By Todd Ceisner
Take a quick scan of the top of the latest FLW Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) standings.
Sure, there are some names in the Top 10 that BassFans have come to expect to see like Brent Ehrler, Jacob Powroznik, Jay Yelas, Andy Morgan and Jason Christie. Mixed in among them are some newcomers and lesser-known pros who are off to similar fine starts in 2013.
A few spots lower, in a tie for 16th place, you'll find a name that's far from unknown. Jimmy Houston.
The 68-year-old from Cookson, Okla., best known for his signature chortle and bass-smooching shtick that have endeared him to millions who've welcomed him into their living rooms on Saturday and Sunday mornings for decades, is off to his best start in years as a tournament angler.
A two-time B.A.S.S. AOY and veteran of more than 300 B.A.S.S. and FLW tournaments, Houston finished in the money in the first three FLW Tour events this year, sandwiching two Top-30s around a 67th at Lewis Smith Lake. Three more similar results in the second half will likely keep him in the Top 35 in points and qualify him for his first Forrest Wood Cup.
In previous years, Houston's incredibly busy television and promotional schedule has prevented him from fishing an entire slate of Tour events, something he hasn't done since 2008. He said his contract with FLW requires that he fish at least four per year, however he expects to fish all six this season. What's more is he anticipates being able to get 3 days of practice in before each of the remaining three events, a rarity in the past considering his hectic schedule.
"As of right now, I am entered in all six tournaments," he said recently after a day of filming in Mississippi. "I do have an appearance to make on the way to (Lake) Eufaula and on the way to (Lake) Chickamauga, but I am entered in all of them. I do plan on fishing all of them. Normally, I will skip a tournament or two that are far away, but I have a good friend of mine in Chattanooga, Tenn., who I'll stay with during the (Chickamauga) tournament. Of course, Grand Lake is in Oklahoma and it'd be silly not to fish a tournament close to home."
As for qualifying for the Cup, he says he's excited about the possibility. This is his 10th year fishing FLW events and his best points finish to date was 56th in 1997.
"I don't think it changes my career any, but it would be fun to fish it," he said. "I've never paid any attention to how high I have to finish in the standings to qualify, but it would be a lot of fun. With it being on the Red River, that's a place I like to fish and because of my relationship with Chevy, I have to be there working anyway so if I have to be there, I might as well be fishing."
As of now, he has a couple of appearances scheduled for the week of the Cup (Aug. 12-18), including one with NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, but if he qualifies to fish at the Red River, that will take priority.
"I would like to fish that tournament," he added. "I'm not going to change anything or go pre-fish any of the lakes. (My wife) Chris and I will go out there and practice as hard as we can. We practice from daylight until dark just like I did when I was young."
Bigger Bites A Key
Always a tireless promoter, Houston attempted to attribute his success this season to his twice-a-day consumption of an energy drink that bears his name. While that may be partly true, he says he's benefited greatly in 2013 from having the time to properly prepare for each event.
"One thing that has really helped is I've been able to practice all 3 days at every tournament," he said. "My wife, Chris, has been with me at all three of them and it certainly makes a difference when you're able to do that. Over the years, even back when I fished B.A.S.S., I very seldom practiced all 3 days. It was usually only 1 or 2 days and there were even some I fished without any practice at all. I'd just show up and go out and start fishing."
During practice for the Beaver Lake Tour event a couple weeks ago, a fellow competitor was surprised to see him loading his boat as dusk settled in over northwest Arkansas.
"He said, 'I can't believe, at your age, you fish until dark every day in practice,'" Houston said. "I told him, 'Hey, my practice partner is 65 years old and she's a girl. I'd pretty much be a wuss if I couldn't practice until dark every day.'"
When able to put in multiple days of practice, he's proven he can still locate quality fish and, more importantly, execute once the competition gets under way.
"The other thing is I have a few more quality fish this year," he said. "Last year, in the four FLW tournaments I fished I never caught a 4-pound bass. I caught limits pretty much every day and even at Table Rock where I made a check, I had (15 1/2 pounds) but I did not have a 4-pounder."
This year, he caught a 6-09 at Lake Okeechobee on day 2 and stuck a couple 4-pounders on day 2 at Beaver and a 5 on day 3.
"That's really a critical thing and ironically, over the years, I've caught a lot of big fish because I fish the baits that allow you to catch big fish," he added. "I fish a lot of jigs and a lot of spinnerbaits and I was able to catch those big fish at Okeechobee and Beaver on a spinnerbait."
Busy As Ever
FLW recently debuted an online documentary-style series chronicling the rookie season of Casey Martin. Having cameras follow Houston around as he zig-zags the country for his TV show and speaking engagements would make for some interesting content as well.
Listening to him rattle off a portion of his recent schedule explains why he needs multiple energy drinks a day. It's not uncommon for him to be in a different state just about every day of the week as he tries to accommodate all of his sponsor commitments and other functions.
Tracker Boats wanted him to make appearance at a dealership in Tennessee and had asked for a date in May. He was already booked for the particular date, so they asked for the first Saturday he was free. His next Saturday that's open is Aug. 24.
"I've had one Saturday off all this year so far and that was Easter weekend," he said.
Fan Of U-Rig
While just about everyone in the fishing industry seems to have opinion on the umbrella rig and its place in tournaments, Houston is pretty outspoken in his support for the technique/lure.
At the recent Beaver Lake FLW Tour, he threw it in practice and caught his biggest fish that way, but couldn't entice any similar fish during the competition, hence his switch to a spinnerbait. His take is that it's helped draw more people into the sport by helping them catch more and bigger bass.
"I'm a big fan of the bait," he said. "I've caught probably 600 or 700 bass on it and I think it's one of the best things that's ever happened to bass fishing. It's helped the lure industry and a lot of fishermen that perhaps never caught big bass before. Now, they're able to catch those fish a little bit better. I've spent my lifetime trying to teach people how to catch fish better and how to fish a spinnerbait and how to rig a plastic worm in all the various ways and how to fish slip sinkers and how to work a topwater bait and half-step a Zara Spook.
"All of these things that we do, we spend a lot of time trying to teach people how to do it, and we do it for two reasons: One, so they can get more enjoyment out of fishing and go fishing more and be effective at it. And secondly, we make our living at this sport. I don't make my living tournament fishing, but any way we can make this sport better for the millions of people out there that like to do it, that's a great deal.
"The umbrella rig really helped do that. I think it's fantastic. I think the guys who've taken stands against it, if they're sponsored by a lure company, they ought to be fired to be honest. I can't understand how you can be sponsored by a lure company and want some kind of lure banned. I can remember when they started coming out with a sinking worm and people said it should've been outlawed because it was so easy to catch fish on it."
Still Loves 'The Game'
Houston is among a small group of pro anglers in the 60-and-older demographic who still compete in top-level tournaments, and says it's becoming increasingly more difficult to keep up with the younger competitors on tour.
Roland Martin and Tommy Martin are both 73 and still fish the FLW Tour, as does Gary Yamamoto, 69. On the Elite Series side, Paul Elias (61) and Dave Smith (67) are the elder statesmen.
"It's really difficult from a physical standpoint to fish tournaments at 68 years old," Houston said. "It really is and I'm not the oldest one out there doing it. I try to keep in as good of physical shape as I can for a 68-year-old man. That's the difficult part of it. I love fishing tournaments. I love the competition and I love being able to spend a day or 2 or 3 fishing with my wife in practice and try to figure out how to catch them. It's a passion I still have just like I had when I was a senior in college.
"I think Roland Martin has that same passion and I think Gary Yamamoto has the same passion. The difficult thing is your body doesn't perform as well for you at 68 as it did at 23 or 33 or 43. It just doesn't. It makes it a lot more difficult."
When asked if he's given any thought to when he will step away from the competition side, he wasn't prepared to put any sort of time frame on it. He's still having plenty of fun.
"I love the game," he said. "I'll probably slip and fall out of a bass boat and drown on a tournament day some time and that'll be when I quit. I just hope they weigh in whatever fish I had in the livewell."