May 10, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Bass pros across the country—many of those anglers preparing for their next tournament event—were shocked and saddened by the news of bass-fishing icon Ray Scott’s passing away of natural causes late on Sunday, May 8, 2022.
The news broke the following day on Monday morning as BassFan.com and other sites as the news spread quickly about the death of one of the sport's greatest heroes.
And one by one, as I reached out to get reaction from bass fishing pros across the nation on a variety of angling circuits, there was genuine disbelief and true sadness, even if the news wasn’t totally unexpected given Scott’s age (88) and his health in recent years.
While Scott, called the "Bass Boss" in author Robert Boyle's 1999 biography of the same name, wasn’t perfect and had a moment or two of controversy in his long career, he was also universally well-liked. In fact, to the person, the bass pros I contacted said the same thing about a man who was known by many as the father, or even godfather, of modern tournament bass fishing.
Put simply, most indicated that without Scott, the bass-tournament world might not exist today—from the various professional circuits to the national amateur trails to high school and college derbies, and even countless local jackpots.
"Ray was the inventor and founder of bass-fishing tournaments," said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Hank Cherry, who won the 2020 and 2021 Bassmaster Classic events, joining Rick Clunn (1976-77), Kevin VanDam (2010-11), and Jordan Lee (2017-18) as the only four members of the exclusive "Back-to-Back Classic Wins" club.
"He gave me a dream as a kid that turned into a career," said Cherry, a 48-year North Carolina pro. "He’s a great man that will be deeply missed, but never forgotten."
"I’m really sorry to hear that," said Greg Hackney, who returned to the Bassmaster Elite Series last year in 2021 after spending time on the Bass Pro Tour and with Major League Fishing’s made-for-TV events.
"But think about this," continued Hackney, winner of 11 professional events, $3.71 million in career earnings, the B.A.S.S. Rookie of the Year title in 2004, FLW Angler of the Year title in 2005, FLW Forrest Wood Cup Championship in 2009, B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title in 2014, and the Major League Fishing World Championship in 2018. "I’m not sure that without Ray, I would have the job that I have today.
“Basically, Ray created our industry," Hackney continued in his text. "His impact on the industry goes forever as long as the bass is alive."
Edwin Evers, the 2016 Bassmaster Classic champ and the 2019 Bass Pro Tour REDCREST Champion, didn’t learn the news of Scott’s passing until Monday evening after a day of practice on the water where mobile phone reception wasn’t very good. Despite not knowing Scott all that well, Evers said he knew the impact Scott had on the sport.
"I’m just super thankful for the vision that he had and what an amazing legacy he’s leaving behind."
"I’ve never personally met him, but the impact he made on bass fishing has impacted not only me, but all the guys who fish (today),” said Oklahoma resident and 2022 Bassmaster Classic champ Jason Christie. "I just wonder where bass fishing and conservation would be without him."
Randy Howell, the Bass Pro Tour angler who started his career on Scott’s B.A.S.S. circuits, was also profoundly impacted by Scott, in part because of the Bassmaster Classic, the 52-year old tournament dubbed the "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing" that Scott created with the 1971 event on Nevada’s Lake Mead.
When reached for comment, Howell—who moved from North Carolina to Alabama a number of years ago to be in the epicenter of the bass-tournament world—had not heard the news yet.
"I had just started practice this morning early for the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit event on (Lake) Guntersville and I didn’t even hear the news yet," said the 49-year old angler who has competed professionally for 30 years, winning five events and $1.98 million in career earnings.
Howell has been a beneficiary of Scott’s tournament-angling dream, both from the regular derbies held down through the years and from Scott’s Classic derby, which Randy won in dramatic final day fashion on Guntersville back in 2014.
Aside from all of the tournaments, trophies, and paychecks that Scott helped to create in the modern fishing game, Howell felt a special connection almost instantly when he first met Scott many years ago.
"I loved Ray Scott, he was not only a pioneer in the sport, but he was also a very good-hearted individual that cared about people," said Howell by text. "I remember in my early years starting out, he always made me feel welcome and special and that meant a lot!
“My first Classic at 23 years old was the 1997 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, Ala., and it was his last Classic as the main man on stage, so I’ll always cherish that memory that we had together on stage. I got overwhelmed with emotion and he put his arm around me as everyone cheered. I’ll never forget that! Heaven gained a great storyteller when Ray showed up (Sunday).”
Brandon Palaniuk, the current Bassmaster Elite Series pro who captured the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation national championship in 2010 before embarking on a successful career that has included the 2017 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title and stints with Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, said Scott quite literally changed the world, or at least a certain part of it.
"We all like to think that tournament bass fishing would be around no matter what, but the truth is that if Ray Scott wouldn’t have had the vision and drive he did, the sport may never even (have existed)," texted Palaniuk, a 35-year-old Idaho pro awaiting the birth of his first child this year along with his wife Tiffanie.
"You and I may not even know each other," he continued. "This article wouldn’t even be written and people wouldn’t even care to read it, yet here we are because of Ray! He changed the course of people’s lives because his dream allowed others to dream as well! At 8 years old, I decided I wanted to fish for a living and my entire life was consumed by it from that point forward."
He's an Icon!
Everyone I contacted was greatly saddened by the news and spoke highly of what Scott had meant to the sport of bass fishing, from the professional circuits to the push for boating safety and water quality that he championed through the years, and of course, the first real nationwide push for catch-and-release angling practices among bass anglers from the professional side and amateur side of the nation’s water bodies.
But for some pros, who had known Scott closely for many years, the news brought about a heavy measure of grief regarding the loss of a longtime friend.
That included Shaw Grigsby, Jr., who called in disbelief mere moments after he had received my text seeking his reaction.
"I didn’t even know that," said Grigsby, a nine-time winner on the B.A.S.S. tournament trails and now a longtime member of the Bass Pro Tour and Major League Fishing. "It’s very, very sad (to hear) that news.
"He’s an icon," the 66-year old Grigsby continued. "He’s the one that developed the whole tournament fishing industry. Ray Scott. It’s a loss of a true hero and icon in our sport. Wow, I was just stunned when I read your note.
"He organized fishing into a sport. He took an afternoon hobby and a fun time and turned it into a sport. Literally, there are fishing tournaments all over the world now, and that’s where it all came from."
Grigsby fished his first B.A.S.S. tournament a decade after Scott had birthed the sport with a 1967 event in Arkansas. In doing so, the mustachioed pro said he’ll never forget the first time he met Scott, the Stetson-cowboy-hat-wearing ringmaster of professional bass events for a couple of decades.
"I fished my first tournament in 1977 and I got to go up on stage as a young punk fisherman," laughed Grigsby, who used to host the well-liked "One More Cast with Shaw Grigsby" TV show on Outdoor Channel. "I’ve known him a long time since then. I guess the last time I saw him was when we were there for an MLF event and we got to go out on his lake and fish with some [sponsors]. Oh, my goodness, he was just as funny as ever and he held court like he always did."
For Grigsby, who is himself one of the most likable and humorous bass pros in the sport’s history, it was Scott’s kind, caring personality mixed with a larger-than-life persona that made the tournament godfather the legend he is today.
Grigsby, a Bass Fishing Hall-of-Famer noted for his sight-fishing prowess, noted that one of his most prized possessions is a photo of Scott presenting him with a trophy after his first professional win back in the 1980s. Someone saved it for Grigsby years ago as some old things were being thrown away, and he’s treasured it ever since.
Along with Grigsby’s sadness for the passing of his longtime friend, he’s hopeful that the younger generation of anglers today won’t forget Scott or his impact on a sport they might be tempted to take for granted sometimes.
"I think that many of them (younger anglers), they might think that with plenty of tournaments today and with plenty of them to fish since they were kids, that it all just somehow existed from back then until now," said Grigsby. "But I’m not sure if they understand how hard it was to get all of this off the ground and how Ray got the press, got it all started like he did, and helped turn it into a legitimate sport.
"They might know the name (of Ray Scott), but they might not understand the depth of the man or the range he had to reach to create all of this in the sport that we have today," he continued.
"He was special, he just truly was."
Amen to that. Rest in peace, Ray Scott, and thanks for everything.