Former WCCO-TV news anchor Don Shelby remembers when Irwin Jacobs first expanded into the bass boat business — acquiring Cajun Boats of Louisiana and showcasing them at Minnetonka Boatworks.
“You bought the wrong company,’’ Shelby told him. “I told you to buy Ranger.’’
Several years later, as the celebrated corporate takeover artist continued to immerse himself in boating and bass fishing, Jacobs called Shelby with an update. It was 1996.
“I just bought Ranger Boats from Forrest Wood,’’ Shelby recalled Jacobs saying. “I said, ‘All right. Now you are ready to go.’ ’’
And go he did, throttling into the world of bass tournaments and fiberglass fishing boats with a memorable run of competitions and celebrities starting on Lake Minnetonka.
Jacobs shot and killed his wife, Alexandra, before turning the gun on himself in a murder-suicide Wednesday at the couple’s Lake Minnetonka home, authorities confirmed Friday. Both were 77.
Amid the mourning for the well-known businessman and his philanthropically active wife, Irwin Jacobs is being remembered as an outdoors visionary who put competitive bass fishing on the fast track to big cash payouts, NASCAR-style sponsorships, glitz, glamour, charity and expansion.
Jacobs remained chairman and chief executive officer of Fishing League Worldwide, or FLW, a tournament group that he created and supersized. His daughter, Trisha Blake, is FLW’s president of marketing.
Shelby and others said Jacobs catapulted FLW beyond its chief competitor, the venerable B.A.S.S. Bassmaster tour. He did so with leverage he acquired from the purchase of Arkansas-based Ranger Boats. Ranger and its legendary founder, Forrest L. Wood, had been bedrock allies of B.A.S.S., which was founded in 1968 by Ray Scott.
“Irwin wanted to be Mr. Bass,’’ Shelby said. “Ray Scott had it cornered at Bassmasters.’’
At a ceremony in Birmingham, Ala., in 2010, Jacobs was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. He was announced as the owner of the “largest fishing tournament organization in the world.’’ In 2010 alone, FLW hosted 189 tournaments. The tour made history in 2007 with an extraordinary $1 million payout to Scott Suggs for his victory at the Forrest Wood Cup in Arkansas. Today, FLW operates in eight countries and across many levels of expertise.
“Tournament fishing today has a lot to do with Irwin Jacobs,’’ said Dean Capra, a family friend of Jacobs and owner of Capra’s Sporting Goods in Blaine.At one point before the Great Recession dragged his Genmar boat empire into bankruptcy, one of every nine boats sold in the world belonged to Jacobs. Ranger was Genmar’s premier fishing brand, but Jacobs also owned Larson, Lund, Crestliner, Wellcraft, Hatteras and Carver among others.
Still, his friends said Jacobs developed a genuine admiration for professional bass anglers and set FLW apart by rewarding those anglers with big purses and heady sponsorships. They all agree that the blueprint for FLW was forged by a decade of flashy bass tournaments on Lake Minnetonka starting in 1989. Chief among them was the Jacobs-owned Don Shelby U.S. Invitational.
Voices: Read what Shelby, Capra and other associates had to say about Jacobs. C11 Ø