Living Legend – Ray Scott – a Thursday Throwback

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Ray Scott, founder of Bass Angler’s Sportsman Society, shows a bass he caught at the lake at his home in Pintlala, Ala. on Friday March – photo courtesy Ray Scott Outdoors

In 2009 and 2010, our managing editor, Dan O’Sullivan was the field editor for Bass West USA Magazine.  He was given the opportunity to do a series of articles celebrating true legends in the sport of bass fishing.  As a Throwback Thursday column, let’s take a look back at the career of Ray Scott, the founder of B.A.S.S..

by Dan O’Sullivan

According to online dictionaries, the term ‘Legend’ has several meanings, it can mean; ‘an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.’ It might mean; ‘An explanatory table or list of the symbols appearing on a map or chart.’ Or in the case of the bass fishing world, a ‘Legend’ is; ‘one that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.’

A Legend of the sport is someone who has made significant contributions or achieved uncommon accomplishments en route to leaving an indelible mark on the history of the sport. These are individuals who have set new standards, created new trends and driven the bar to new heights as they have blazed the trails of their careers.

Without these individuals, the sport of bass fishing would have nothing to measure itself against. The industry, minus their involvement, would likely be in a much less advanced state than it is. The drive of dominating competition, on and off the water has left a trail of history that many are witness to, yet few are a component of.

One of those anglers is Ray Scott of Pintlala, Ala.

Ray Scott 2010 Bassmaster Classic - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Ray Scott 2010 Bassmaster Classic – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Ray Scott by the Numbers
A quick check of the angler history books on reveals the fact that Ray Scott, as a professional angler, has not entered a BASS event, has no wins, no top 10 finishes and zero career earnings with a rod in his hands. Whether he has earned an impressive list of angling accomplishments on regional trails anywhere throughout the country is unpublished, and quite literally wouldn’t matter anyway.

The truth about Scott, is that there may be no more important person in the history of bass fishing; period. How would a person who has never hoisted a Bassmaster trophy of his own overhead become the most influential person in sport? The answer simply put is this; there would likely not be a sport of bass fishing or the industry as we know it today without him.

His bringing more than 100 of the best anglers from the southeast to Arkansas’ Beaver Lake in 1968 is the beginning of legitimate bass fishing tournaments the world over. The story of Scott establishing what would become the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society while being an insurance salesman in the late 1960’s has been told many times.

The running of that first tournament in 1968 started Scott on a quest to form B.A.S.S. The organization, which was hatched in Scott’s imagination, has become the preeminent organization in fishing with its membership exceeding 600,000 individuals. The organization, which has been in existence for more than 40 years, is the largest tournament organization in the world, and a leader in conservation and education.

While the founding of B.A.S.S. has spawned countless other tournament organization, BASS alone is responsible for hundreds of professional level tournaments; thousands of grass roots level events and the springboard of the careers of some of the industry’s most well known individuals.

Since that 1968 All American tournament on Beaver Lake, BASS has run 580 professional level bass tournaments. Those tournaments, which are events from the Bassmaster Opens level to the Bassmaster Elite Series are widely regarded as the highest level of competition available today.

Ray Scott with Roland Martin June 1975 - photo courtesy BASS Communications

Ray Scott with Roland Martin June 1975 – photo courtesy BASS Communications

Along with the professional level tournaments, BASS; and its Bassmaster Federation Nation program, is responsible for hundreds of tournaments each year for anglers on the grass roots level the world over. The number of Federation Nation events since the inception of the program is likely in the thousands.

His construction of B.A.S.S. provided the stage for anglers to build a reputation as winners that would carry them forward in the public eye. Anglers such as Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Jerry McKinnis, Jimmy Houston, Hank Parker, Denny Brauer, Shaw Grigsby, Joe Thomas and others since have built careers in television as a result of their competitive career.

The platform Scott built is responsible for producing; as of the end of the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series season, 30 anglers who have earned more than a million dollars in competition. The first to accomplish the feat was Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., and despite the fact that he hasn’t fished BASS in more than five years, still ranks tenth on the all time earnings list with $1,634,859.

Kevin VanDam leads the list with more than $4,500,000. The list includes Skeet Reese in second place, Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn, Alton Jones, Peter Thliveros, Gary Klein, Shaw Grigsby, Mike Iaconelli, Larry Nixon, Tommy Biffle, Davy Hite, Aaron Martens, Jay Yelas, Edwin Evers, Mark Davis, Takahiro Omori, Kelly Jordon, Dean Rojas, Terry Scroggins, Zell Rowland, Timmy Horton, Mike McClelland, Boyd Duckett, Ron Shuffield, Greg Hackney, George Cochran, Todd Faircloth, Roland Martin and Scott Rook.

On the political front, Scott is almost solely responsible for the passing of the Wallup – Breaux Sport Fish Restoration Act. In 1984, after spending nearly two years lobbying Washington for its passage, Scott was able to; with the help of then Vice President George H.W. Bush, push the legislation forward.

Wallup – Breaux was an amendment to the Dingell – Johnson Sport Fish Restoration act of the 1950’s. What Wallup – Breaux did was create a funding source for states to utilize in enhancing their Sportfishing communities from money’s spent on producing and selling fishing equipment. 10-percent of the cost of goods is added to the price and returned to the Federal Government, who disperses the funds to the states as re-imbursement for projects completed.

Scott is credited with bringing the catch and release movement to fishing tournaments. After running tournaments for many years that required anglers to bring their daily catch to the scales on stringers, Scott realized, after a trip to a fly fishing conference, that they were killing too many bass. He responded by asking anglers to keep their catch alive for a bonus ounce, and Catch and Release tournaments were started.

Along with his work in conservation and Sportfishing restoration, Scott has been instrumental in boating safety. Scott’s influence is responsible for the required use of kill switches in competition, life preservers and other safety advances in bass boats. His work in safety earned him an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council by then President Jimmy Carter.

Roland MartinRay ScottBobby Murray

Roland Martin, Ray Scott and Bobby Murray – photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

Scott is an inductee to the Boating Safety Hall of Fame, and the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, International Fishing Hall of Fame, National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Montgomery, Alabama Area Sports Hall of Fame and the International Game Fish Hall of Fame. He has earned numerous other awards and commendations that can be seen on his website

The bottom line about his career is that the majority of the bass fishing community makes a living everyday because of Scott’s innovations and persistence. The industry as a whole exists in part because of his desire to build a new sport.

Like everyone who picks up a rod will tell you, they got their start, but what gave Scott his desire to see fishing grow? What made him love fishing so much? It all began as a boy.

Scott’s Early Years
From the time he was five or six years old, Scott loved to fish. While his father, who worked for the Postal Service wasn’t an angler, he helped his son enjoy his love of the outdoors. Much of his early fishing experience revolved around panfish, but it was the opportunity to fish at a private fishing club near his home that changed his focus.

“My family was invited to Bridge Creek Fishing Club, a private fishing club outside Montgomery, by a neighbor,” Scott said. “The membership was $30 a year for the whole family, and we all had so much fun there, may father bought a membership.”

That membership included the right to fish the property as much as he desired, and the youngster would do that any time they were there. One of the features of the property was a spillway that panfish would congregate around. Scott would fish both above and below the dam. “I would always catch a bunch of those little two to three-inch bream, and would bring them back to show my mom,” he said. Then one day I hooked a fish that didn’t come to the boat, it actually went the other way.”

The way Scott led into the story was to say he battled the fish for quite a while, and that he had to hold on to his pole with both hands to maintain control. When the fish leapt in the air, he was astounded by the size of the fish he had hooked into. “I finally managed to gain control of the fish, and hurried home to show off my catch,” he said. “It was the biggest fish I had ever seen, and I was proud to show off my seven-inch fish, which I’d learn later was a bass.”

That “monster bass” was taken to a local taxidermist, Archie Phillips of Fairfield, Ala. who mounted the fish for the Scott’s. The little bass may have suffered an early demise, but it was the spark that ignited the fire of bass fishing in the young boy. “I loved how hard that fish fought when compared to the panfish I was used to catching,” he said. “That fish won me over, and I spent the rest of my school years fishing for bass, all the way through college.”

1973 Miller High Life Classic Ray Scott, Bob Melvin, Roy Clark - photo courtesy BASS

1973 Miller High Life Classic Ray Scott, Bob Melvin, Roy Clark – photo courtesy BASS

Scott later gave that mounted fish to his friend Johnny Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, and as he now tells it; the fish has taken permanent residence in the Prattville, Ala. store. Scott would graduate from college and take a job with an insurance company in New York, but a longing for his home region of the south prompted a change of companies.

“I had four states with the new company,” he said. “Having Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas gave me plenty of territory to cover, and plenty of opportunities to fish along the way.” It was on one of those fishing trips in Jackson, Miss. that the idea for his first tournament; the All American, was hatched.”

Building the All American Bass Tournament
While on a business trip in Jackson, Scott planned a fishing outing with a friend. When the outing was cut short by rain, he and his friend cut the trip short, and Scott found himself sitting in his room at the Ramada by one o’clock in the afternoon. “I took a hot shower and settled in to my room to watch a basketball game,” said Scott. “As I sat there watching the game it occurred to me that every major sport except bass fishing had a championship; and I knew what I had to do.”

Scott said that in that afternoon he had a clear picture in his head of the way a big fishing tournament would be structured. “I saw everything from the lake it was going to be on, to the fact that I would have 100 anglers paying $100 each to fish,” he said. “When my friend picked me up later, and I told him my idea, he thought I’d lost my mind.”

Scott envisioned the tournament being held on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake because of an article he had read by a writer named Charles Elliot about the lake. “Charles’ story turned me on, and I knew Beaver Lake was the place,” he said. “I knew that I needed to go up there to the Arkansas Capital Tourism Office to see who I needed to talk to in order to get started.”

His quest led him to the Rogers and Springdale Chambers of Commerce respectively. His first stop at Rogers, Ark. was less than fruitful, but when he called Springdale Chamber of Commerce and talked to Lee Zachary, the boss up there, he introduced himself as Ray Scott, the head of All American Invitational Bass Tournament. “Zachary told me that he’s heard of my fine organization,” laughed Scott. “I don’t know who was working harder to pull one over on each other, but the end result was that we set up a meeting at the Holiday Inn the next morning.”
He showed up the next morning at the Holiday Inn in Springdale and was met by Zachary, Joe Robinson, the owner of War Eagle Marina on Beaver Lake and Dr. Stanley Applegate, who was invested in Prairie Creek Marina. “I told them my story about 20 minutes,” said Scott. “Zachary stopped me and asked me how many tournaments I’d run, and I responded by telling him; one.”

Ray Scott Interviews Don Butler First BASS Member - photo courtesy BASS Communications

Ray Scott Interviews Don Butler First BASS Member – photo courtesy BASS

The result was that they put Scott in front of the entire Chamber of Commerce, and after some discussion, they asked him to step out of the room. He did, and when he returned he was told that the Chamber was in support of his idea, but that they wouldn’t support it, and that he could not use their name as a sponsor of the event. “I found out later that a local attorney named Jim Cypert was responsible for their turning me down,” he said. “He warned them that they had no idea how to trust me and that he could take those $100 entry fees and skip town without running a tournament.”

Scott was disappointed and after leaving to go back to the hotel, was met by Dr. Applegate; whom he told that they had been turned down. The doctor asked Scott if he was positive that he could get 100 anglers to put up the $100 entry fee. “I told him that I was more sure about that then he was about the last surgery he did,” said Scott. “He reached into his pocket and wrote me a check for $3500. He told me to pay him back if it worked; but, if it didn’t, I was never to tell his wife about the loan.”

Armed with his backing and a newfound vigor, Scott returned to the Holiday Inn, where he asked the manger to be the first sponsor of the event by providing a free room for two months in exchange for the hotel being the headquarters. “He said okay, but I quickly added that I get 25-percent off of all of my meals, which he agreed to” said Scott. “After that, I asked if he knew someone who could act as his secretary, and he introduced me to Darlene Phillips, the best secretary I’d ever had.”

Along with hiring Darlene, Scott spent $1333 and had a Watts line installed in the room, which would allow him to call 13 states, all day, every day. “I spent as much time on that phone as I could trying to bring anglers to the All American,” said Scott. “When they killed that line a month later, I had 106 names on the list who had entered the event.”

After hearing of the success, the Chamber decided to throw a party for Scott, and it was there that he gave Dr. Applegate his money back.

It was during the time he was recruiting the competitors that Scott spent as much time as he could spare drafting the rules of the tournament. “Fishing derbies were notoriously crooked during that time,” he said. “I wanted to insure that everything was on the up and up, so I made the rules from scratch in an effort to run a clean event.”

The record books show that Stan Sloan was the winner of the All American, and while Scott paid something like 10-percent of the field, the event was deemed a success. “Everyone went home happy,” he said. “That was where the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was born.”

Fishing on Ray Scott's Lakes courtesy of Ray Scott Outdoors

Fishing on Ray Scott’s Lakes courtesy of Ray Scott Outdoors

Changing the Culture of B.A.S.S.
From the moment he started B.A.S.S. in 1968, until he sold the company in 1986 to a group led by Helen Sevier, Scott made his mark with a series of history setting achievements. There are several items that we’ve discussed, but one that stands out in his mind is the formation of Catch and Release as a practice for tournaments.

The decision to try and push Catch and Release; initially called “Don’t Kill Your Catch” was conceived after a trip to speak at a Phoenix, Ariz. fly fishing convention. “Al Ellis, the Program Director for the Fly Fishing Federation called and invited me to speak at their national conclave, but they couldn’t pay me,” said Scott. “I figured that anyone with the guts to call and ask me to do that was worth meeting, so I went.”

The experience would change his outlook on fish care. Not because of the speaking, but because of a fishing trip at the end of the convention. “They took me fishing to this river, and after a half an hour with no bites, I started to get a little bored,” said Scott. “Then, one of them hooked a 10-inch trout in this stream, and they all stopped fishing to watch him land the fish.”

Scott said it was the most honorable treatment of a fish he’d ever seen. “He fought that fish all the way to him, and with great care and two hands, he unhooked and released that trout to the cheers of the others,” said Scott. “I started thinking about how they did things on the flight home, and it was then that Catch and Release was born.”

Only a short while later, while Scott was running a tournament in Florida, he decided to try the notion out. “I asked all of the competitors to bring their fish in a live, and I offered them a one-ounce bonus for each live fish to do so,” he said. “I saw competitors go to the store and get coolers and change the water in the cooler by hand as the day progressed; it was a great feeling, and one that has changed the sport, and our ecosystem forever.”

Hotdog-2 courtesy of Ray Scott Outdoors

Hotdog – courtesy of Ray Scott Outdoors

The Sale of B.A.S.S.
With Scott, there is often a humorous anecdote behind his stories, and the 1986 sale of B.A.S.S. includes one of those. Scott has an affinity to Chris’s Hot Dogs in downtown Montgomery; he claims them to be the best hot dog in the world. During the final negotiations with Sevier’s group, Scot grew weary of the talks, and informed his attorney, Lister Hill, that he was going for a walk.

His walk found him at Chris’s Hot Dogs, where he recalled eating two of the delicious frankfurters. After finishing his meal, Scott went around the corner and visited the owner of the Pawn Shop before heading back to Hill’s office. Upon returning, he found his attorney in a frantic state. “He was concerned and asked me where I’d been,” said Scott. “I said I told you I was going to get a hot dog. Then he responded by telling me that I’d just eaten the most expensive hot dog in history.”

Hill had received the check from the purchasers, and in Scott’s absence, was unable to deposit the check in the bank. Knowing that every minute wasted was more interest that the deposit could be earning, so he was getting more and more animated. “The check was deposited the next day, and he presented me a plaque that said “The $1600 Hot Dog on it,” Scott chuckled. “He figured that was how much interest I lost by not being there to endorse the check.”

Ray Scott Outdoors
Scott is actively involved in developing business to this day. At 77 years old, he continues to work the seminar circuit giving motivational speeches to groups and companies alike. He works a s a consultant to several companies in the fishing and hunting industries, and with the help of Jim Kientz and the rest of his team in Pintlala, operates Ray Scott Outdoors; the business that serves as the parent to all of his endeavors.

A lifelong angler, Scott worked to build four lakes on his property, and a lodge to host groups of anglers throughout the year. The lakes; which have hosted presidents, athletes, celebrities and superstar anglers alike, are responsible for some amazing fishing. Four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Rick Clunn currently holds the lakes record with a 13-pound, 15-ounce largemouth.

“We’ve got an amazing lodge, great cooks and the best fishing anyone could think of,” said Scott. “We bring them in here, fish ‘em, feed ‘em and treat ‘em like kings for two days and three nights, and they leave here spoiled.” Groups of six anglers can book the excursions for $1750 a person by visiting the website at

Ray Scott's Trophy Bass Retreat Lodge - photo courtesy Ray Scott Outdoors

Ray Scott’s Trophy Bass Retreat Lodge – photo courtesy Ray Scott Outdoors

What’s Ahead?
Scott said he has reason to be hopeful that the new ownership of BASS; the group led by Jerry McKinnis that is taking control of the organization from ESPN, will help push the organization into the future with some remembrance of what it was in the past.

“I think BASS could have its best days ahead with McKinnis, Don Logan and Jim Copeland,” said Scott. “They are all passionate bass anglers who have the potential to bring back the pride of BASS Membership. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do, and helping them along the way.”

“BASS has always been more than tournament angling, and I’m confident that they will bring some of that back,” he said. BASS always stood for competition, conservation and community, and I’m hoping to see more of the BASS Shield stickers in vehicle windows again.”

With as much passion as he has had for the organization over the years, it’s no wonder that Scott hopes to see a return to the complete glory of the organization. “We’ve done a lot over the years, and I hope that there are many good days ahead of us.”

It is with a spirit of innovation, daring and passion that he has presided over the sport of bass fishing for more than 40 years. Under the brim of his ever present Stetson hat he brought a whole industry up and pushed it forward. In doing so, he created opportunity for many individuals to earn a living and more in an industry that they too could feel passionate about.

That’s why he is Ray Scott; innovator, visionary, promoter, salesman extraordinaire, hall of famer, founding father; Legend of the Sport.