Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and recent addition to the Forbes 400, never intended to rule an outdoor sporting gear empire. When he began selling fishing tackle in the back of his father's Brown Derby liquor store, the five-time Bassmaster Classic tournament pro was 23 and subscribed to the philosophy stuck to the bumpers of his customers' trucks: "I'd rather be fishing."
"My intention at first was to avoid work and fish," says Morris, who graduated in 1970 from Drury College with a business degree. "It's just that there weren't many places to get the lures bass anglers wanted."
Even though he's 65 now and that 8-by-8-foot mini shop in the back of his dad's Springfield, Missouri, store has exploded into a kingdom of 58 stores in 35 states, the only thing Morris flaunts now is his Ozark humility. He remains committed to spending just as time with his reel as he does to expanding his business.
"Johnny Morris is the same guy I knew 40 years ago when we were doing fishing tournaments," says Bill Dance, a former professional bass fisherman who hosts nationally televised shows on freshwater and saltwater angling. "He's the most humble guy you could ever meet. He loves his family, he loves his friends, and he loves fishing."
His title at the $3.3 billion Bass Pro is "Chief Fishing Officer." As he likes to say, "Somebody has to test the product."
We recently hooked Johnny Morris into revealing six of his favorite fishing holes, and here they are.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It won't come as a surprise that Johnny's favorite book is 'The Old Man and the Sea,' but unlike Santiago who battled his black marlin off the Straits of Florida, Johnny prefers taking grander marlin (1,000 pounds or more) near Cairns, off the Great Barrier Reef. As he says, "There's no place where your chances are better for taking a grander marlin." The tackle box king has spent eight seasons along the 150-mile stretch between Lizard Island and Cairns, which billfishers consider "Marlin Mecca." The cost depends largely on the port of departure for expeditions. In Cairns, contact Australian Marlin Charters. [australianmarlin.com]
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