- Associated Press - Monday, November 3, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - “Some people might rather be in a night club or a restaurant,” said the legendary Jimmy Houston recently as he cast a spinnerbait for probably the millionth time or more in his life. “But if you like to do what we like to do, this is about as near to heaven as you can get.”

Houston was making the final cast of the day on his Twin Eagles Lake in the Arbuckle Mountains, a place the most popular fisherman on the planet says he would rather be than anywhere else, and Houston has fished some of the best waters in the world.

The lake is part of Houston’s beautiful 2,000-acre Twin Eagles Ranch that straddles Murray and Carter counties in southern Oklahoma. It has been home for Jimmy and his wife, Chris, for the past 11 years. They share the ranch with a partner and have entertained numerous friends, family and business associates there over the years.

His trio of fishing guests included a lucky outdoors writer from Oklahoma City. We fished from morning until nightfall, catching crappie and bass, even though Houston had a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call the next day.

He had to catch a flight to Washington, where he was scheduled to be at the opening of a new Bass Pro Shops store in Tacoma.

The lines are long at such openings to get an autograph from Houston, an autograph that he jokes is worth nothing because he signs so many.

Houston turned 70 in July with no plans to retire.

“I have no desire to,” he said. “I just want to catch more big bass and hunt more big deer and hear more turkeys gobble.”

He still fishes competitively on the FLW Tour and does more personal appearances than any angler in the country. The Jimmy Houston brand is as strong as ever.

Among the many irons Houston has in the fire is teaming with other legendary anglers Bill Dance and Roland Martin on a “3 Legends” line of products. There are even discussions about cartoons featuring the anglers, even one where they provide the voices for different critters.

Houston grew up in Moore but moved in his senior year of high school to Lake Tenkiller, where his parents bought a resort.

His college choice became nearby Northeastern Oklahoma State University in Tahlequah because he wanted to fish on Lake Tenkiller every day.

He won his first professional tournament in 1966 and twice won the B.AS.S. Angler of the Year crown. His success as a tournament angler earned him a television show. His bubbling personality was perfect for television, and he became a celebrity.

“Jimmy Houston Outdoors” is watched weekly by more than 2 million viewers.

During the editing of the pilot show, Chris had warned her husband that if he didn’t change his laugh he would be run off of television the first week. He’s been on television for 38 years.

The audience loved Houston’s infectious laugh, his shaggy blond hair and the Moe Howard haircut.

“Jimmy has got the best looking head of hair of anybody I know,” said former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer, who has been Houston’s friend and fishing buddy for more than 40 years.

Of course, Houston’s biggest trademark became kissing fish. He would pucker up with the big bass that he caught before releasing them.

Houston doesn’t remember why he kissed that first fish for the camera, but he receives photographs from fans all over the world who imitate his bass smooching.

“He is a showman,” Switzer said.

Switzer became friends with Houston while filming a fishing show on Lake Thunderbird in the 1970s.

“He is the No. 1 guy in his field,” Switzer said. “When people think of big-time bass fishermen, Jimmy Houston is the guy that comes to my mind and most people’s in the country.”

Switzer said Houston’s staying power in the fishing industry is not only because he can catch ‘em, but because he is the same person on and off the camera.

“He is talking all the time,” Switzer said. “You cannot shut him up. He is what he is. He is just a country boy. He is fun to be with. You never have a bad day with Jimmy.”

Houston can always put a smile on a kid’s face, Switzer said. Houston has helped raise millions for St. Jude’s Hospital, and both men are involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and other charities. Switzer said Houston’s generosity is unmatched.

“If a kid makes a wish and wants to go fishing, Jimmy says ‘Put me at the top of the list and I will make it happen,’” Switzer said. “Jimmy has given as much as anybody I know.”

After our day on the lake ended, Houston kept apologizing for the poor fishing and invited us to return another time when the fishing was better.

We had only caught 65 fish, which I guess by the Jimmy Houston standard, is a bad day at the office.

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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