Sometimes the “last cast” can be hard to make.
In every sport and walk of life there are a few individuals destined to be remembered as the greatest of all time. Three of those individuals in the sport of bass fishing are Bill Dance, Hank Parker and Jimmy Houston. We sat down with each of these legends to talk about their careers, experiences and successes. Below is the third and final feature of the Bass Legend stories…
“Last cast right here.”
“Ok, just one more cast.”
“I’m going to pull the trolling motor up and then make one last cast.”
Deciding that your last cast truly was the last cast of the day is part of balancing life’s responsibilities — just like getting back to work, spending time with the family, or getting some sleep. A shot at one more fish to talk about on the ride home, though, is just too good to pass up, most days.
Born in San Marcos, Texas, and raised in Moore, Oklahoma, fishing legend Jimmy Houston has been slinging spinnerbaits in bass tournaments for the better part of six decades — 54 years to be exact. Starting about four years ago, he greeted every year thinking it might be the last year he would fish national tournaments.
That year may finally have arrived: Houston, 75, says he won’t be fishing tournaments in 2020.
With all that he has going on, you can’t blame Houston for wanting to free up a little time. The 1976 and 1986 Bassmaster Angler of the Year has a schedule chock-full of filming days, appearances, and sponsor events.
Jimmy also has a ranch full of grandkids and great-grandkids at all times. Fishing, hunting, and “running around on four-wheelers” are daily activities at his eastern Oklahoma abode.
Spending time away from home and the unavoidable impact it has on tournament performance weighs on a competitive angler like Houston. And missing practice days for appearances has a negative effect on results.
And yet, he’s thankful. Very thankful.
“I could stand here all day and list things I am thankful for,” he said. “I’m thankful to have family involved in this, thankful to have made a living for over 50 years in fishing, thankful for all the fans (who he commonly refers to as “friends’’), thankful for my two Angler of the Year titles, and thankful to have several sponsors who’ve been with us since my first year of national tournaments in1968.”
Mercury is one of those longtime sponsors; in fact, Houston hasn’t run any engine but a Mercury since he started competing as a pro. His first boat, a 14-foot aluminum rig, was powered by a 20hp Merc. He then progressed to a 50hp Mercury, followed by a 100hp Mercury on his first Ranger boat in 1968. As he thought back recently on those early days, he recalled a story about an engine feature that boaters and anglers now take for granted – power trim.
“That 100hp motor was an in-line six, which meant it was six cylinders tall and very narrow, and very heavy,” said Houston. “My dealer tried to sell me a power trim — they were like $125 — as an option. Back then as new features came along, they weren’t standard. If you wanted air conditioning in your car you had to order it that way. Well, basically being a young kid, I didn’t have $125, so we didn’t order it. My dealer said he didn’t think I could lift the motor. My plan was that Chris — Houston’s wife the past 56 years — and I would lift it up when we got into shallow water. It took both of us to raise the motor and then she would put the kickstand up. Then we had to do it all over again when it was time to run the motor. It took both of us to manage it and we did that for two weeks.
“Well, I went back to the dealer and said it was killing us. I said, ‘I’ll pay you back for it when I get the money — $5 or $10 at a time.’ I was working for 75 cents an hour or so back then. I finally got it paid off and we’ve had power trim ever since.”
Chris Houston may not raise and lower the motor by hand anymore, but she has certainly been at Jimmy’s side all 54 years. The seven-time “Bass’n Gal” Angler of the Year and 1987 inductee into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame — the first female to receive that honor — has been his steadfast life and tournament-practice partner.
The FLW Pro Circuit has a new rule limiting practice partners that would disallow Jimmy and Chris from fishing together during practice rounds. The scenario weighed heavily on Houston’s decision to stop fishing after 2019.
“Chris says she will drop me in the water in the morning and help me however she can, but that’s three days of practice and at least two tournament days in a hotel room for her,” said Jimmy. “None of us ever know how many more days we’ll get to fish in our lives. I enjoy going out there for a couple of hours by myself, or with my dog, and with God, but I really like to fish with people. I really like fishing with my wife.”
Houston said the new rule played the biggest role in his decision to not fish competitively in 2020. Other factors included an increased number of personal appearances, a new daily devotional book in the works, and time for filming shows.
To be clear, Houston recently announced he won’t be fishing national tournaments in 2020. But, he says, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s made his “last cast.”
If you find yourself at a fishing show or store opening where Houston is making an appearance, do yourself a favor and introduce yourself. You’ll both be glad you did. The fishing legend has reached a point in life where he is generous with wisdom, fishing stories, and lifetime advice — and it’s all great stuff.
You can also tune in to his YouTube channel where he uploads Sunday afternoon chats from his ranch, highlights from past shows, and recent experiences.
And whenever you think of Jimmy Houston, remember the following verse from Eddie Reasoner’s song “Chunkin’ and Windin’,” which became the theme song for Jimmy’s show long ago. It is as timeless as Jimmy.
Well it’s late in the day and the sun’s gettin’ low,
I caught me a big ‘un but I let ‘em go,
I sure had fun just a watchin’ him stretch my line,
I made me a lifetime memory – out here fishin’ just God ’n me,
You know I think I’ll have to go again sometime.