The fishing industry lost a giant when Jerry McKinnis, television host, producer and just a nice guy, died in early November at the age of 82.
Most of you readers over the age of 40 will likely remember “The Fishin’ Hole,” which had a 44-year run, syndicated to 125 TV stations across North America, and became the first outdoor show on the new ESPN network. It ended up as the second longest running show on ESPN, beaten only by SportsCenter.
When McKinnis passed, I read various tributes about what a great guy he was, how he demanded perfection in himself, his team and his shows (he produced many others), and one article mentioned he’d written a memoir called “Bass Fishing, Brown Dogs and Curveballs.” On a whim, I ordered a copy via Amazon for $20. It was money well spent. I got it a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased to see it’s a big hardback book suitable for a coffee table, full of pictures and anecdotes about different friends and incidents in a very full life of fishing—and lots of hard, hard work. McKinnis started writing it in 2013 when he was 76 years old and finished it about a year later.
If you remember how McKinnis narrated “The Fishin’ Hole” in his folksy, down-to earth manner, you’ll hear his voice as you read this book. He wrote it in the same way he talked.
If you think that the guys who produce fishing shows have a life of ease, read this book. You’ll soon realize just how much work goes in to putting a fishing show together.
McKinnis walks us through the decades, starting in the 1940s, when he was a child living in St. Louis and nuts about fishing. Even though his bus mechanic father was not a big fisherman, he took Jerry frequently. After his dad died at age 75 with Jerry’s company well established, McKinnis ended every show with these words written across the screen: “Dedicated to Dad. He always had time to take me fishing.”
Bass fishing plays a heavy role in the book and in McKinnis’s life. He ended up part owner of the Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society (BASS), which is the parent company of many tournaments, publisher of “Bassmaster Magazine” and “The Bassmasters” TV show. Brown dogs were a big part of his life as in his 40s, his sister gave him a dachshund named Norman—again, folks who watched the show will remember part of the intro was the wiener dog Norman diving off a bank 4 or 5 feet above the water of a pond where McKinnis and a friend are fishing.
Curveballs is part of the title because McKinnis was as passionate about baseball as he was about fishing. After high school he played in the minor leagues as a pitcher for almost two years before asking to be released.
He offers anecdotes about all three topics, mostly about fishing and the guests he had on his show. For instance, starting in 1982, then-Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight became a frequent guest. A recently hired cameraman, a young guy named Mark DeLinde set up a shot that would be terrific if coach Knight could hook a smallmouth and bring it by a certain rock. Knight hooked a fish on his fly, but it jumped off.
McKinnis writes: “DeLinde than had the nerve to say, ‘Holy cow coach. I worked 15 minutes to get ready for that shot. Eddie Sutton (then the head basketball coach at Kentucky) would have caught that fish.’
“Well, coach Knight picked a paddle up and it looked like a windmill blade as it sailed over Mark’s head and he shouted, ‘You little SOB, you haven’t worked for Jerry long enough to talk to me like that.’”
I think the people who will like this book the best are themselves older bass anglers who can remember fishing before electronics, sleek bass boats and other modern marvels. McKinnis takes us back to that simpler time and details many of the events that he experienced that helped bring the sport to where it is today.
The book’s subtitle is “The Adventure of Jerry McKinnis.” Note the singular “adventure,” not “adventures.” McKinnis breaks down the small events in his life that led him to become so successful in the fishing industry, occasionally stating something he truly believed: “Be assured that everything is happening exactly as it’s supposed to.”
This is an entertaining and inspirational book to read on a cold winter day.