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7/23/97 Jimmy Houston puts fame to use in fishing for men

LECOMPTE, La. (BP)–Jimmy Houston makes a mighty good living fishing and talking about it. Even so, he often turns the subject to the one who called him to be a fisher of men.
Houston has parlayed his fishing skills, gift of gab and showmanship into a one-man industry. His popular national outdoor shows have aired 20 straight years. The 53-year-old Okie presently has two television shows bearing his name, one on ESPN, the other on ESPN II. He recently authored what soon became the best-selling fishing book in history, “I Caught Me A Biggun, and Then I Let Him Go.” He writes monthly columns for fishing magazines, has a boat marina, a travel agency, a TV production company, a sports shop, a real estate development company and … you get the idea.
On this summer evening, however, he is casting a line to sinners at a fishers’ supper at First Baptist Church, Lecompte, La. While many non-fishermen may not know his name, among fishing enthusiasts, Houston is a superstar. And, in the heart of Louisiana, “Sportsman’s Paradise,” fishing is mighty big.
Before and during the supper, Houston signed fishing caps and T-shirts and posed for individual photographs with half the audience. The other half forgot their cameras. After all kinds of fishing gear have been given as door prizes, he begins fielding questions from audience members who look exactly like what they are — more interested in fishing than church. That is exactly the way it is meant to be. Houston has come to town to parlay his standing as a bass fishing superstar into an opportunity to tell people who would not normally set foot in a regular church service about Christ. The meeting is in the church’s fellowship hall where participants chow down on barbecue chicken plates with all the trimmings. About 250 tickets to the event have been sold for five bucks each.
“How many fish have you kissed?” one man blurts out when Houston opens the floor for questions. Houston, whose trademark is kissing just-caught large fish before releasing them back into the water, answers, “A whole lot of ’em. Have you tried it? It ain’t bad, and the fish like it, too. I can tell because when I kiss ’em, they wag their tails.”
Rowdy laughter follows, then Houston fields questions about his favorite fish to catch (peacock bass in South America), the largest largemouth bass he has caught (13 pounds, 1 ounce), when he started fishing (cannot remember when he did not) and other questions he probably is asked at all such shows. By this time, Houston has established a good-ol’-boy rapport with the audience, because he has become one of them.
Then, quickly, as though he cannot wait to talk about the main reason for being here, Houston starts telling the audience, at least one-third of whom are not churchgoers, how all he has and all he has accomplished “is because of God’s plan for my life.”
“Nowadays, we’ve got fishing tournaments where first prize is $200,000,” he recounts. “I have people give me a new Chevy Suburban and a $30,000 boat. I couldn’t imagine this happening, but God knew. I can remember the first time someone walked up to me at a tournament and gave me a handful of plastic worms to fish with — free. I thought, ‘Wow! This is great.’ I can just hear God say, ‘You think that’s something, wait until you see what I have for you.'”
Houston says it all started as a 12-year-old boy when he attended a revival and heard sermons on hell.
“Church was all I knew. I was in R.A.s (Royal Ambassadors), went to Falls Creek, our state camp. But the preacher at this revival talked a lot about hell and gave vivid descriptions of it. We can’t comprehend heaven, but we can comprehend hell. I accepted Christ that night. On that night, God planned all of these blessings for me.
“I have been married 34 years to Chris, a wonderful lady. I have a wonderful family that is such a blessing. I have daily blessings. God planned it all for me when I accepted him that night as a 12-year-old.”
Houston uses rapid-fire delivery to share how much Christ and church life in First Southern Baptist Church, Kees, Okla., where he is a deacon, mean to him. He even thrills the handful of ministers in the crowd when he hits a lick for tithing, assuring everyone tithing is simple: “You give God the first 10 percent right off the top, before taxes or anything else.”
His desire to tell people about Christ and the joy of Christian living, especially in settings like this, has brought him from tiny Cookston in eastern Oklahoma, on Lake Tenkiller, at his own expense, for no honorarium. In conversation before his speech, he talks about the huge kids’ project in two days that he helps sponsor and direct at his marina.
“We are having a ‘Kids’ Day’ Saturday and we have 541 kids registered,” he explains. “We use Berkley’s Pathway to Fishing and set up different stations where we teach different fishing skills. At one of the stations, we give them the plan of salvation. We have it in the registration form the parents have to sign that we are going to do this, and so far, no parent or kid has complained.”
The event is sponsored by the Cookston chapter of Fellowship Of Christian Anglers (FOCAS). Houston helped start the organization to provide Christian fellowship and Bible studies at B.A.S.S. tournaments.
“We started in 1983. I had friends who were part of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and we needed something like that at B.A.S.S. tournaments. Eighteen people showed up at the first meeting which was a Bible study, and now we have 75 to 100 and lots of fishermen have been saved.”
FOCAS is “run out of my office,” Houston notes. “Our marketing director is the national director.”
During his “speech” on this Louisiana evening, Houston makes living for Christ more inviting and exciting than he makes catching monster bass on his TV show. And to get hard-core, non-churchgoin’ bass fishermen is more challenging than catching and landing a 10-pound bass on a number six fly in December.
Houston draws his part of the program to a close by telling the audience, “There are some people God brought here just to get saved.” When the invitation is given, about 10 hands are raised to indicate that they are the ones. Houston probably would say God kissed them, but he did not turn them loose.
After the banquet, Houston shakes more hands, signs more caps and T-shirts and engages in more good-ol’-boy talk. Early the next day, he heads to his next stop, where he will fish for bass and men.

    About the Author

  • Lynn P. Clayton