EDITOR’S NOTE: While many of us in the outdoor space had the privilege of knowing and being around Ray Scott, not many knew him as well as our own Frank Sargeant. Today, Frank helps all of us know the man who made fishing more popular, and better for us all. He also help turn a “struggling fishing guide” into one of our favorite fishing writers.
Ray continued to be a part of the BASS Classic into his later years--he's seen here at the Classic Outdoors Show in Birmingham. (Frank Sargeant)
It’s hard to add anything of value to all the accolades already bestowed on Bassmaster-founder Ray Scott, who passed away Sunday at the age of 88. But since I’m one of the thousands who owe much of their careers to him, I’ll have to try.
I was struggling to make a living as a fishing guide at Homosassa, Florida, when I happened to run into Ray at a tackle show. He was looking for writers and I was (desperately) looking for a way to make a little extra income.
He introduced me to a young editor by the name of Dave Precht, who had just come to work for him, and my future changed forever. I wrote for Bassmaster Magazine for the next 20 years, and my work there opened many other doors.
There are thousands of us with similar stories who owe Ray for whatever success we’ve had in the fishing industry, and hundreds of companies that wouldn’t even be in existence were it not for him.
The professional bass fishing circuits probably would not be there had Ray not come up with the concept and shown it to be viable. He was sort of the P.T. Barnum of competition fishing, proving that fishing could be a “Big Show”, a spectator sport, cool as well as fun—and that it could make big money.
Even retail giant Bass Pro Shops probably would not be therewere it not for Ray’s founding of the bassing empire, which gave Johnny Morris a ready-made market of avid freshwater anglersto create the kick-start he needed to build the giant retail operations of today.
Tick off the list of names of industry giants, Forrest Wood of Ranger, Earl Bentz now of Caymas and formerly of Triton, Stratos, Hydra-Sports and others, Rick Pierce of Basscat and many others, to say nothing of the outboard motor companies, particularly Mercury, which sell so many of their engines to bass anglers, Darrell Lowrance of Lowrance electronics, Tom Mann of Humminbird, dozens of tackle companies, specialized fishing clothing companies (remember the jump-suit craze?) and so much more—it’s likely all of these companies would either have not existed or would have been a shadow of what they are today without Ray Scott and his Bass Angler Sportsman Society.
Ray fished with both President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush during their tenures. (Alabama Archives and History)
Ray was one of the first to recognize that great fishing requires great habitat, and was a leader in conservation, particularly the fight for clean waters. B.A.S.S. remains active in that mission today, and it may be one of his greatest legacies. He fished with Presidents—both Bush 1 and 2--and made sure they were on the side of conservation, too.
He was also the man who made catch-and-release fishing popular among bass anglers. Without that, most of our lakes would be unfishable today.
Ray was the ultimate salesman, the immediate center of attention where ever he went, a big, loud, friendly guy with an infectious smile and that trademark cowboy hat, and if he wanted you to do something, he’d find a way to talk you into doing it—and probably make a little money on the side for himself along the way.
Ray got rich in the business, and he built an estate to prove it, complete with the world’s best bass lake and deer stands that included TV’s and easy chairs. But he made a whole lot of other folks rich along the way, too—for that, the industry owes him considerably.
Ray Scott built a fortune through bass fishing, and enjoyed it at his estate south of Montgomery, Alabama for many years. (Ray Scott Enterprises)
Chase Anderson, now the C.E.O. of B.A.S.S. summed up Ray’s contributions:
“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.”
Dave Precht, now editor emeritus of Bassmaster, said Scott was a huge factor in boating safety, as well:
“Early on, he began requiring tournament competitors to wear personal flotation devices whenever boating, and he convinced manufacturers to make emergency shut-off devices — “kill switches” — standard features on motorboats. In 1994, he was instrumental in passing the comprehensive Boating Safety Reform Act in Alabama, which became the first state to require that boat drivers pass a written exam and obtain a boat operator’s license.”
Major League Fishing president/C.E.O. Jim Wilburn, who heads the chief competitor of the BASS Elite circuit, said Scott will forever be remembered as one of the greatest visionaries and contributors in the history of bass fishing:
“His efforts have made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many outdoorsmen and women, across the world. He launched groundbreaking marketing and media partnerships, membership platforms and conservation programs that have brought the sport into the national spotlight. His iconic legacy will endure through his family and continue to inspire generations to come.”
“Every staff member, angler, and fan of the MLF family is the beneficiary of Ray’s vision, generosity and inspiration,” Wilburn said in a statement.
I thought of Ray Monday as I drove the stretch of interstate 65 near his home in Pintlala, Alabama, south of Montgomery, where a section is designated “Ray Scott Highway”.
In a way, all of us in the bass fishing industry are driving on that highway today.
Thanks again, Ray, from all of us.