It was expected, but I still was beaming when I walked up to my front door on a quick lunch trip home to find a gift. Laying on the bricks was an autographed copy of Jerry McKinnis’ wonderful book, Bass Fishing, Brown Dogs and Curve Balls.
It was like going back in time exactly 45 years. Jerry does not remember, but I will never forget getting to type his outdoor column for the Arkansas Gazette.
I was a sophomore in high school. I hurried to the paper on Wednesday afternoons to grab the hand written, single spaced copy of what would be his Friday morning column.
Jerry was the operator of Maumelle Marina and one of my heroes. He spent the day chasing bass, or so I thought. I really didn’t understand the concept of servicing boats from well before dawn until past dark. You can read the details in his book.
The writing style is just as I remember it, just as he told stories for four decades on Saturday mornings for ESPN’s block of shows, all produced by Jerry.
McKinnis grew up in St. Louis, idolizing Stan Musial. There’s a wonderful Musial story in the book. Jerry played minor league baseball for the Cardinals before migrating to Bull Shoals, Ark., to become a fishing guide along with Forrest Wood at G.O. Tilley’s fishing service on the White River. There's tons of stories about Wood in the book, along with most of your favorite anglers on the bass circuit. Jerry has fished with all of them, in special places.
All of that is in Jerry’s book, along with the birth of ESPN Outdoors and eventually his rise to own BASS. It’s fascinating stuff.
There are tales of trips with Bobby Knight, Ted Williams and Eddie Sutton and all about the growth of ESPN from the inside. There’s even some hints about how Brick Lile, a Little Rock businessman, lured Frank Broyles away from Missouri. Lile helped set up McKinnis at Maumelle. There is a picture of McKinnis with Knight on an trip to Russia for Atlantic Salmon.
It’s worth the price just to see the pictures, some of the most amazing shots from some of the best fishing places in the world. You’ll get to know some of the inside stuff from our best bass lakes.
Some of it I knew because my father, Orville Henry, was close to Bud Campbell, the man who talked Jerry into doing weekly television shows at KATV. It was almost the same time that Jerry began to write for my father in the Gazette. It was thought to be the first outdoor column in a major newspaper.
The book is like reading 1,000 of those columns. It’s not prose, nor should it be. It wouldn’t be Jerry. He apologizes in the book for his writing style. I’d rather read Jerry than Hemingway. It has more to do with subject matter and style than writing ability. Jerry’s writing is as he talks.
I love the story and the way Jerry set the scene on a Minnesota trip with Knight. The local chamber of commerce leader recognized Jerry, but not Knight, at dinner. There was a pitch for Jerry to tape a plug for an area fishing commercial. Jerry politely explained why he couldn’t do it, and the man moved from their table.
Soon, he came back a second time and then a third time asking for help. Finally, Knight let loose some words that Jerry just printed in his book as odd characters on the keyboard. Bad stuff. Knight is legendary for streaming together the worst of the salty words. The man left and the diner became quiet.
Later when they piled into a station wagon, Knight explained to Jerry and their camera guy, “That’s how you talk to people.” Well, at least everyone had confirmation it was Knight with McKinnis.
There’s stories of a trout trip with Broyles in the 1970s, then a chance meeting in the ’90s at an Italian place in Tontitown. Broyles was with a big group several tables away from McKinnis. Obviously, McKinnis wanted to go to visit Broyles and was urged to do so by those at his table. McKinnis didn’t have the courage.
Finally, Broyles got up to leave and walked right past McKinnis. Then, he does an about face and sticks out his hand. Broyles said, “I’m Coach Broyles, Jerry. I went trout fishing with you way back when and was just wondering if you remember it.”
There’s the picture in the book of Lile and Broyles in the back of a boat with a nice limit of White River rainbows.
Most agree that Broyles, a transplanted Georgia boy, became a state treasure in Arkansas. So did McKinnis. He proudly acknowledges in the book that he quickly “became a Razorback.”
Jerry wrote that one of his proud moments was noticing Broyles in the audience during his acceptance speech in 2008 for the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Jerry was thanking some people and mentioned Lile. At that instant, he made eye contact with Broyles and got a thumbs up.
Jerry’s book deserves a double thumbs up and a place under the Christmas tree for any angler. Order it at JerrysBook.com.