Fishing lines: Standing in line with Mr Jimmy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The biggest disappointment of my ice-fishing trip to Minnesota was that I never got to meet the legendary Jimmy the Tramp. You probably haven't heard of Jimmy. But you almost certainly know his most famous saying.

It happened like this. Many years ago, before they were famous, the Rolling Stones were trying to crack the US market and stopped in Minnesota. Mick Jagger went into a bank on the shores of Lake Minnetonka to cash a cheque. But the bank didn't like the look of this long-haired youngster with a funny accent, and refused, despite his pleas.

Jimmy was standing nearby. As Jagger looked up, Jimmy said to him: "You can't always get what you want." The rest, as they say, is history; many years later, when the Stones had found fame and fortune, they sought out Jimmy and brought him on stage.

Well, if I didn't find Jimmy, at least I met Babe Winkelman. Babe is the host of Good Fishing and Outdoor Secrets, seen on television throughout North America. He pens articles for nearly 500 magazines and newspapers across the nation, though I suspect one or two of these are syndicated. Even he can't write that much in a week.

He was inducted into the Sports Legends Hall of Fame in 1988, alongside the world's best athletes, the only outdoors figure to achieve this honour.

Babe has a star's name, looks like a star and exudes charisma. I expected to see his teeth sparkle when he smiled. If he wasn't so doggone obsessed with fishing, he would be a wow in Hollywood. But how could he be the hero of Raiders of the Lost Ark II when he writes: "Go fishing every chance you get. Every day spent on the water brings you one step closer to your goal of being a great fisherman."

He still lives in Brainerd, the town where he was born, though no longer on a small farm but a handsome spread called the Big W Ranch. For a while, Babe worked in the construction business. At 24, he had more than 120 employees. But he gave it all up for fishing.

Babe was running bass tournaments in Minnesota and writing articles when Johnson Engines wanted someone to do a commercial, and Babe's name was suggested. He worked so well on television that he was given his own 15-minute fishing show in 1980. Now you can see his face at almost any hour of the day or night. Fishing shows in the UK are 3am stuff; in the US, Babe has made them prime-time. Hell, even his wife is famous.

His enthusiasm for fishing still appears to be as high as it was when, aged six, he discovered Stoney Brook, near his home. Though he's CEO of Babe Winkelman Productions, I think he would gladly have taken the afternoon off to show me some of his hotspots, except they were all under 2ft of ice.

No wonder people I met later said: "Wow! You met Babe Winkelman!" I sat next to the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, on the way home. But he wasn't half as interesting as Babe.

Comments