July 28, 2014 by Colin Moore
There wasn’t enough cake to hold all the candles when the Jimmy Houston clan celebrated family birthdays over the weekend in southern Oklahoma. By Chris Houston’s count, 227 candles were required to mark the birthdays of Jimmy (who turned 70 on Monday) and Chris (Jimmy’s wife, who observed her 67th birthday on Sunday), as well as their son Jamey (44), granddaughter-in-law Misty (28), and granddaughter Alexis (18).
“It was 101 degrees here when I got back from a 12-day road trip on Sunday, and I think our birthday cake might have caused the heat to go up a few notches,” says Jimmy, who was greeted by about 30 family members and close friends upon his return. “Even somebody as windy as me might not be able to blow them all out.”
Jimmy’s birthday also serves as a reminder that he has fished the major bass tournament circuits longer than any other pro. He began fishing tournaments when he was a teenager in Oklahoma, and he and Chris fished team events early in their marriage. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary Dec. 30.
“I didn’t start fishing Ray Scott’s tournaments full-time until 1975,” recalls Jimmy. “But the first major tournament I fished was at Lake Eufaula in Alabama in 1968. I had 81 pounds in three days and came in sixth, though I broke off three fish that could have won it. The first year I fished all the tournaments, I came in third in the Angler of the Year standings; the next year I won it.”
Jimmy joined the FLW ranks in 1997 and, as a member of the Chevy pro team, has become a crowd favorite for his friendliness, happy-go-lucky demeanor and self-effacing humor. Houston and other members of the Chevy team will be on hand at the FLW Expo during the Forrest Wood Cup in Columbia, S.C., Aug. 14-17.
The Oklahoma native is known for his work ethic and for supporting his sponsors through seminars and store promotions. Likewise, he’s a tenacious competitor, and prepares himself as well as possible before each tournament.
“I practice from daylight to dark,” Jimmy says. “A lot of the younger guys ask me how I can go at it so hard, and I tell them, ‘Heck, it’s no big deal. I’ve got a 67-year-old practice partner, and she goes at it just as hard as I do.’ Chris practices with me all the time.”
Small wonder, considering Chris Houston’s career as a pro angler in the Bass’n Gals circuit was equally successful. She captured the Angler of the Year title in that circuit seven times and won the Bass’n Gal Classic three times. Chris was the first female angler inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
Jimmy has no intentions of retiring from his career as an ambassador of the sport now that he’s turned 70, and plans to fish tournaments indefinitely. Asked to explain the primary reason for his longevity as a professional bass fisherman, he has a ready answer: “Staying active.”
“Fishing is a very physical activity, and there’s a lot of exercise involved,” says Jimmy. “But it’s not going to beat you up like some sports. I can’t go like I could when I was 20 – everything gets a little more difficult, especially in some tournaments – but I don’t stop, and I don’t quit. I’ve heard it said that 70 is the new 50, so I’m fixing to find out. I feel like I could go on for awhile yet.”
Beyond fishing, Jimmy also has become a role model for those who seek to balance their careers with other responsibilities. For him, it was always a matter of establishing the right priorities and living by them.
“The most important thing I’ve learned in 70 years is to be faithful to God, to be faithful to my wife, and to be faithful to my family and friends. Everything else has taken care of itself.”