March 30, 2022
A number of years ago, as myself, my wife and our three young children passed through the Show Me State of Missouri on a summertime family vacation, I made mention to the Burkhead crew that we were going to the Disney World of fishing stores.
While my innocent remark from the pilot seat may or may not have caused the lovely Mrs. Burkhead to roll her eyes—she said the garage was already full of fishing and hunting gear, if I do recall correctly—and some brief confusion for the kiddos as they dreamed of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
All was quickly forgiven and forgotten as we pulled into the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops.
While it took a good while for Mrs. B to get me out of the huge store that day, she wouldn’t have much luck at all this weekend if our travel plans took us anywhere near Springfield. Why? Because in what’s being called the “Bass Pro Shops World’s Fishing Fair – The Greatest Fishing Show & Sale on Earth!," the huge outdoor retailing legend is throwing a party in honor of its’ 50th birthday.
Running through the weekend and ending on Sunday, April 3, it’s a huge celebration that honors the vision and far-reaching plan put into motion by BPS founder and CEO Johnny Morris. So big is this weekend’s celebration that there will be more than 500,000 square feet of tackle and outdoors gear being offered at cut prices at the more than 200 exhibits and booths of more than 150 vendors. Add in numerous seminars and BPS’ “Turkey Days” as spring turkey season arrives nationwide, and there’s plenty to see, to do, and to buy.
All of that contrasts to Bass Pro Shops' humble beginnings back in 1972, when Morris, an avid young bass pro with a dream, started in an 8-square-foot space in the back of the Brown Derby Liquor Store, which was owned by his father, John A. Morris.
While Morris undoubtedly saw much of the future that was ahead, not many others could have envisioned a future five decades later with the BPS world growing to include (at last count) more than 40,000 employees and some 169 retail locations, including 82 Cabela’s stores (BPS acquired the chain in 2017.)
Over the years, there have been many huge milestones in the history of BPS, including the first Bass Pro Shops fishing catalog, created back in 1974. For what it’s worth, I got my 2022 version of the bass angler’s “Christmas Wish Book” a few weeks ago and, much to my wife’s chagrin, it’s already becoming dog-eared, even in this age of the Internet and smartphone shopping.
A few years after the BPS catalog was created and started hitting mailboxes, Morris introduced Tracker Boats in 1978, starting a boat-building and -selling revolution that brought high-tech, yet affordable, fishing platforms to anglers dreaming of big bass. Today, that effort includes several major manufacturers of freshwater boats and saltwater boats, including the famous Nitro brand run by bass fishing’s all-time best, Kevin VanDam.
Three years later in 1981, Morris opened up the iconic Bass Pro Shops outdoor store location in Springfield, a site that has now grown to include several acres of prime real estate. With numerous other BPS store locations across the country—many serving as destination spots with huge wildlife taxidermy displays and fish-holding aquariums—there are no corners of the U.S. where an outdoors enthusiast can’t go to get his fishing, hunting, camping, and outdoors fix, thanks to BPS.
Morris’ huge Bass Pro Shops dream didn’t stop with a collection of outdoors stores, however. Because in 1988, while Ronald Reagan was still president, Morris’ BPS empire grew to include Big Cedar Lodge, a fantastic outdoors vacation property on Table Rock Lake in Missouri's beautiful Ozark Mountain region.
Along with the Lodge and all of its outdoors possibilities, the resort and its five golf courses is quickly becoming one of the golfing world’s favorite treasures, now offering NATURE'S FINEST courses designed by some of the top names in golf, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, and others.
Today, in addition to the Bass Pro Legends of Golf event held over the years and drawing some of the PGA Tour’s top level talent, the Big Cedar Lodge resort location also includes the Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve, Lost Canyon Cave, the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum, and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. That latter spot is a 10,000-acre wilderness park refuge, dedicated to the conservation causes that drive Morris charitable efforts so often today.
In fact, Morris has been a long-time supporter of our nation’s wildlife and natural resources, as well as hunters, anglers, and outdoors enthusiasts. Bass Pro Shops is the largest lifetime industry donor in the history of Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the International Gamefish Association and many other groups. According to BPS, Morris will donate 50 percent of the proceeds this weekend to conservation and wildlife causes.
In 2017, he opened the massive Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium in Springfield. Adjacent to the BPS flagship store, the WOW Museum occupies 350,000 square feet and features more than 1.5 miles of trails, taking visitors on a journey through immersive habitats that both entertain and educate. Those exhibits and trails also tell the powerful story of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, celebrating our nation’s chief conservation leaders throughout America’s history, as well as the role played by wildlife and conservation stewards who hunt, fish, and enjoy the Great Outdoors.
In short, like the BPS store locations do, the WOW Museum—which has been voted as “America’s Best Aquarium” three times and “America’s Best New Attraction” once by USA Today readers—BPS and the WOW Museum serve as nothing less than the Mount Rushmore of America’s Conservation Capital in Missouri’s rugged and beautiful Ozark Mountain region.
Today, the Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium even serves as the home for several museums and national hall of fames, including the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum, and, soon, the Pope and Young Club / Glenn St. Charles Museum of Bowhunting.
With all of that drawing power, and the world famous BPS flagship store situated not far away, the BPS empire is easily the largest wildlife and fisheries attraction in Missouri, if not the rest of the world.
And this weekend, as noted above, it’s the center of the fishing, hunting, and outdoors worlds as Morris and his Bass Pro Shops staff celebrate the rich history, begun back when professional bass fishing circuits like Major League Fishing and the Bassmaster Elite Series, and space-age polymers that transformed gear were only dreams.
This weekend will serve as one big, grand party to celebrate it all, including BPS’ golden anniversary, as scores of people and celebrity gather in Springfield. If that includes you, don’t be surprised to see yourself rubbing shoulders with the likes of KVD, Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin, Tim Horton, Edwin Evers, Skeet Reece, Mark Drury, Terry Drury, and a whole lot more.
And even if you’re not able to be there physically to see all of the bargains, hear all of the seminars, and get a lot of autographs and selfies—and please don’t tell my wife this option is available—there’s also a chance to experience the weekend virtually thanks to the World’s Fishing Fair live stream.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to find your way to Springfield to enjoy the big show and celebration. And, if you can convince your significant other that you need to be there—honey, can I go?—you’ll even carry home a few goodies to finish filling up a garage that isn’t quite there yet.
Because like Johnny Morris did so many years ago, we can all dream, can’t we?