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.
Tuna Alley, the Bahamas
Although the days of massive tribes of bluefin tuna migrating north are receding as fast as the Devon Ice Cap, Johnny still fingered Bimini's Tuna Alley, a 15-mile strip of white sand starting west of Gun Cay, for producing as he says, "some of the most exciting fishing in the world. To be connected to one of these powerful fish is an unmatched experience in angling." In fact, it was in Alice Town where Johnny tied the knot (the wedding variety) at the hand of the late scripture-quoting bishop Bonefish Willie Duncombe, a fishing buddy of Ernest Hemingway.
Bimini, a mere 50 miles from the Florida coast, is known to many as "the fishing capital of the world" and hosts dozens of tournaments every year. But it's May and June when anglers, hoping to relive the area's glory days, come to tangle with torpedo-shaped bluefins that can weigh as much as 900 pounds and travel up to 43 miles per hour. It's like catching a BMW. [Offshore charters from $1,800; biggameclubbimini.com]
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