May 09, 2022
The fishing world is mourning the death of iconic bass-angling figure Ray Wilson Scott, Jr., the Alabama man known to many as the father of the modern bass fishing tournament game.
A man that fishing writer and attorney Pete Robbins called the most important figure in the history of bass fishing, The founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, 88, died of natural causes late on Sunday, May 8, 2022.
Part circus showman and part savvy entrepreneur and businessman, Scott initiated an angling revolution that continues to this day. His vision for the game of modern tournament bass fishing has had far-reaching impact on anglers, fishing gear and styles.
When news of the lifelong Alabama resident’s passing broke on Monday morning, reaction was swift and somber from nearly all corners of the outdoors industry and the fishing world.
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris wonders if his popular outdoors retail empire would even exist without Scott’s pioneering ideas and actions.
"Ray has been a mentor and friend," Morris told the Montgomery Adviser newspaper. "It’s not a big stretch to say that without Ray Scott, there would never have been a Bass Pro Shops."
It Started with Love of Fishing
Born in Montgomery, Ala., on Aug. 24, 1933, Scott was drafted into the U.S. Army, went to college at Samford and Auburn (where he eventually graduated), played college football for legendary coach Bobby Bowden, and held a variety of jobs in his early years. But he especially loved fishing, particularly the bass fishing that is so much a part of southern tradition and culture.
It's that latter interest that propelled Scott to amazing heights in the fishing industry, not to mention halls of fame across the country after he helped birth the modern game of tournament bass fishing, as well as strong pushes for boating safety, water quality, and catch-and-release fishing practices.
In a Game and Fish story back in 2017 titled "The 50-Year Evolution' of Tournament Bass Fishing," author Mark Hicks told a good portion of Scott’s rags-to-riches story. Included in that tale are tributes to Scott’s keen sense of humor, his unrivaled salesmanship ability and showmanship flair, and his patented Southern drawl that helped disarm critics when they conversed with a man who could sell anything to anybody…if you gave him long enough.
In fact, Scott’s friend and former bass pro Rodney Honeycutt once reportedly quipped that so good was Scott at what he did, that "Ray doesn't sell you anything. He just tells you what you bought."
As Pete Robbins’ obit story notes on Game and Fish Magazine’s sister website, BassFan.com, Scott wasn’t perfect and had a few brushes with controversy.
But as Hicks noted in his article, Scott also was a tireless worker and an honest man, qualities that drove his creation of a tournament fishing system that had rules and ethics, things sorely missing from many of the first-generation derbies held a half-century ago when the fledgling fishing tournament scene had few rules and rampant cheating.
In 1967, Scott founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society with the organization’s inaugural tournament event, the All-American Bass tournament, being contested in the Ozark region’s Beaver Lake in northern Arkansas. With a field of 106 anglers from 13 states—all of whom put up an entry fee of $100—the event was successful and fueled the birth of a fishing revolution.
When the smoke had cleared in the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks region, Stan Sloan had won the $2,000 first-place check and a trip to Mexico, while future Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network TV star Bill Dance—a hall-of-famer who has the longest running fishing show in television history—was on his way to becoming a household name with a runner-up finish.
Scott was off and running too, creating more tournaments, the B.A.S.S. organization, the Bassmaster Classic in 1971, Bassmaster magazine, and eventually, The Bassmasters TV show. With members and clubs all across the nation and the world, the organization would eventually attract more than 650,000 members and spawn a nationwide tournament circuit that would become the Bassmaster Elite Series trail of today.
Robbins noted that in 1972, Scott started the "Don’t Kill Your Catch" program, which led to new technology and the idea of keeping fish alive to be caught again. In a sport where anglers had historically put their fish on a stringer and hauled them to the dinner table—even in the early generation tournaments—Scott saw that population growth and pressure on the nation’s freshwater fisheries necessitated change. Because of that realization, he joined others in championing the catch-and-release ethic and the growing realization that a bass is a natural resource far too valuable to only be caught once.
Scott also reportedly championed the Wallop-Breaux amendment to the Dingell-Johnson Act, according to Robbins’ BassFan.com story, helping make a small tax on fishing tackle a major player in modern fisheries management efforts.
The Alabama man also had some influence in political circles after President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council. Scott would also chair the Alabama campaign of George H.W. Bush’s presidential bid in 1980—Bush later said that Bassmaster magazine was his favorite reading material—as well as emceeing the weigh-in of the 1984 Bassmaster Classic when future Presidents Bush and then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton were both on the Natural State’s crowded weigh-in stage.
So far-reaching was Scott’s influence, never-ending public-relation skills, and his tireless salesmanship abilities, that B.A.S.S. became a nationwide powerhouse, eventually being lauded as a "Top 10" event in the history of modern fishing and earning Scott enshrinement in the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, and many more.
Against that legendary status, it’s understandable the swift reaction across the outdoors industry and in tournament fishing circles on Monday morning following the breaking news of Scott’s death.
“Ray Scott changed the landscape of professional fishing forever," said the National Professional Anglers Association in a tweet. "While his work here may be done, his legacy will certainly live on for generations. We send our sincerest condolences to his family and friends."
"The father of modern-day bass fishing has passed away at the age of 88," tweeted fishing electronics giant Humminbird. "Ray Scott’s legacy and influence has paved the way for the great sport of bass fishing."
"FOREVER indebted to this man!," tweeted South Carolinian and 1999 Bassmaster Classic champion Davy Hite, now a media personality with B.A.S.S. "Thank you sir for the RIDE OF A LIFETIME! Rest in Peace Ray Scott."
"Ray Scott will never be forgotten," said Arkansas resident and Bass Pro Tour and Major League Fishing veteran Mark Davis, who became the first professional angler in bass-fishing history to win both the Bassmaster Classic and the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title in the same year in 1995.
“He made bass fishing into a way of life for so many,” continued Davis, who eventually won three B.A.S.S. AOY titles. "Prayers for his family as they mourn the loss of a great man."
Numerous outdoors and news sites like Bassmaster.com and a variety of newspapers around the country published and/or picked up the story almost as soon as the sun rose. Near Scott’s Alabama home, the Montgomery Advertiser even ran news of Scott’s death as its lead story for a long while on Monday.
The death of Scott, who was also an enthusiastic deer hunter and the founder of the Whitetail Institute, had an effect elsewhere, too, bringing strong reaction from other corners of the outdoors industry. That included Jackie Bushman, founder of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine and the long-running Buckmasters TV show on Outdoor Channel.
"We lost a legend in the outdoors last night," said Bushman in a Monday morning tweet. "Ray Scott of BASS passed away. He single handedly created the professional bass fishing platform. He was my hunting buddy and my mentor of helping me start Buckmasters. RIP my friend! God got a good one today!"
A dedicated member of Pintlala Baptist Church near his Alabama home, details on funeral arrangements for Ray Scott have not been released as of this writing. He is survived by his wife Susan, his sons Ray Wilson III and Steve, and his daughter Jennifer.