Lifetime of Lures
The favorite go-to baits of B.A.S.S. owner, longtime TV host Jerry McKinnisPhotos courtesy Jerry McKinnis
Jerry McKinnis may be the most traveled angler in the world. After 44 years of taping “The Fishin’ Hole,” he’s like a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: “I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything."
His latest escapade is the owner of B.A.S.S., the time-honored staple of the bass fishing world that brought us so many well-known anglers and an industry within an industry to boot.
McKinnis cut his teeth as a full-time minor-league baseball player who dreamed of fishing in his spare time. A chance meeting with a young Forrest Wood (pre-Ranger Boat era) set them on a parallel course to become fishing icons.
Whether it’s been fishing for smallmouth or largemouth bass, or chasing steelhead in the North, snook in Florida or rainbow trout in the West, McKinnis has built an incredible tackle box of knowledge and experiences unrivaled by anyone.
It’s the lures, though, we are most interested in. Take a look at some of the time-honored and well-worn items in his tackle box that he couldn’t live without.
(Yes, that wooden tray comes from one of Jerry's vintage tackle boxes.)
1. Dowagiac Minnow
This was McKinnis’ first lure ever. “When I was a kid and fished with my dad, this is what we fished with. You just take it and throw it out there and reel it back. It’s actually a horrible lure but that’s all we had and it’s really special now. I used to deliver the Wellston Journal in St. Louis. And to get paid for it you got vouchers, so I saved up my vouchers and got that lure.”
2. Lucky 13
“When we guided over on Buffalo River and Crooked Creek, which I did a lot, we fished Lucky 13’s and poppers a lot. They caught so many fish. I didn’t know in order to catch a fish I needed to throw it in that brush over there. Man, I threw it out in the middle of the lake because the worst thing on earth would be to lose that lure.”
3. Sammy/Zara Spook
“When I fish with a topwater bait, I fish a Zara Spook a lot. My original Zara Spook is up in a case. The spooks I used to fish with for smallmouth up in the north always had the harness that ran all the way through them. You can’t buy them anymore. I’ve got one or two of them around somewhere. But I also fish with a Sammy a lot.
4. Tube jig
The lure has been a consistent mainstay in McKinnis’ tackle box for decades. It was especially good on Crooked Creek and the Buffalo River, two smallmouth streams that were constant sites for McKinnis’ “The Fishin’ Hole” television show for more than four decades.
5. Blackberry Jelly Worm
“This is a Mann’s blackberry jelly worm. Tom Mann made a watermelon, strawberry and a blueberry and so on down the line. I still to this day say that that string of fish that Tom Mann and I caught was the biggest string of fish ever caught on film on public water.” McKinnis and Mann’s stringer was caught on Lake Eufala in Alabama. This worm, from a package that McKinnis has had for 25 years, helped produce a 10-fish stringer on that lake that ranged from 10 pounds to 14 pounds each. “That sounds almost ridiculous,’’ he said, “but it happened.”
6. Wiggle Wart
“The original Wiggle Wart, not one of the new ones today. I’ve fished it especially in the Ozark Lakes. That color right there in the spring is like dynamite."
7. Berkley Frenzy
This lure isn’t made anymore, but it’s one that McKinnis uses religiously. “The reason why I fish this is because so many crankbaits that you’re told are going to run 7- or 8-feet deep, don’t. They may hit 7 feet for like 4 feet and then they’re right back up again. This lure actually would dive that deep and stay there for the biggest part of your cast. I know it’s not as beautiful as a lot of the crankbaits we have now, but boy it was a fish catcher.”
8. Little Doc
When we guided some of the guys, and particularly my neighbor, Garland Hurst, would carve his own as he was fishing. He’d get a piece of root. He’d go down the river, guiding, and he’d carve the lure right there. And then he’d paint it, and hang it on the little rail, and let it dry, and then he’d start fishing with it. If fish were biting at all, he’d catch a fish or two on it. And then he’d sell it to the fishermen for a dollar. A dollar was really something. If you could do that twice during the day and get an extra two dollars, that’s pretty sweet because you were only getting five dollars to guide. We called these ‘Little Docs”.
9. Bill Rose Lure
“I fished a lot when I was younger on Bull Shoals Lake with Bill Rose. He was a great, great fisherman. He used to make his own lures. I don’t remember what he called this, but it’s his head he poured. He poured them in his little mold and then he’d put them in his oven. We made fun of him. We thought that was the stupidest looking bait. When we were around the dock and Bill wasn’t around there fishing, we’d say he couldn’t fish today because he’s got to bake new lures. But I think back and that’s a heck of a lure. You wouldn’t think that that was a lure that I was fishing with in the 60s, but I was. Nowadays we fish with lures that are very similar to that. And I made fun of him.”
10. Wacky Worm/ Zoom Trick worm
“I fish a wacky worm and use a Zoom trick worm an awful lot.” McKinnis will often add a finishing nail to the head of the worm to add weight and change the rate of fall.
11. Scrounger Head
“I think that this could possibly be the fish catching lure out there -- people just don’t fish with it a whole lot. They don’t completely understand how to fish it, but man this is a fish catching son of gun. Not just in 2 feet of water but in 22 feet of water.”
12. Sting Ray Grub
The Sting Ray Grub became special almost by accident. McKinnis and Billy Murray, a long-time cameraman, were on their way to join Bobby Murray (Billy’s brother) and Jim Bagley in the Everglades for a snook fishing show. They stopped to visit Tom Mann and the grubs were given to them as an afterthought. The snook weren’t biting in the Everglades, and it was so bad Bagley and Bobby Murray actually left. Trying to make something happen, McKinnis tied on one of the grubs and immediately caught a tarpon. Billy Murray followed and before long they were piling up snook and tarpon. After that, McKinnis used the grub to catch fish all over the country. “It still works when fishing is tough,’’ he said. “I’ll get bit sure as the world.”
“These are Bill Rose’s jigs. We didn’t fish with anything but bucktail jigs back in the 50s, 60s, 70s. I guess probably nobody fishes with a bucktail jig now. They fall differently. They’ll fall slower than most of the jigs today. A bucktail will trap air and it makes them fall a lot different than a rubber skirt or something like that. We’d always have a little orange in there or a little blue on black. There’s today’s jig. I guess the biggest reason why I put this in there is I wanted to remind you that there’s today’s jig, but in those days we wouldn’t have a plastic trailer.”
14. Little George/Silver Buddy
“The Little George is a creation by Tom Mann and named for former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Mann used to take this and it never came off the whole practice, the whole tournament, whatever, that’s all he fished. They were fish catching dudes. I have an idea they’re fish catching dudes today, too. I also fished a lot with a Silver Buddy. I fished with these a lot with Billy Westmoreland, who was the big smallmouth fisherman over on Dale Holland. Billy fished with little jigs some, but the majority of his big smallmouth were caught on Silver Buddies and nobody ever knew that. They figured he caught them all on jigs, but boy he fished that all the time.”
15. Chatter Bait
“I’ve got a whole box of Chatter Baits. I remember when I started to fish them several years ago I had this one and a couple more. Mine were always too heavy for me, and so I whittled it down. And as you can tell, this is just beat all to heck. I ended up getting a whole box of them because I thought I’d lose this one. I’ve had this thing for five years. I just fish it all the time. I never lose it, and I never get any new ones out of the box.”
Kevin Van Dam, Mike McKinnis, (Jerry's son), and Jerry show off a mess of smallmouth.