If you grew up in the 70's and 80's and enjoy fishing I bet Jimmy Houston played played a big part in educating and entertaining you each week. A professional fisherman, TV celebrity, comedian, philanthropist and all around good guy would be a good start when introducing this legend. Enjoy our conversation with Jimmy Houston, we certainly had fun doing it!
FishAssist: You grew up on Lake Tenkiller in northeast Oklahoma, how often do you get to fish Tenkiller?
Jimmy: Not too much now that we live in southern Oklahoma. We have a 2000-acre ranch in the southern part of the state and don’t get up there much. We still have a home on the lake and fish it when we can. Tenkiller is still a very good lake, I catch a lot of largemouth, spotted bass, Kentucky bass and smallmouth- it’s an easy lake to fish.
FishAssist: Where on Lake Tenkiller would you send someone?
Jimmy: Well you know, the lake is good all over and it depends on the time of the year. This time of year (late winter/early spring) I like the upper 1/3rd of the lake. The water up there has warmed up quite a bit in the last several days. It has warmed up quite a bit this month with a number of days in the 70’s and we actually had an 80-degree day so the fish moved up on the banks. It’s a small lake at only 20,000 acres and narrow, it’s easy to fish.
FishAssist: Outside of Oklahoma what are some of your other favorite lakes?
Jimmy: Well I like lots of them. My motto is “the best place to be is wherever you are right now”.
I like a lot of the Texas lakes, Sam Rayburn & Toledo Bend are still favorite lakes of mine. I like the border lakes that we have down on the Mexico border like Lake Falcon. I fished a lot of the lakes in Mexico; I think I made 3-4 trips to Mexico last year. We are going down March 11th to fish Lake Picachos and Comedero, 3 days on each lake. Guntersville in Alabama is good. Probably one of the top two or three lakes in the country right now is Okeechobee, it’s an awfully good lake. Chichamauga in Chattanooga has turned into something really special. Smith Lake in Alabama is where we have a tournament near the end of March. They’ve introduced blue herring to Smith Lake and the fish have gotten bigger and more plentiful and it’s turned into one of the better lakes to fish. There’s really lots of good lakes to fish. The lakes are better than they’ve ever been in this country.
FishAssist: With your busy schedule do you get a lot of time to pleasure fish with family and friends?
Jimmy: Well we do. I fish about 130 days a year, not nearly as much as some of the tournament guys do. With the television show and the few tournaments we fish, time gets tight. I’ve got a 125-acre lake on my ranch, which is right outside the door. A lot of times we get out there to fish 2-3 hours in the evening and we do that quite a bit.
FishAssist: Were going to have you put on your thinking cap for a minute. What are some of the craziest things that have happened to you on the water?
Jimmy: Well we’ve had a lot of really wild things happen out there, no doubt about it. We found dead bodies in the water over the years. We’ve found submerged vehicles. You just never know what will happen out there.
On my lake at home we have an owl that lays 2 eggs every other year in January. The mama owl puts them up in two different places and up until this year we only knew one tree that she used – the tree is down in the water. I was out there the other day and actually found a tree with two eggs in it so I assume that is where she hides them on the other years. We watch the baby owls grow up every year and that’s a real interesting deal.
One of the neat things about fishing is the reality aspect and one of the biggest things in television now is reality shows. That’s a phenomenon which happened in the past several years. The truth is fishing shows have always been reality shows. I guess Bill Dance, Roland Martin and I have been doing reality shows for 40 years (signature laugh). Before they called them reality shows we called them fishing shows.
FishAssist: Tell us about your tournament activity in the past few years?
Jimmy: In the past few years we fished 6 (FLW Tour) events. Our contract says we will fish at least 4. Actually in 2013, I was only planning on fishing 4 but I had an appearance in Florida so we got to fish Okeechobee. We hadn’t fish that tournament in several years and since we were already there decided to enter. We did pretty well. We hadn’t planned on fishing Smith and did pretty well there also. We got through 3 or 4 tournaments and I was pretty high in the standings so I thought I might as well go ahead and fish them all and try and make the championship. Which we did and I was the oldest guy to ever qualify for the FLW championship.
Last year in 2014 we thought we might as well fish them all again and try to qualify and break the old record. We fished them all but didn’t make the championship. I may or may not try again this year. I will fish the first one in Toho which comes up later this month. We’ll see what happens, I’d like to, but it’s difficult with our schedule. We do over 100 personal appearances a year, fish at least 4 tournaments and do 39 television shows – it’s a heavy schedule. I love the tournaments, love the FLW we just don’t have time to fish quite as many as we’d like.
FishAssist: What’s Changed in tournament fishing since you started your career?
Jimmy: The fishing is obviously better than it was in the earlier days. It better now than it’s ever been. I started fishing tournaments when I was a senior in college in 1966 and most states in the south had 10-15 bass limits in those days. The first B.A.S.S. tournament I fished was in Eufaula Alabama in 1968, and while I didn’t catch a limit that day I caught 11 bass weighing 52.08 ounces. I had three more break my line. Tournament fishing started with a 15 bass limit then changed to 10, went to 7 and now universally the standard is a 5-fish limit.
Obviously our equipment has changed. Everything from the fish hooks to the boats, motors and all of the electronics. When we started fishing we really didn’t have electronics. First thing that we had was dipping our poles in the water to see how deep the water was. Then came the little green box from Lowrance. When that came out I thought I could catch every fish in the lake. I told my dad “I’ll catch every fish out there now” – I didn’t. Then they made one you hook on the boat and I thought I’d catch every fish in the lake – I didn’t. When they made them where we can actually run the boat 20-30mph and be able to read the bottom and the contour, I told my dad for sure now – I didn’t. Now electronics are so amazing and we can certainly see the fish that we are not able to catch (signature laugh).
I use Raymarine electronics now and a lot of the fishermen are switching to Raymarine. They develop such incredible pictures that their units display in bright sunshine. That is very important. A lot of the top fishermen have switched over to Raymarine because of the picture quality and charting technology, as we are constantly looking for better pictures underwater. My new ranger boat that I will fish on this year has 5 locators on it. I can watch three totally separate screens at the front of my boat at all times. It’s amazing the options you have with the new technology to split screens and have multiple views of every thing around you. It’s really kinda incredible where we started out with a little green box that sold for under $100 to having $8000 to 10,000 worth of electronics on the boat. It’s amazing that we still can’t catch all the fish in the lake.
FishAssist: Tell us a little bit about Th3 Legends the company you started with Bill Dance and Roland Martin.
Jimmy: We formed that brand a couple years ago as a licensing company. It all stared when a buddy of mine suggested selling some t-shirts with all three of us on a shirt. I talked with Bill and Roland at one of the iCast shows and we all said why stop at t-shirts, let’s develop a brand and license it calling it Th3 Legends. We have our brand on a lot of different products now and we’re talking with a lot of companies inside and outside the fishing industry about licensing other products under the Th3 Legends brand. We all do our stuff separately and individually like we always have and remain very close friends. We like to select products to license under the new brand and go a little beyond that having a Bill Dance or a Roland Martin or Jimmy Houston signature product under the Th3 legends brand.
It’s been a lot of fun, Roland and I have done a few shows together and Bill & I have done a few shows together over the years. We’ve actually done some shows where all three of us are in the boat at the same time and I gotta tell ya fishing with those two guys is like fishing with two old ladies. They hook each other, they break rods – they’re sort of an accident waiting to happen. Ya know Bill, he can’t get out of his own way most of the time. One time Roland hooked Bill in the head with a big jig and it looked like we struck oil. I just try to stay out of their way and catch fish. We’ve had some wild trips.
FishAssist: Speaking of buddies one of your friends Dave Lefebre who recently provided FishAssist with a tip for our "Pro’s Corner." He provided a tip about fishing out of the back of the boat.
Jimmy (laughing): Wait a minute. He gave you a tip about fishing out of the back of the boat, what does he know about fishing out of the back of the boat. For cryin' out loud, I’m just sayin’ he hasn’t fished in the back since he was 12 years old probably. That’s like getting a tip on how to fly an airplane from Willy Robinson or somebody. I’ve never seen him in the back of the boat and I’ve known him for years. If he gets in my boat he is getting in the back since he’s such an expert (signature laugh).
FishAssist: You’ve done a lot of work for St. Jude and Make a Wish, how important is giving back to charity?
Jimmy: Well it’s a great honor to be able to do that. We’ve been able to raise several million dollars for St. Jude with a tournament we held in Baton Rouge for about 14 or 15 years. We’ve worked over the last 40 years with many Make A Wish & St. Jude kids and other organizations. It’s really an honor to get to do that; It’s an honor when a kid has an opportunity to do something special to them, like fishing, and we get to be a part of that wish.
We stay in touch with a lot of the kids. One of my buddy’s from the program Jacob stays in touch really every week and we’ve fished 3 or 4 times. He loves to fish and hunt so we send pictures back and forth quite a bit. He sent me a picture last night of some photos on his wall of us fishing together and said he wishes he were there. It seems like it was just yesterday but it’s actually been several years since we fished together.
We stay in touch with a lot of the kids; obviously a lot of the kids don’t make it. When we started working St. Jude’s 30 or 40 years ago a very high percentage of those kids with Leukemia didn’t make it. And now they have greatly improved the success rate of kids with Leukemia surviving after being treated at St. Jude. It’s not easy; we have some friends there right now. Even though they make it and survive, get in remission and grow up to be adults, they go through hell. Fortunately all the money people raise has really saved a lot of kids’ lives. It’s really cool when you take a kid with Leukemia fishing when he is 10 or 11 and they send you a picture of them graduating high school or college – it’s pretty cool.
FishAssist: Looking back over your life what would you consider your biggest accomplishment?
Jimmy: There is no doubt that my single biggest accomplishment is I stayed married to the same girl for 51 years (wife Chris sitting next to him). That takes a very patient man to make that happen (laughing).
We’ve raised our kids in church, raised our grand kids in church and I think that the family unit is the most important thing I’ve done in life. I think what ever we’ve accomplished in the fishing world kinda pales in comparison to the family situation.
What we try to accomplish in fishing is to make things better, the waters and fisheries have always been our top agenda. Ram Trucks is a new sponsor and I’ve been talking with them about a program to help fishermen all over the United States. We’re hoping to build something really special to help the young and upcoming pro fishermen who will take the place of the Bill, Roland and Jimmy’s. Although those guys might live forever (laughing). Listen, a lot of people think that Bill and Roland are dinosaurs; they think they’re the oldest guys out there. Roland and Bill will both be 75 this year. Jerry McKinnis, The ESPN Fishing Hole guy is 78 and I visited with him at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield Missouri this week. Jerry makes Bill and Roland feel young.
FishAssist: One last question, your biggest trademark; is it the laugh or kissing fish?
Jimmy: Well I don’t know, I think kissing the fish gets a lot of people talking. We have a lot of people talking about the laugh and more talking about my goofy hair. I thought, as I got older that this hair would all fall out and I could buy me some cool hair, like dredlocks. Fortunately some of it still stayed in. The great thing that’s happening right now – we put a picture up on our Facebook page. We have a great Facebook following and post there a few times a day. We posted a picture of my new Quaker State boat and a lot of people responded saying it looks a lot like Timmy Horton. I think that’s pretty good getting compared to somebody that’s 30 or 35 years old. I can’t wait to see him and tell him that.
Thank's Jimmy for spending some time with FishAssist. He actually told us we are doing a great job with FishAssist - How cool is that! We invite everybody to visit the Jimmy Houston Facebook page at facebook.com/JimmyHoustonOutdoors and visit Jimmy Houston Outdoors at jimmyhouston.com.