to FIELD & STREAM Magazine, he walks with the outdoor gods:
Individuals like Teddy Roosevelt, Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold.
He is among the “Twenty Who Have Made A Difference” in the American
outdoors over the past century.
Following in the
footsteps of such American legends, Ray W. Scott, Jr. has achieved his
own legacy as the “Bass Boss,” the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman
Society (B.A.S.S.), the Whitetail Institute of North America, and as
publisher framed the foundation for successful outdoor publications,
including BASSMASTER Magazine, Southern Outdoors,
Fishing Tackle Retailer, and the award-winning national television
series “The BASSMASTERS”, the highest rated program on The
Nashville Network (TNN).
His climb to the
heights began with a “brainstorm in a rainstorm” in 1967 on a fishing
trip to Jackson, Mississippi. Bunkered in a motel room after being
rained out by a passing storm, Scott, a dedicated bass angler, clicked
the channels on the TV set. To his disappointment finding the only
sport, a professional basketball game.
As he started to dose,
Scott mumbled out loud, “Why doesn’t someone cover fishing on TV.
There’s more folks fishing, than playing basketball?”
Suddenly, the light
went on inside Ray Scott’s mind. He bolted upright in the bed.
In a single instance he experienced a true vision. One that would
change the future of fishing, create a new bass fishing industry, spawn
bass fishing heroes and provide the conservation leadership to protect
the resource for the future.
It was all clear in his
spontaneous revelation. Scott would conduct a competitive fishing
tournament. Not a local “buddy” tournament but a true national
bass fishing tournament. In 1967, this was unplowed
ground. Fishing was for relaxing. Not competition. As
to “bass fishing,” the lordly trout held the high ground and claimed
more coverage in the slick “Big 3” outdoor magazines, officed in way off
New York City.
The Birth of B.A.S.S.
But, Scott’s keen scope
of understanding had begun to strike “Gold in them Thar Gills.” He
has an uncanny knack for thinking outside the tacklebox.
His marketing plan.
“Bubba Power.” Get the good ol’ boys turned on to the bass
fishing sport. Make it a club – the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society
– the acronym spelled B.A.S.S.
An exclusive club,
dedicated to the black bass only. “If you mess with musky or
piddle with perch, you don’t belong in B.A.S.S.” was Scott’s message.
All-American Invitational Bass Tournament in June 1967 at Beaver Lake in
northwest Arkansas lured 106 anglers from 15 states. A major
marketing coup for the time.
What began with four
names on a 4 x 5 card in a metal box would swell to over 650,000
worldwide members as BASSMASTER Magazine would become respected as the
“Bible of Bass Fishing,” and carry Scott’s bassin’ message around the
During the formative
years of B.A.S.S. in 1968-1970 Scott realized the Bassmaster Tournament
Trail would provide the springboard to turn the bass fishing sport into
an information-age highway long before the advent of the wired-world and
Tournament results, the
on-the-water bass fishing proving grounds, served as a huge funnel of
raw fishing data. What dripped out on the final weigh-in platform
was pure how-to information and priceless proven ways to find and catch
With his bassin’
brotherhood eager to learn the winning ways, Scott took to the highway.
Town to town and city to city. A 9-month series of 101 one-night
bass fishing seminars from coast to coast. On the program were,
the special secrets from shallow-water expert John Powell, a plastic
worm fishing expert, and a technical Roland Martin, who would become one
of the sport’s all-time great tournament fishermen, winning 19 B.A.S.S.
titles over the next 30 years.
“We were teaching
fishing and preaching anti-pollution,” recalls Scott. And along
the way building an army of over 3,000 conservation-minded bass clubs.
Later the clubs would band into state B.A.S.S. Federations and unite
under a national B.A.S.S. Federation banner to assemble a minuteman army
for numerous conservation causes and achievements for the angling
Such was the efforts of
the fledgling Chattanooga, Tennessee Bass Club and its President Harold
Sharp to “Peg Polluters” in the all-out clean up of the industrial waste
being dumped into his area streams and lakes. The landmark case
was the centerpiece for Scott’s efforts to end the use of the nation’s
waterways as sewers for industrial discharge.
With B.A.S.S. members
on the prowl and on guard for unregulated dumping, Scott and Company
filed over 200 lawsuits against polluters during 1970-71 across Alabama,
Tennessee and Texas. Today, these closed cases of fouled waters
provide many man-hours of fruitful fishing.
Catch and Release
As controversial as
Scott seemed, pitting the bass against all other species, it was a
trout angler that switched on another bright light in Scott’s head.
Attending a Federation of Fly Fisherman’s conclave in Colorado, Scott
watched a fly-rodder catch a small 12-inch trout. Then later he
experienced an awakening as he watched the catch-and-release ceremony
the angler and his fishing companions observed in releasing the trout.
It was then that
Scott’s idea for “Don’t Kill Your Catch” bass fishing tournaments was
born. Among Ray Scott’s many contributions his concept of
catch-and-release may well be the most lasting legacy. Today over
98 percent of the bass weighed-in during national B.A.S.S. tournaments
return alive to the waters and the release percentage is equally high
among other fishing groups, bass clubs and individual anglers.
His way with words and
Southern-brand of Bubba bassin’ caught the attention of SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED Magazine’s writer Robert Boyle, who relayed Scott’s
message. The article, “A Big BASS bash in Arkansas”, (Oct. 20,
1969) pictured Scott in the bow of a sharp-nosed Skeeter bass rig and
the notation: “Ray Scott rides herd on the watery range of bass
fishermen who are crawling out from behind every stump to join his
Boyle, who in 1999
would write the best-selling book on the life and times of Ray Scott, “Bass
Boss,” observed in his opening paragraph of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
some 30 years previously:
“When it comes to black bass,
Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala., has a silver tongue and a golden touch.
Scott is president and chairman of the board of the Bass Anglers
Sportsman Society, succinctly known as BASS, and when he talks about
bass – largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky spotted – he comes on like a
revival preacher painting the glories of paradise gained.”
Scott took his bass
fishing pulpit to national TV programs like NBC’s “Today Show,”
ABC’s primetime “Dick Cavett Show,” and on the ABC Network’s
acclaimed “20/20” news program.
Famed New York Times
sports columnist Red Smith upon seeing Ray Scott remove his customary
cowboy Stetson and start a tournament with a prayer said: “This Alabama
bassman, Ray Scott, does things in a unique fashion. It’s the
first time I’ve ever seen anyone address the Lord through a bullhorn!”
Scott’s prayer made two
points to the contrary: (1) “Lord, let the bass bite.” (2)
And, “please bring everyone back safely.”
“Boating Safety” rules
as the watchword and guiding principle of the Bassmaster Tournament
Trail. Scott’s concern is more than lip-service. Since 1968
his tournament rules have required contestants to wear a Coast
Guard-approved life vest anytime the big engine cranked. Scott’s
campaign to install an automatic outboard shut-off device in the event
the driver is thrown from the console, pushed a reluctant outboard
manufacturers in the mid-1970s to make the “kill switch” a standard
President Jimmy Carter
appointed Ray Scott to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety
Advisory Council as evidence of his impact.
Scott is still onboard,
concerning boating safety issues. In 1994, he worked to help pass
into law the nation’s first comprehensive Boating Safety Reform Act in
his home state of Alabama. The law makes boat operator
certification mandatory and requires completion of a written exam to
operate a boat in the state. As a result of the boat operator’s
license, deaths on Alabama’s waterways have been reduced by over 50
As a long-standing
proponent of personal flotation devices (PFDs) Scott mandated the wear
of life vests in bass fishing tournaments when the big engine was
running. In Scott’s opinion, the next step in boating safety is to
pass a “mandatory lifejacket rule” to require the life vest be worn at
all times while boating.
Scott is best known as
the founder of the world’s largest bass fishing organization (B.A.S.S.),
but boating safety and saving lives may be his legacy. The
National Safe Boating Council honored Scott as a 2002 inductee into the
Boating Safety Hall of Fame. “This distinction honors individuals
who have shown exemplary leadership and performed outstanding service on
behalf of safe boating,” said Virgil Chambers, executive director of the
National Safe Boating Council.
A Legend in
the summer of 1998, OUTDOOR LIFE celebrated its 100th
anniversary, publishing a special collector’s edition, and honored the
“top fishing innovations of the past 100 years.”
Evinrude’s one-cylinder outboard in April 1909 topped the list.
“Don’t Row! Throw the Oars Away!” primed the fishing evolution.
Nylon (monofilament) fishing line by du Pont and the first American-made
spinning reel, the “Spinmaster,” marketed following World War II changed
the way folks fished.