RIDGELAND, Mississippi – Bassmaster fishing tournaments don’t often come to Ross Barnett Reservoir. Last weekend’s Central Open event was only the third time since 1978 that B.A.S.S. has visited the 33,000-acre reservoir.
But the shooting death of a Texas fisherman at a Jackson hotel will not prevent the B.A.S.S. from reconsidering the area for a future tour stop, a B.A.S.S. official said Monday.
Jimmy Johnson, 56, of Ganado, Texas, was shot to death at a Motel 6 on I-55 in Jackson on Oct. 13 when he discovered someone burglarizing his bass boat. Two days later, police arrested Shun Brown, 17, who “confessed to being responsible” for Johnson’s death. Johnson was a Mississippi native, born in Lumberton.
“Like everyone, I was shocked at first,” said Chris Bowes, senior tournament manager who travels from site to site during the season. “We have had deaths by natural causes, but this took it to a different level.”
This year’s event was the first time since 1998 that Bassmasters held an event at Ross Barnett. The tournament before that was in 1978.
“It has been a while since been back to Ross Barnett,” said Cara Clark, communications manager for B.A.S.S. “But we don’t have certain places we go every year. We might go two years in a row, but then move to another site. We already have our tournament schedule set for next year, and Ross Barnett is not on the schedule.
“It was incredibly tragic and our hearts go out to the Johnson family,” said Clark. “But this won’t have an impact on any decision to have Ridgeland host another tournament.”
Fishing tournaments do not operate like NASCAR or the PGA, which move generally tour to the same sites each year. These are chosen by a site selection director who works hand-in-hand with tourism entities to gauge the level of interest and to determine what the community is offering, said Bowes.
About 300 participants are on the water each day, some with a few supports onshore. There are no ticket to buy if someone wants to watch, and about 50-100 people usually show up at weigh-ins and launches.
The professional winner of this year’s event at Ross Barnett took home a boat valued at more than $40,000 and about $6,000 in cash.
“Although we have not yet received an economic impact study from Ridgeland, other cities have reported around $1.6 million in economic impact for a Bassmaster Open tournament,” said Michael Mulone, B.A.S.S. director, event and tourism partnerships.
“James was having a great season,” said Bowes. “He was 11th out of 200 going into the event. If had a Top 20 finish, he probably would moved into the Top 5 and would have qualified to move up to the Elite Series next year.”
Johnson’s death left a major impact among the participants in the tournament.
“This was a life-changing event for me and others at the tournament,” said Bowes.
“There was shock, and then maybe some initial fear, but I’ll give credit to the Jackson Police Deparment for their swift action to crack the case and give us some small resolution by Wednesday afternoon. I think everyone felt a little more security.”
Organizers may also give attention to have the approach cities.
“I think, more than just this location, we need to be more aware about things when we go around the country and to different locations,” said Bowes. “We need to be more thorough in our research and about the environment where we stay. Maybe we don’t always need to look just for the best deal. Even then, we need to be more aware of our surroundings.”
Bowes said the hotel where Johnson and his wife were staying was not one of the properties on the list supplied by the Ridgeland tourism office.
“I told someone that murder was aways something I‘d see only on TV, but now it’s real.”