Ray Scott, creator of the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, dies at 88

Ray Scott, a fervent promoter who turned bass fishing into a professional sport by hosting a series of tournaments found televised on TNN and ESPN, died May 8 in Hayneville, Ala. He was 88.

His death, in a rehabilitation center, was confirmed by Jim Kientz, executive director of Ray Scott Outdoors, a consulting firm.

The idea for a bass fishing trip came to Mr. Scott when an insurance salesman broke down a fishing trip with a friend in Jackson, Miss., when rain in 1967. Stuck in his hotel room, watching sports on television, revelation: Why not start with the PGA Tour’s bass fishing equivalent?

He held his first tournament at Beaver Lake, Arkansas, where 106 fishermen paid $100 each to compete for $5,000 in prizes over three days. A second tournament followed that year; in 1968 he formed a membership organization, the Bass Angler Sportsman Society, or BASS.

In 1971, Mr. Scott hosted what has become known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing: the Bassmaster Classic, his organization’s annual championship tournament, which he combined with a merchandising show for bass fishing boat and equipment manufacturers.

Roland Martin, who hosts a fishing show on the Sportsman Channel, began competing on the BASS circuit in 1970. skeptical parents at the time.

“I said, ‘I’ve met this guy Ray Scott and he’s talking about all the great things that’s going to happen in bass fishing,'” said Mr. Martin. “He made me think there was a professional occupation in fishing.”

Mr. Scott was the showman of BASS, the umbrella company for tournaments, magazines and television shows. Easily identified by his cowboy hat and fringed jackets, Mr. Scott is memorable as the MC for tournament weigh-ins, entertaining thousands of fans with his lavish banter as fishermen pulled floppy fish from storage tanks.

“Well, isn’t that a really great fish?” he asked a tournament crowd. ‘How many of you want to see more such fish? Come on, let’s hear it for that fish!”

He entered the arenas that were the exhibition spaces of the Bassmaster Classic in striking ways: on an elephant, flying on a wire, bursting from a giant egg, in a boat as he seemed to float through fireworks on a fiery lake.

mr. Martin, a champion fisherman, said that Mr. Scott could be cunning at chasing cheaters in tournaments.

“He took a dead fish, marked them, and then threw them in the lake in the hopes that someone would find that fish and try to weigh them,” he said. “And he would catch guys doing that.”

One of Mr. Scott’s critical initiatives was a 1972 campaign called “Don’t Kill Your Catch,” targeting amateur fishermen and those taking part in the tournaments, requiring participants to use aerated live wells on their boats so they could hit the bass. release what they had. caught after the weigh-ins. He’d seen fly fishermen release their catch at an event in Aspen, Colorado, and thought he could apply those conservation ethics to bass fishing.

“I saw the excitement those guys had to let go of that puny little trout,” said Mr. Scott in a 2008 episode of “The Bassmasters”, a TV series he made. “I wondered what they would do if we had guys putting out five or six pound bass—big boys.”

Raymond Wilson Scott Jr. was born on August 24, 1933 in Montgomery, Alaska. His father was driving a group of ice cream trucks. His mother, Mattie Scott, was a hairdresser.

Ray was enterprising early on: In third grade, when his mother gave him extra sandwiches to weigh down his body, he sold them to his classmates. He later collected bills for a local dairy.

Fishing became an early obsession. He caught his first fish at the age of 6; when he was 16, he started a fishing club and charged a 25 cents membership fee.

After graduating from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Scott served in the US Army in West Germany for two years. He then resumed his education at Auburn University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959.

He sold insurance for Mutual of New York until 1964 and then became a manager at Underwriters National before going full-time for bass fishing.

He also became known for his conservation efforts, including filing about 200 state and federal lawsuits in 1970 and 1971 against companies for pollution that had polluted fishing waters, prior to the passing of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972.

Mr. Scott lobbied for the passing in 1984 of an amendment to the Sports Fish Restoration Act that created an excise tax program that would provide financial benefits to state fishing agencies.

He sold BASS in 1986 to a group that included Helen Sevier, its president and chief executive, who had been a force behind the scenes since he joined the company in 1970. ESPN, which had broadcast tournaments since the 1990s (it had been on TNN before then), acquired the company in 2001. Nine years later, it sold the company, but it kept going until 2020, when Fox took over.

Mr. Scott, who remained the public face of BASS for another ten years, also became friends with President George HW Bush. He was Mr. Bush’s campaign chairman in Alabama during his failed presidential campaign in 1980 and regularly hosted Mr. Bush at his private lake in Pintlala, south of Montgomery, where he indulged his love of fishing.

Mr. Bush’s favorite magazine would be Bassmaster, which is published by BASS.

In 2008, Mr. Scott supported former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee as president.

After the sale of BASS, Mr. Scott started two new companies; one develops seed products that are used by hunters to grow fodder for deer, and the other, which is no longer in operation, designed fishing lakes and ponds.

In 1995, Field & Stream named Mr. Scott one of the 20 people who have most influenced outdoor sports in the 20th century. In 2001, he was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife, Susan (Chalfant) Scott; his daughter, Jennifer Epperson; his sons, Ray III, Steven and Wilson; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His marriage to Eunice (Hiott) Scott ended with her death.

Even in the early days of his bass fishing journey, Mr. Scott felt that he had tapped into a market with great potential. But James Hall, Bassmaster editor-in-chief, said Mr. Scott has accomplished more than he could have imagined, and that his influence was not only in making bass fishing an organized sport, but also in accelerating the growth of an industry that serves fishermen.

Without Mr. Scott, he said, the Bass Pro Shops chain and many boat builders might not exist.

“They were founded,” Mr. Hall said in a telephone interview, “because of what Ray did.”

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