Not many people can be credited for developing an entire industry. Ray Scott is one of the few. He built bass fishing into what it is today – NASCAR of the outdoors. Scott is the father of competitive fishing and paved the way for untold amounts of business around bass angling. He was larger than life, but made everyone he met feel like friend. Scott passed away on Sunday, May 8 at11:30 p.m. He was 88 years old.
In 1967, Scott launched the Bassmaster Tournament Trail as the first national professional bass fishing circuit. Just a year later, he founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.). This was the first member organization I ever joined. I proudly carried the iconic logo as a sticker on my tackle box as a kid. My uncle had the same sticker on the back window of his work van. B.A.S.S. had over 650,000 at its peak, making it the world’s largest fishing organization.
I am one of the many fortunate souls to have crossed paths with Ray Scott. I was able to spend time with him on multiple occasions during annual conferences of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. I was invited, along with three other outdoor writers, to spend a couple days at Scott’s home fishing his famed private bass lake outside of Montgomery, Alabama. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
The fishing great, but paled in comparison to the opportunity to just sit with Scott on his back porch and listen to him tell tales of his illustrious life in the fishing industry. He talked about his friends like Bill Dance, Johnny Morris, Rick Clunn, and Jimmy Houston. He detailed the early days of professional bass fishing. It was one of those moments you dream of as a fisherman. I grew up watching Scott on television and reading his magazines. To have the chance to know an icon you looked up to, and to realize he’s even greater in person than you imagined, is special.
One standout accomplishment Scott should be thanked for is his development of the catch-and-release mentality in bass fishing. Prior to Scott’s tournaments and public relations work, largemouth bass usually ended up on stringers. Scott began advocating for releasing fish early on. His “Don’t Kill Your Catch” campaign debuted in 1972. He mandated all fishermen in his tournaments had to weigh their bass alive, or they would be penalized. Scott did a lot for livewell salesmen.
B.A.S.S. released a statement upon Scott’s passing. In it, Chase Anderson, B.A.S.S. CEO, said, “Our entire organization was saddened to hear about the passing of our founder, Ray Scott. Ray’s passion and vision for bass fishing birthed our entire industry more than 50 years ago when he founded B.A.S.S. and started the first professional fishing tournament series. His legacy is felt to this day and continues to influence B.A.S.S., the world’s largest fishing membership organization. Ray’s contributions and impact on conservation and his advocacy and passion for anglers and our sport set the standard for tournament fishing and are something we will always strive to uphold. Our hearts and prayers are with the Scott family.”
Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, credits Scott for creating an opportunity for Bass Pro to exist and thrive. Morris released a letter about Scott. He wrote, “I was 22 years old when I first met Ray while competing in his All American National B.A.S.S. Tournament on Table Rock Lake in 1970. There can be no doubt that if I had not fished in that tournament, Bass Pro Shops would never have come to be. I don’t know what I would have done in my life, but I do know it would not have been near as much fun and gratifying as having the opportunity of spending a lifetime being so closely connected to the great sport of fishing. Like many others, I am forever grateful to Ray Scott!”
Many of the early tournament anglers who became celebrities on television, credit Scott for giving them the path to do so. Thankfully, many of them are still around to share their thoughts on the loss of such an industry giant.
Jimmy Houston wrote, “Ray’s dream did more than create a multi-billion-dollar fishing industry and a sport that we all love. When I look at all the people in my life that are important to me, outside of family, all of them are because of Ray’s dream. Ironically, as visionary as Ray was, I don’t think that dream included creating all of the friendships that came as a result of it all. And many of those friendships have evolved into success stories of their own that in turn add more realism to Ray’s dream. Friends like Johnny Morris, Bill Dance, Roland Martin. I could go on until the sun sets and not include everyone on a list of my friends that have had a positive impact on bass fishing, because of Ray’s dream. The dream started out having nothing to do with friendships, but it did, and that’s how our industry became successful.”
Bill Dance wrote, “I was there when it all started. Like most things to be really successful you start off crawling and that develops into a walk and that turns in to a run. That’s how B.A.S.S. started with Ray. It began as a dream and became reality. Ray realized early on he was on to something with the tournaments. He realized how competition would help grow the sport, the industry and B.A.S.S. The tournament trail became the proving ground, the real-time research and development environment, for everything involved in growing (and preserving) fishing.”
If there were to be a Mount Rushmore equivalent for fisherman, Ray Scott would be on it. He was a genuinely good man who developed an industry through good times. The businesses and careers that exist today because of his dream are countless. He is truly a legend.
See you down the trail…
Pic: The author with Ray Scott at a Southeastern Outdoor Media Association conference.