It’s not the only one, but it does claim to be the first of its kind. The Billy Bass Adoption Center, located inside of the Flying Fish restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a place where hundreds of the once ubiquitous novelty item have gone to die - or to sit in perpetuity, tacked to a wall, and reimagined as a new kind of novelty.
You’ve seen them before. The head-swinging, Bobby McFerrin-singing Big Mouth Billy Bass is probably owned by at least one of your neighbors or relatives. They received it as a gag gift in the late 1990s or early 2000s when its popularity skyrocketed.
An animatronic singing prop, the Big Mouth Billy Bass resembles a largemouth bass. But there’s one major difference between this bass and the real thing: This one sings “Don’t Worry Be Happy;” “Pretty Fishy,” a parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman;” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” There were several copycat toys released after the success of the Big Mouth Billy Bass, including animatronic singing versions of catfish, lobsters, rainbow trout, and even a Great White Shark.
A southern Cajun restaurant, the Flying Fish opened in 2002, a year when the Big Mouth Billy Bass was still pretty popular, a year when most people probably weren’t yet ready to part with their fish. But Shannon Wynne knew they would grow old fast, so she came up with the idea to retire the toys by hanging them on the walls of the Flying Fish - with a name like that, it seemed like the perfect place. Now, more than 300 of the Billy Bass fish decorate the walls - and even hang from the ceiling - at the restaurant. The idea has become a staple of the Flying Fish, which is opening additional restaurants around the south. When a new location opened its doors in Dallas in 2004, the owners had already hung eight fish on the walls. Don’t worry; they take all of the batteries out first.
“Almost all of them are brought by women,” one Flying Fish owner told the Lone Star Outdoor News. “Most of them ask us to please get this out of their attic or garage or house, and they all tell us, ‘If he comes looking for it, don’t tell him it’s here.’” Kids also bring them in, yanking them from their parents. They have some incentive: With each donation, a free catfish basket is given out.