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.
Tree River, Nunavut
Only four miles from the Arctic Ocean, this ferocious river is a playground for wily arctic char, who like to ignore and taunt the 250 or so fishermen who make it to the ancestral home of the Copper Inuit each year. Morris, an avid conservationist who won the Teddy Roosevelt International Conservation Award, not only approves of the catch-and-release policy (each group is allowed to take only one arctic char and is encouraged to cook it up immediately), but he also likes the fish themselves. Outwitting the splatter-painted 20 pounders takes a good deal of thought and a lot of muscle. The current 32-pound record holder was pulled from this icy river that's more than 1,000 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta.
"The Tree River," says Johnny, "holds the biggest and most aggressive arctic char in the world. Catching one on a fly can be difficult, but it's a very thrilling experience."
Iconic Plummer's Arctic Lodges is the only operation on Tree River and the only way to get there unless you want to take an ATV or boat 85 miles from Kugluktuk, the nearest settlement. [Overnights from $995; plummerslodges.com]
Credit: Wayne Lynch / Getty Images