Fishing legends bring wisdom to Omaha

Jimmy Houston, who will be at the Omaha Boat, Sports and Travel Show, noted how far professional fishing has come. He earned $5,000 for the first tournament he won and $4,000 for a 51st-place finish earlier this month.


Two of bass fishing's greatest legends will be at the four-day Omaha Boat, Sports and Travel Show that opens Thursday in the CenturyLink Center.

Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin cast the longest of shadows whenever accomplishments of the fishing industry's pioneers are remembered.

Martin is appearing at the show for the second year in a row. His appearance last year prompted producer Dick Johnson to give this year's show a retro look.

When Martin presented seminars here last year, he insisted on having a table set up so he could visit with show attendees when he wasn't speaking. His one-on-one visits drew so much praise that Johnson decided to have this year's entire lineup of outdoor experts forgo seminars and instead chat with folks throughout the show.

Duck blinds and goose pits have long been the stage for artful storytelling as hunters wait for waterfowl to cup their wings. Years ago, the show had an area known as the Goose Pit where seminar speakers sat down and visited with show attendees.

Houston will be in the Goose Pit throughout the show hours Thursday and Friday. Martin will settle in for the Saturday and Sunday sessions.

Others who will answer questions and share stories in the Goose Pit throughout the four days are wildlife biologist, bowhunter and outdoor writer CJ Winand; turkey expert and storyteller deluxe Dick Turpin; shed dog trainer Roger Sigler; catfisherman CatDaddy Shumway; and crappie angler Gene Meester.

Earlier this month, Houston, 71, celebrated his 50th anniversary of fishing in national bass tournaments when he finished 51st in a Walmart FLW tourney on Florida's Lake Okeechobee.

"I fished my first national tournament in 1966 when I was a senior in college," Houston said. "We hope other people reach 50 years of fishing national tournaments, but we're the first to do so."

The television show host with the trademark floppy hair and infectious laugh has always considered tournament competition as merely a component of his far-flung fishing enterprise.

"We don't talk about tournament winnings much," Houston said. "I did win two BASS Angler of the Year titles and fished in 15 or 18 Bassmaster Classics. I've won more than $1 million in tournaments.

"But I've never claimed to be a tournament fisherman. I still don't claim that today. It was just a part of what we were doing. But we had a little success at it, and we're still playing the game today."

The game, as Houston calls it, has advanced to the point where there is plenty of opportunity for young anglers to make a good living in the fishing industry.

"The game wouldn't be what it is today without those early people like Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Forrest Wood," Houston said. "The sport has grown to where we now can tell the young kids that it's great to aspire to become a professional fisherman. I wouldn't have recommended that 10 or 15 years ago. But now they can make a good living at it.

"It's a game where a lot of people are making six-figure incomes, and a handful of people are making seven-figure incomes. We've all been a part of that growth. We're very pleased with that."

Ray Scott ignited the bass tournament industry in 1967 when he began the Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society. But the big bucks became available in 1996 when Irwin Jacobs, who owned several boat companies, started the FLW circuit. The initials are those of Forrest Lee Wood, who founded Ranger Boats in 1968.

The first FLW championship tournament to offer a $1 million first-place prize was captured by Arkansas pro Scott Suggs in 2007.

"I earned $5,000 for the first BASS tournament I ever won," Houston said. "I finished 51st a few weeks ago and won $4,000 — and I was complaining. The reason I was complaining is because I missed 50th place by one ounce — and 50th place got $10,000.

"One of my buddies reminded me that it wasn't all that long ago that $4,000 was a real big check in a tournament. The sport has come a long way."

There are other areas of opportunity in the fishing industry other than tournaments, Houston added.

"The sport has got to the point where it employs thousands and thousands of people," he said. "You don't really have to be a tournament fisherman or a television host to make a living in this sport. I have a lot of friends who are doing promotions and marketing for various companies. It's just like other businesses today. A lot of jobs are created in social media."

Martin, 75, compiled a host of glittering tournament achievements. He qualified for a record 25 Bassmaster Classics and won 19 tournaments — second only to Kevin VanDam's 20 victories.

"I still fish some national tournaments, but not a lot of them," Martin said. "I've retired three different times, so there are some gaps. Jimmy started fishing national tournaments before I did. In fact, he was in the first BASS tournament I ever saw in 1967. I didn't fish in that one."

Although Roland's tournament activity has slowed, he still sets a frantic pace with his NBC Sports television show, personal appearances and wide business interests within the fishing industry.

"I'm blessed with pretty good health," he said. "I work out, and my son (pro angler Scott Martin) calls me the Iron Man of the bass fishing tour. I push myself, and I still have the stamina and physical ability to do it."

Martin figures he will walk more than 100 miles to prepare himself for the upcoming spring turkey season. For him, hunting turkeys is a passion about as strong as fishing.

Still, fishing is the fiber of his life.

"I'm fishing the Southern Opens this year — the ones around Lake Okeechobee," Martin said. "I'm not winning them, but we've had some second-place finishes. I had one giant win on the lake last year. I had five bass that weighed 34.85 pounds — close to a 7-pound average. But that was a local tournament."

Houston stares down old age as well.

"It's to the point where you start to brag about your age," Jimmy said. "But I don't really think about it. I don't think Roland does, either. I still burn daylight to dark every day, all year long. We do 39 television shows a year. I do 100 personal appearances and fish a minimum of four FLW tournaments at the top level every year."

One topic of discussion that will surface when Houston is in the Goose Pit is football.

"I actually have a Nebraska Go Big Red bass hanging in my office," the Oklahoma angler said. "Tom Osborne presented it to me many years ago. It's about a 2 3/4-pound bass mounted on a piece of driftwood. A plaque on the bottom says: 'To Jimmy Houston, Nebraska Go Big Red Bass.'

"I told them that night on stage how much I appreciated that they gave me the Nebraska state-record bass. I thought everybody was going to throw rocks at me. But they know what a big Sooner I am. Oklahoma University is my school."

Houston noted that the OUNU football rivalry will resume again with games in 2021-22 and 2029-30.

"We're getting that rivalry renewed, and that's a good deal," he said. "I'm planning to live until I'm 95, so I've got another 24 years left. Those games aren't too far off." Contact the writer: 402-444-1201, sports@owh.com

OMAHA BOAT, SPORTS AND TRAVEL SHOW

Thursday: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday: 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets:$10; Students (18 and under) $5; children (5 and under) free

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.