Johnny Morris
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Johnny Morris: Bass Pro Shops' Founding Father

Johnny Morris is the man who revolutionized fishing tackle consumerism, not to mention much, much more.

Men like John Luke Morris are the kind of special, entrepreneurial wizards who saw the future and went after it like a northern pike eating a creek chub.

Born in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, Morris was the product of a fishing family that ultimately led to his profession.

He would go on to become founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, cementing a legacy in the fishing and outdoor industry unlike just about anyone else in the world.

The Career of Johnny Morris

In a nutshell, his father, John A. Morris, was a decorated WWII veteran and ultimately returned to the Springfield area to become one of its favorite sons and most successful merchants.

As fate would have it, both parents (John Morris and Genny Morris) loved to fish and hunt, and would instill that same love in their son Johnny. By the age of 21, around 1969, Johnny was ready, willing, and able to join the blossoming professional bass fishing circuit, which he spent the next five years competing in. After that, Morris began his selling fishing equipment in the back of one of his father's stores, and he called it Bass Pro Shops.

A bio on the Bass Pro Shops website tells us that,

"Johnny started Bass Pro Shops with 8 square feet of space in the back of his father's liquor store in Springfield, Missouri, the company's sole location for the first 13 years of business."

Johnny pioneered the concept of destination retail and today, Bass Pro Shops has nearly 200 retail stores and marine centers across North America. The flagship "grandaddy" store in Springfield, Missouri welcomes more than four million visitors annually.

?? is also the f?und?r ?f the best selling and famed Tracker boat series. In 2015, the company acquired Fishing Holdings, LLC, a leading manufacturer of premier fishing boat brands, including Ranger and Triton along with an industry-leading dealer network and formed White River Marine Group. These include Ranger, Nitro, Triton, R?g?n??, ??k? and ????nd Kayaks.

?n 2017, h? ???n?d the Wonders of Wildlife National ?u??um & Aquarium in Springfield. Bass Pro also acquired fellow outdoor retailer, ??b?l?'? in October 2016, completing the process by September 2017.

Jimmy Morris bought land n??r T?bl? R??k L?k? in 1987, where he built the nature-based resort Big Cedar L?dg?. He's an avid conservationist and b??k?r ?f outdoor education, which is just as important as his role in the consumerism industry. 

Also in 2015, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid was opened in Memphis, Tennessee where he built the Big Cypress Lodge resort, and it's where the Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center is located.

As the legend goes, while fishing in the shadow of the Pyramid with longtime friend Bill Dance, as well as the late Jack Emmitt, Bass Pro's first fishing manager, it is said that Johnny committed that if they caught a 30-pound or bigger catfish that day he would commit to the Pyramid transformation.

As the legend goes, they caught a 34-pound catfish, and the rest is history.

The Many Awards of Johnny Morris

Morris has accumulated a trophy case of awards, recognized both in business and conservation efforts. In 1998, Johnny was inducted into the National Sporting Goods Association Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame. In 2017, Forbes Magazine named Bass Pro Shops (including Cabela's) as one of America's Most Reputable Companies in recognition of the public's trust in the retailer.

For those of you who haven't seen the tremendous list of Johnny Morris' conservation awards and the efforts that he's given to the outdoor world, it's truly remarkable. Mr. Morris has not shied away from philanthropy, and in fact it's the exact opposite.

He was appointed to the board of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, and received the Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist Award, presented to John by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

He was inducted into the Sportfishing Hall of Fame, and inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2002. He was granted the International Game Fish Association Conservation Award and the Chairman's Leadership Award from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The list of accomplishments and awards is vast, and you can go directly to Bass Pro's webpage and learn about the rest.

Over a 30-year period Mr. Morris also helped develop the Dogwood Canyon Nature Park in Lampe, Missouri, and was instrumental in creating the Top of the Rock nature-based heritage preserve situated at the highest elevation in Taney County near Branson, Missouri.

The Legacy of Johnny Morris

Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris is the epitome of an idealistic entrepreneur that didn't let anything get in his way, and yet is still the same down to earth man that grew up in Springfield. He is a world-class conservationist that worked with every president and every outdoor group that he came across. He strived to minimize the effect that man has on the great outdoors and maximize the amount of time and value for the money spent on making our outdoor world in the United States and beyond a better place.

Back in the day, between the Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's catalogs, I had all the reading material that I thought I would ever need in a lifetime.

Who else remembers painstakingly filling out the form in the center of the catalog with the name and item number of your selections? Then you'd fold it all into the conveniently enclosed envelope, and sending it off by mail. It was a simpler and happier time that filled our tackle boxes with the latest and greatest fishing lures and other gear.

Seeing what's that turned into is an undeniable testament to his legacy.

His net worth may be $4.1 billion, but his real value is measured by his conservationist's heart and fishing soul.

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