When you think of B.A.S.S and professional bass fishing in the United States, only one name comes to mind: Ray Scott.
B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott earned his nicknames of "The Bass Boss" and the "Godfather of Bass Fishing" for good reason. He is a visionary that took the one thing that we all love—bass fishing—and turned it into a household name.
B.A.S.S., or the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, was the original idea of a young man who, according to Ray Scott Outdoors, was a "dreamer who got his start selling peanuts at the famous Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama in the early 1940s."
Not only that, but Ray W. Scott, Jr. also founded the Whitetail Institute of North America, as well as BASSMASTER Magazine, Southern Outdoors, Fishing Tackle Retailer, and the award-winning national television show The BASSMASTERS.
As the story goes, his climb to stardom began with a "brainstorm in a rainstorm" in 1967 during a fishing trip to Jackson, Mississippi. Scott and his fishing partner were hunkered down in their motel room after being rained out, when Scott, an extremely dedicated bass angler, turned on the TV to his utter disappointment: there was nothing on except a professional basketball game.
He thought it was about time somebody started an organization dedicated to his one true love: competitive bass fishing.
It's true, no one has influenced bass fishing more than Ray W. Scott Jr. Alabama Living tells us that his earliest fishing memories come from fishing with a cane pole and a can of worms near his Montgomery, Ala. home with a bicycle and his friends.
Everything changed one day when he latched into a fish that was bigger and stronger than anything he had tangled with before, and once his mother had identified him for him as a largemouth bass, bass fishing was his passion for life.
It was later in his life, when his knowledge and love for angling for bass came to the forefront, that he made it his purpose to start what we now know as tournament angling and bring it to light for the rest of the fishing world.
As we mentioned, it was his "brainstorm in a rainstorm" that started his march towards bringing the bass fishing industry into American households, and specifically turning bass tournament fishing into one of the most lucrative sportfishing industries in the United States. His thought was the format could be similar to golf tournaments.
"That summer, he organized such a tournament in Arkansas. From that event grew the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), the Bassmaster Classic and a multibillion-dollar industry," reports Alabama Living.
His first tournament at Beaver Lake, Arkansas proved without a shadow of doubt that there was a huge desire for the tournament trail concept due to the energy created by that first event. Anglers everywhere wanted to get in on the action, share their knowledge, and take a crack at what could be serious monetary rewards.
This was the beginning of what we now know as B.A.S.S.
Despite a few obstacles, Scott instinctively knew that he was on the right track. In fact, once he sold B.A.S.S. in 1986, he stayed on as its president until he retired in the late 1990s.
Ray Scott as an Entertainer and Influencer
Without the personality Scott showed on stage and behind the microphone, B.A.S.S. likely didn't stand as good a chance at becoming as popular as it did. He had a way about him, and could spread his infectious passion for fishing without seeming overzealous.
Veteran pro angler Randy Blaukat has said, "Onstage at the weigh-ins, he was a master showman and would entertain the crowd with his own brand of Alabama flavor. He could generate drama on the stage like no other. His cowboy hat, scarfs, stiffly pressed jeans and shirts all added to his aura as a promoter. But it worked. He developed a loyal following and grew B.A.S.S. memberships to huge levels."
In 1976, Ray Scott was appointed to the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Advisory Council. He used the post to lobby for the many safety reforms such as positive upright and level floatation in boats that are commonplace now. The U.S. Coast Guard adopted the recommendations and they were passed into Federal law.
Even presidents George W. Bush and president George H.W. Bush were fans of the sport of bass fishing and fished with Scott many times.
Scott has another passion that you may have heard of: deer hunting. With that in mind back in 1988, he founded the Whitetail Institute of North America and became instrumental in developing nutrition manufactured exclusively and scientifically for whitetail deer to promote proper whitetail management and conservation practices everywhere.
Impact of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society
The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) is a tournament and membership organization that has revolutionized the way we view bass fishing in today's landscape.
Since its inception, this vaunted organization has taken up the cause of outdoor enthusiasts, especially bass fishermen, to the tune of a half-million members and counting, and a vast sum of $30 million annually in economic impact.
Bassmaster tournament circuits include the Bassmaster Elite Series, BassPro.com Bassmaster Opens, TNT Fireworks B.A.S.S. Nation, just to name a very few, but it is the Bassmaster Classic—known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing—that garners attention worldwide.
Bassmaster said it best,
"No one could have predicted that the 106 fishermen competing in Ray Scott's first tournament in 1967 would one day turn into a membership organization more than half a million strong. It would have been just as impossible to predict that the B.A.S.S. newsletter, first distributed in 1968, would evolve into Bassmaster Magazine, the bible of today's bass fisherman."
Since we could talk all day about them, it may just be better to list some of this illustrious organization's achievements over the years.
- B.A.S.S. lobbied Congress in support of the Wallop-Breaux amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act, which generates more than $600 million annually for state fisheries in 1984.
- Has been active in local, state and national conservation issues since 1968.
- Made "Catch and Release" a common fishing strategy.
- Created goals of natural resource protection and highlighted the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts.
- Installed 19 state federations and began the B.A.S.S. Nation program in 1972.
- Currently there are B.A.S.S. Nation clubs in 46 of the United States plus organizations in Canada, Mexico, Italy, Japan, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
- Today, tens of thousands of bass fishing fans routinely cram into coliseums to watch the current daily tournament weigh-ins, with $1,000,000 awarded to the anglers — $300,000 of which goes to the champion.
- Made watching bass fishing on TV as popular as ever.
- Fishermen joining B.A.S.S. and get $50 worth of free gear, and a one year subscription to the "bass fishing bible" Bassmaster magazine.
It was around 1977 when I joined, and even back then I received lures, decals, informational material, and one of the best magazines I ever read until the pages fell apart! Who didn't love the Adventures of Harry 'n' Charlie?
The Last Word
Now we have to stop and revert back; weren't we talking about Ray Scott?
Everything having to do with B.A.S.S. is connected to who he is, what he is all about, and the chain of bass fishing history that he started.
Thanks to Scott, we were introduced to personalities such as Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and Roland Martin, all due to Scott's vision of bass fishing tournament angling.
This is certainly not to say that these venerable and beloved bass fishing men wouldn't have come to light in the fishing world on their own, but because of Scott, they entered the tournaments and rose to the top. In fact, they all won the Angler of the Year Awards rather early in their career.
In 1975, Roland Martin was the all-time leading money winner with some $47,823. As of 2017, Kevin VanDam had earned some $6.2 million dollars, showing just how far and how popular Ray Scott's vision has come.
One thing is for sure, the odds of becoming a professional angler are slim. But through B.A.S.S. and the legacy of Ray Scott, we now have access to the same knowledge, the same equipment, and the same processes that the pros use.
Ray Scott has left an imprint on the all-American fishing culture, and done so to a larger extent than just about any other outdoorsman can claim. He's a hero among outdoor personalities, and anyone on their favorite fishing hole on any of the country's trophy bass lakes ought to tip their hat to the man who made much of it possible.
For fishing gear and more, check out BassProShops.com.