Words by Alan Snagg
Photography by Layth Taylor
and provided by Barry Stokes
Barry Stokes loves to bring his friends along on his fishing trips. And Barry has lots of friends.
The host of “Fox Sports Outdoors” fishing show is seen by viewers across 11 states. From Texas to Oklahoma, all the way to the Carolinas and Georgia, his show can be viewed from March through November. “We run three quarters (of the year). Most shows only run two,” Barry said. “And it’s current. We have 10 reporters…Our goal is for people to watch the show and be able to go out and catch fish that week.”
Barry has been on TV helping folks catch fish for more than three decades. Prior to his current show, he hosted “Outdoor Trails”, a nationwide broadcast, for 18 years. “The economy got us,” Barry recalled of that show coming to an end. “It started in 1999. The business environment got terribly difficult and everybody cut their advertising, along with the dot.com bust. We had a nice little setup in Aledo.”
But Barry is as happy as he’s ever been doing “Fox Sports Outdoors.” He is joined by wife Laurie as they hit the broadcast trail each February through October. In fact, she is an integral part of each broadcast. “My wife decided she would learn how to operate a television camera,” Barry said. “She doesn’t fish much, but she really enjoys running that camera, and she’s great. She’s the primary camera person on the show.” Laurie also handles a lot of the paperwork and scheduling that goes with running the show.
“If he needs for me to troll a line behind the boat, whatever is best for the show, that’s what I’m there for,” Laurie said. “I love to travel, so my favorite part is being able to go with him. We are so blessed to be able to do this together.”
Barry said after all these years, his favorite part of it all is still teaching people to fish.
While Barry is the star, there are many other people who help make it happen, he stresses, including the aforementioned reporters, a full-time producer, and even someone who handles weather reports.
Though they spend much time away, the couple still call Granbury home. Their own office, as well as their social media team are located in Granbury. The Stokes have lived on Lake Granbury for 21 years, where Barry will often escape in the show’s offseason for some private time on the lake. “We came here and visited for our anniversary one year and just said, ‘You know, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live,'” Barry said. “It’s a better environment to raise our kids, and I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the lake over the years.”
Barry recently turned 60. He and Laurie have been married 39 years. They have two grown children and are “still waiting” on grandchildren, Barry jokes.
Barry was introduced to fishing when he was 5 years old. It was on a fishing trip with his dad. “I clearly remember. My dad took me to Lake Arlington,” he said. “He bought some earthworms and we went out on the shore. We were perch fishing… It just hooked me. Watching that bobber go up and down, it connected with me. I realized that day I was destined to do what I’m doing now.”
Barry has competed professionally, but more than that he loves communicating with viewers through his show. It was also early in life that he discovered his passion for broadcasting. “As a teenager I watched every Rangers and Cowboys game and I’d pay close attention to the announcers, listening to their every word,” he said. “I would have my parents drop me off at TCU games, and I’d buy a ticket and sit in the top row. I’d broadcast into a recorder like I was doing the game live.”
Barry went on to get a broadcast degree from Oklahoma Christian University. He worked at various radio stations, including hosting a fishing broadcast on WBAP for 15 years. “It was then I thought about giving TV a shot,” he said, noting that he’d been inspired by the likes of professional anglers Jimmy Houston, Bill Dance, Freddie Grant, and even Curt Gowdy’s “American Sportsman.”
So, in 1985 he sold his pickup truck, bought some equipment and started his own show on Channel 27 in Dallas. “It wasn’t a lightning bolt, just something that, with persistence and longevity, paid off,” he said.
Barry said the show involves more traveling now than ever before. He and Laurie are on the road much more, but with the children grown and moved out, they have turned it into an adventure. An adventure that includes a lot of work. “I spent 140 nights in a hotel last year,” Barry said. “It’s not glamorous. It’s hauling cameras in and out of hotels, spending 12-13 hours in the water, getting up at 4 a.m., always changing batteries in cameras, cleaning equipment, transferring video. “We’re exhausted at the end of the day. But we love it.”
Barry said part of the show’s continued popularity is connected to their willingness to experiment. And experiment they do; during the offseason Laurie is going to learn drone technology so that she can capture footage from the air. They also use Gopro cameras sometimes during filming.
In fact, Barry recently filmed an entire segment without a camera person. A regular TV camera was strategically placed, and he combined that footage with footage from a Gopro and his smart phone. “I was able to basically photograph myself with nobody else in the boat,” he said. “I spent all day and was able to catch a lot of black bass. “It was extremely difficult. I don’t ever plan to do it again, but it was fun.”
Barry said after all these years, his favorite part of it all is still teaching people to fish. “I really get a thrill out of figuring out how to catch and relay that to the viewer,” he said. “Then I’ll run into one and they’ll say something like, ‘I watched your show, then I went out with my kid and we caught them’. I’ve caught tens of thousands of fish, but to me the most fun is watching others. I’ll grab somebody around here sometimes and get them in the boat with me and take them out. That’s the biggest thrill.”
Laurie, on the other hand, still loves watching Barry fish after all these years. “It’s fun for me to watch him catch some really big fish, some he’s never caught before,” she said. “It’s funny when he stomps his foot when one gets away, too.”
The challenge of finding fish is also one of Barry’s biggest joys. “You’ve got thousands of acres of water and the fish can go anywhere,” he said. “When you launch a boat on the Gulf of Mexico and find fish, to be able to accomplish that, for example, is really exciting.”
His favorite form of fishing is when he’s on his own fishing for crappie in deep water. “Most people might think it would be big fish, bass, even swordfish, but I love crappie and the challenge they represent,” he said. “I like to use all my electronic gear and find underwater ledges, find those structures on the bottom of the lake (where they hide).”
While Barry was successful for the two years he fished on the Bassmasters Tour, he found it kept him away from home too much and he enjoyed his hosting gig much more.
Barry is in no hurry to retire, but he said he realizes an exit strategy is prudent. “We’re bringing in some young guys and easing them in a little at a time,” he said. “I still hope to own the show, manage it, deal with all the sponsors, but to back off on the traveling and such over the next five to 10 years.”
Then, he smiled, and said, “I am the most blessed guy, to catch fish and get paid for it for this long is an absolute dream”.