It’s a story about a man and his love for fishing. Like many a fishing tale, the story of Bass Pro starts with some lures and a strong drink. Sort of.
Back in 1971, John Morris was frustrated. Local stores in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, just didn’t cut it in the tackle department. What they had was minimal and couldn’t meet the needs of the serious-minded anglers such as himself. So what’s a fisherman to do?
Morris, then just in his early twenties, took his worries and an idea to the road. He rented a U-Haul and started driving. He drove across the country in search of the best handmade tackle he could find. Morris searched high and low for lures he would be excited to use himself, and he loaded up the truck with them. He couldn’t have known how the venture would turn out, or if he would even earn back what he had spent, but he did know that there was a market for what he was seeking. That market would lead to a fortune waiting just around the corner.
That corner just happened to be located in the back of the Brown Derby Liquor Store his father owned in Springfield. Upon returning home Morris stocked it with the best finds from his journey, eager to see if the local anglers would take the bait offered in this small but first Bass Pro Shop. The store was located along the road to Table Rock Lake, a prime destination for fishing trips, offering a quick stop for a six-pack on the way and now a worm or spinnerbait. Local and out-of-town anglers alike stopped to sift through his offerings, and Morris quickly made a name for himself among the Missouri fishermen.
Morris also found that his problem wasn’t just local. Customers unhappy with their own local shops wanted to be able to buy these same lures to cast into their favorite fishing holes back home. This time he took it to the press and distributed the first Bass Pro Shop catalog in 1974. The success of the catalog skyrocketed the Bass Pro name and Morris’s plans along with it. In 1978 he sold his next genius fisherman’s dream—a complete boat, motor, and trailer package designed for hitting the lake and casting a line. He called it Bass Tracker. Today it reigns as the number one selling fishing boat for more than thirty-five years.
With the success of both his local shop, the catalog, and direct boat sales, Morris thought it was time to give the customers even more of what they wanted. In 1984 he opened Outdoor World in Springfield, a large retail shop that quickly became the number one destination in Missouri, even over the singing sensations in nearby Branson. The sportsman’s paradise featured everything the fishermen, hunter, and outdoorsmen (and women) could need, along with water and taxidermy displays representing Missouri wildlife. The outdoor decor became a highlight of the store, drawing in customers that wouldn’t otherwise be introduced to Morris’s favorite sport.
Today that little back corner lure shop has grown to nearly one hundred stores throughout the United States and into Canada. Morris, now a self-made billionaire, still owns the majority of his company that started out of a bit of frustration and a love of fishing. He jokingly refers to himself as the CFO—no, not in finance, but the Chief Fishing Officer. With Morris’s love for fishing only overshadowed by his passion for preserving it for future generations, Bass Pro Shops is a large supporter of wildlife conservation efforts—guaranteeing there will be plenty of fishing tales to come, introducing these ideals and a love of outdoors to future generations of both adults and the tiniest of anglers alike.
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