Jerry McKinnis, 82, a pioneer in outdoors television programming, died Sunday in Little Rock, following a short illness. He was born in St Louis, MO to Lester and Belle McKinnis in 1937.
A former resident of Little Rock, Jerry was residing in Rea Valley, Arkansas. He was best known for his television program The Fishin’ Hole, which featured fishing trips with celebrity guests like Hall-of-Fame baseball player, Ted Williams and NCAA basketball coach, Bob Knight.
Jerry started his adult life as a professional baseball player with the Kansas City Athletics organization. In the 1950s, Jerry saved up enough money to go trout fishing on the White River. By the end of the trip, the experience with his river guide, Forrest Wood, had convinced him to move to Arkansas. He started a fishing guide business on the White River, which he operated until 1964 when he moved to Little Rock to build the Maumelle Boat Dock on Lake Maumelle.
While running the boat dock, Jerry began giving a local fishing report for KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock. These reports led to the nationally syndicated outdoors show - The Fishin’ Hole. It was one of the longest running shows in television history.
When ESPN launched in 1979, Jerry saw the future and brought “The Fishin’ Hole” to cable. After SportsCenter, the Fishin’ Hole was ESPN’s longest running original program on the network. He went on to develop the popular ESPN Outdoors block of programming on Saturday mornings for the network. Jerry’s production company, JM Associates was called the networks best friend by ESPN. Some of the shows produced by JM Associates were “Bassmaster Tournament Trail”, “The Walmart FLW Tour”, “The Bassmaster Classic”, Stihl Timbersports Series”, “Iditarod Sled Dog Race”, “World Racquetball Championships’, “Great American Events”, “Spanish Fly with Jose Wejebe”, “STIHL National Championship Air Races”, “Super Boat International Championship” , “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show” and “Cumberland Stories” among many others.
In 2010, Jerry was part of a group who purchased BASS from ESPN and ran the business successfully until 2018. He was passionate about fishing and was proud of the advancements in the sport that took place under his leadership. He had spent the last year of his life working on his beloved property in Rea Valley, and planning his next creative endeavor.
Jerry McKinnis is enshrined in the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame, the National Fishing Hall of Fame, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.
Jerry was a skilled carpenter, a legendary storyteller, an ardent animal lover and one heck of a waffle maker.
He is survived by Shannon Nardi of Little Rock; Mark McKinnis of Ventura, California; Mike McKinnis (Pamela) of Little Rock; Matt McKinnis of Little Rock and his life partner, Angie Thompson of Little Rock; 7 grandchildren, Blair Nardi and Chelsey Nardi of St Louis; Michael McKinnis of Little Rock; Damon McKinnis of Los Angeles; Elena McKinnis, Clark McKinnis and Evan McKinnis of Little Rock; great-grandson, Dominic Nardi of St Louis; sister, Judy Rhine of West Plains, MO; nephew, Brian Mason of Rea Valley, AR; nephew, Jeri Rhine (Sondra) of West Plains, MO.
Jerry loved his dachshunds, in lieu of flowers, the family wishes that memorial contributions may be made to Dachshund Rescue of North America at www.drna.org.
A memorial service will be held at St. James United Methodist Church, 321 Pleasant Valley Dr. in Little Rock, AR on Friday, November 8th at 3pm. An additional service will be held at First Baptist Church, 721 Marion County 7023 in Flippin, AR on Monday, Nov 11 at 2pm.