FRANKFORT – The growth of outdoor television and an expanding library of videos available online means anglers no longer have to wait until weekend mornings to get their fill of fishing shows.
Viewers would tune in each week to ESPN, TBS and The Nashville Network to watch the likes of Jimmy Houston, Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Hank Parker, Jerry McKinnis and others catch big fish, and lots of them. As entertaining as it was, there was educational value. The shows introduced generations of anglers to new equipment and new lures, but also taught them new ways to fish.
“There is some satisfaction in the fact that you’ve been a part of the sport growing to what it is today,” Houston said.
Now in his early 70s, the pro bass angler from Oklahoma, known for his shaggy platinum blond hair, infectious giggle and penchant for planting kisses on fish, remains one of the sport’s best-known ambassadors. He continues to keep a busy schedule fishing selected tournaments, filming his television show and making personal appearances. Last summer, one of those appearances brought him to Kentucky.
Houston is no stranger to the state and raves about the quality of the fishing on Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
“Bass fishing is better right now than it’s ever been in the United States,” he said. “You have a lake right here close by, Kentucky Lake, and its sister lake, Lake Barkley, those are some of the greatest places to fish in the country.”
While in the state for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway – he drove the pace car – Houston filmed a segment fishing with Fox NASCAR in-race analyst Larry McReynolds at one of the ponds on the track’s property. McReynolds had never caught a fish before, Houston said.
“We caught eight or 10 bass and Larry caught two,” he said. “The first one he caught was about 12 inches long and his first question was, ‘Would that win a fishing tournament?’ I told him it depended on the tournament and how big they needed to be. But, no, that probably wouldn’t win any tournament. We still had a lot of fun.”
For anybody trying to teach a new angler to fish, one of the keys to success is keeping it fun and simple.
“Where so many of the dads make the mistake, particularly those who love to bass fish, is they want their kid bass fishing,” Houston said. “They go out there and throw a plastic worm around for two or three hours and don’t get a bite and think they’re going to get a bite on the next cast. A kid does it for about 20 minutes and says, ‘Dad, this isn’t fun.’”
Farm ponds, small lakes and any of the Fishing in Neighborhoods program lakes across the state are great places to take a new angler. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources stocks FINs lakes with rainbow trout and channel catfish. Some also receive stockings of hybrid sunfish.
“Start them out on something where they can catch fish,” Houston said. “Depending on where you are, that might be a lot of different species. It might simply be bluegill in a farm pond.
“A kid will have just as much fun catching bluegill because they can catch them. They don’t really have very long attention spans, so if they go very long without catching a fish they’re going to get bored with it.”
Houston’s daughter used to accompany her parents in the boat while they pre-fished before a tournament. When she got tired of fishing, she always had something else to keep her occupied.
“We’d let her bring all her toys and stuff,” Houston said. “She’d get down on the floor of the boat and make her a little tent by the console. She’d play with her toys, get up and fish for a little bit, and then she’d go back to playing.”
Many of the anglers who grew up watching fishing shows on weekend mornings are finding the roles reversed now. Teaching a new angler to fish helps ensure the future of the sport.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s NASCAR or baseball or football or anything. They’re the future,” Houston said. “So it’s an honor to get to take kids fishing. It really is.”
Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.