and equipment, displays like you can't imagine. Oh, sure, there's lots of things that have no direct connection to a bass, in fact there's maybe more hunting equipment in sight than fishing gear. But if you cornered Johnny Morris and asked him what really caused this whole phenomenon, I'm betting that he would point at the fish that I'm staring at.

The example of how a bass affects the economy could go on and on and you could add many that I haven't even thought of. But there's another part of this fish that I haven't mentioned ... maybe the most important part. He has brought people together who have formed lifetime friendships. He has caused clubs to form that end up raising money that helps a needy cause, which has nothing to do with bass fishing.

In a couple of months from now, thousands and thousands of people will attend the Bassmaster Classic and put a million dollars into the economy of New Orleans. That will be a drop in the bucket for what they've been through since the Classic was last there, but it's something. And chalk it all up to our friend who has now swam over to the backside of the aquarium and I can't see him as well.

Then there's this one last thing. Something that this bass does for us individually. Something that has no dollar signs connected to it or no organization, or crowds, or websites hanging on.

If you're a bass fisherman, or have ever caught a bass, you know where I'm going when I say that this fish can become a part of your DNA if you don't watch out.

In a conversation with Rick Clunn recently, he said something that will not leave my mind. Something that ends this blog perfectly.

"You work at your job to feed your family. You bass fish to feed your soul."

Wish I had said that.

Nov. 16, 2010
There's still time to back out

Hey, right off the bat let me thank everyone for all the comments regarding the blog about Forrest Wood and me. That was really fun to write.

At times I get to talking about things that happened to me back in the '50s and '60s that have fishing connections, and the people around my place of business are amazed. Someone is always talking about a book, but I think only my relatives and friends would be interested in a book and that would just total about 28 people, if I count cousins. Not only that, but if I wrote a book, someone would start researching and might find out I was lying.

Think I'll just stick to this blog.

Wow, what a whirlwind several days I've had since the B.A.S.S. transaction was completed. My goodness, now we're going to actually have to do what we said we were going to do. That being — make 35 million bass fisherman happier than they've ever been.

In all seriousness, that's what we intend to do. And although it will be hard, it shouldn't be as hard as you think. You see, we don't have to reach all 35 million bass anglers. We have 1/2 million members at B.A.S.S., and that's all we have to worry about. We take care of those members and make them the happiest bass anglers ever, and they'll touch the other 34 1/2 million. Sound silly? It is. But it's the truth.

Now, I'm going to completely switch gears. Trust me, this blog is meant to keep you up to date with what's going on with B.A.S.S., but today it will tell you a little bit about what a goof ball I am — one of your new leaders.

Here we go ...

I love fishing in bass tournaments. I competed in Ray Scott's first 10 or 12 events and then quit in order to make a living for the next 35 years. I started back this past 6 or 8 years with practically zero success, but I try as hard as anyone.

Please remember as you're reading this — I am the guy you have rallied around to take your organization, B.A.S.S., to new heights. You've bet the farm on me, your new leader.

Also remember that I'm 74, have had a heart attack, and have one knee that racquetball has wasted. So, now you know the score.

It's a couple of years ago, end of February on Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas. This lake can be brutal in February/March; and on this morning, the last day of practice before a pretty big event, brutal it was.

The wind has wiped out all the ramps on the south side of the lake which is all right because no one wants to practice on this last day in this kind of weather anyway.

That is, no one but me. I'm going out somewhere and trying something.

I know a little-used ramp way on the north side of the lake that the 20-mph wind can't quite get to. Took me 45 minutes to get to it, but there I was in a cove called Five Fingers standing looking at the ramp. It's 32 degrees, just beginning to get light and sleeting. Yes, I said sleeting. There's no one else at the ramp, of course; in fact, I don't think there's anyone else on the whole lake.

So, I ease my boat down the ramp. And folks, I'm pretty good at backing up the boat and launching — make very few mistakes. Except this time I back a little too far out; the boat comes off the trailer, drifts out about 30 feet from the ramp and hangs up in some brush.

I park my truck and trailer and walk back to the ramp and survey the situation; it's still sleeting.

There sits my boat, hung up in some brush in about 20 feet of water. No one's going to come by in another boat and see my situation, because it's still kind of dark and no one is on the lake.

No one is going to come by to launch at this ramp either because it's 32 degrees and sleeting. I've got to get that boat because I have to figure out how to catch some fish on Sam Rayburn that day and there's only one way to get it and that's to swim out and capture it.

But, if I do that, my clothes will be wet and cold all day. That will never work. So, you guessed it, I took them all off, including my skivvies and socks. There I stood buck naked at the Five Finger boat ramp on Sam Rayburn. Skies just starting to get light ... and did I mention it was sleeting? This is your leader, folks.

Now, under these circumstances, you can't go down to the water's edge, stick your toe in the water and then gradually slip on it. The water temperature is too cold. You'd back out. No, you have to hit the water full bore and never stop until you've reached the boat. That's what I did, and I pulled myself into the boat, started the engine and chugged back to the ramp.

I've thought a lot about that adventure since that time — how dangerous it was and honestly how stupid a move I'd made. But mostly I've thought about a "what if."

What if two old crappie fishermen had at that very moment pulled up to the Five Fingers ramp and walked out to see how bad the wind was. As they stood there in the sleet they saw a pile of clothes on the concrete ramp, a big fancy bass boat and sitting in the boat was a wet, naked man.

Then the one man might have said to the other, "You know that looks like Jerry McKinnis. I grew up watching him on television."

... Yep, that was one of the new leaders of B.A.S.S.

There's still time to back out and run people.

Nov. 2, 2010
Done deal, let's go to work

Time for some new information on this site. I'm getting tired of that same old story up there. In fact, I have an interesting tale to bring you this go around. One that for me, is very timely.

Arkansas has a great Sports Hall of Fame that inducts several new sports figures each year. This is a Sports Hall of Fame not an Outdoor Hall of Fame. Arkansans from Bear Bryant to Brooks Robinson are members; and about 3 years ago, the first representative from the outdoors was honored. It was me. I made it in along with Torii Hunter and Tommy Tuberville.

I'm not saying that to boast. I'm say it because it's a big part of the ironic story I'm leading you into.

Recently it was announced in the Arkansas Democrat that the incoming Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame group included Cliff Lee and Forrest Wood. Yes, our Forrest Wood — Ranger boat founder and legendary angler.

Now we have two outdoor figures as part of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, which is made up primarily of coaches and stick and ball athletes. I'm very proud, not only because of the honor, but because of whom I stand next to. For you to appreciate it, I have to tell you, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story."

I'm betting that most of you aren't 55 years old yet. If I'm right, then I can say that this next thing happened before you were even born and it took place on the fabulous White River in north Arkansas.

You see, living in Missouri, I had saved up $20 and made arrangements for a float trip down the White River to trout fish. I showed up at a river dock just below Bull Shoals Dam and walked down the ramp and into possibly the most important moment of my life.

You see, there was this tall skinny guy waiting at the end of that ramp that asked if I was Jerry. When I answered yes, he said, "Well, good. I'll be your guide today. My name is Forrest Wood."

I'll always wonder what my life would have been like if he had been Bob Fergerson — Joe Whitehall, or whatever. But it was Forrest Wood. And before the trip was over, I had mentally moved to Marion County, Ark. Physically, it took another month.

Fast forward a few years and now, with the help of Forrest and several other Bull Shoals Lake and White River guides, I have become a pretty good guide myself and can now handle myself around the north Arkansas waters.

However, things aren't going so great for either of us financially, and we're sitting under the bridge in Cotter waiting for a pick-up after a float trip.

"Forrest, I'm about to starve to death." I said, "I'm going to move to Little Rock and look into running a boat dock outside of that town." Maybe those weren't the exact words, but it was along those lines. Forrest was wanting a change himself; and having already made some fiberglass river boats, he thought he might take a crack at a bass boat.

I actually hung around for the first dozen or so boats that were built in the back of a gas station in Flippin.

Forrest and I took some of those first boats around the country to show at gatherings. Just think about this ... We were hauling a boat behind our vehicle that no fisherman had ever seen before! We were told by boat dealers that it would never sell.

Fortunately, they were telling that to two of the most bullheaded guys around.

I finally took off for Little Rock and ran right smack dab into the television business. Forrest kept working with fiberglass and ran smack dab into the Ranger Boat business.

Now fast forward to the mid-'90s: My production company is covering a new tournament series for ESPN. Charlie Hoover, who is with Ranger Boats, is talking about a name for this new circuit. We wondered about naming it after Forrest and calling it the FLW tour. We get his approval and away we go.

Folks, I'm laying down some history on you today.

Five years down the line and now Forrest is gone from Ranger but his name stays with the FLW tour and they leave ESPN. This is bad for me because I'm entrenched with ESPN and can't leave with them. It does work out alright for my group as ESPN buys B.A.S.S. and plops the television production right into my lap ... Are you following me folks?

So, that's how things have been for the past 10 years, and lots of people thought that Forrest and I turned into competitors. No way — not in your wildest dreams. We talk, we do things together, we communicate and that thought never ever entered our minds.

As you all surely know, some four or five months ago ESPN talked to me about purchasing B.A.S.S. I agreed to sign papers that said I'd keep quiet until the deal was over. Well, I did a good job and told only one person. I mean, how was I going to get involved in such an undertaking and not talk to Forrest Wood about it.

So, I get him on the phone and say I have something important to run by him and could he meet me for lunch at the café in Flippin. After many years in Little Rock, I built my home back up on the White River and I'm just 15 minutes from Flippin and the café.

Forrest is up for lunch, but suggests we pick up some bread and lunch meat and talk down on the river bank if this is so important. I agree, he picks up the groceries, we meet and he approves.

If you'll remember, the last time I wrote on this blog I told you I wouldn't write anymore until the deal with ESPN/B.A.S.S was completed. Well, thank goodness Forrest Wood approved back at the beginning because after all these months — the deal is complete.

Tomorrow morning, Don Logan, Jim Copeland and Jerry McKinnis will start running B.A.S.S. with all our heart and soul.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame normally draws a tremendous crowd. When Forrest Wood is introduced, I promise you I will cry because I know the "rest of the story."

Now bass fishermen, let's go to work.

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