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Alabama People: Ray W. Scott Jr.

No one has influenced bass fishing more than Ray W. Scott Jr. Born in 1933, Scott grew up in Montgomery. As a young man, he began selling insurance until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954. After serving two years on active duty, Scott used his G.I. Bill benefits to earn a business degree from Auburn University before resuming his insurance business. In March 1967, a storm cancelled a fishing trip, but Scott experienced what he called a “brainstorm in a rainstorm.” He envisioned a national professional bass fishing trail 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. – John Felsher

How did you get started fishing, particularly for bass?

I loved fishing from my earliest memories. I’d hop on my bike with a cane pole and a can of worms to fish for bluegills anywhere I could find. Then one magical day when I was about 7 or 8 years old, my life changed. I was fishing and all of a sudden, this shimmering silver creature leaped out of the water on the end of my line. I was in awe of its strength. I ran home with my catch. My mother informed me I had caught a largemouth bass. I could tell from her voice that this was a special fish. From that moment on, bass fishing was my passion.

What was the one thing that gave you the idea to begin creating B.A.S.S. and by extension, professional bass fishing?

Actually, it was the other way around. The concept of a bass organization grew out of my idea for a true professional bass fishing tournament with stringent rules and a big purse. My first tournament at Beaver Lake, Ark., proved without a shadow of doubt the passion for an organization was there. Bass anglers across the country were hungry, not just to compete, but also to get together and share knowledge. The energy and passion at that 1967 tournament were beyond belief.

What was your biggest challenge in the early years?

My biggest challenge was money. I didn’t have any! I have always said, “Poverty was my greatest asset.” I had to work smart. There was no dramatic moment when I felt I had made it, but when we reached about 10,000 members signed up and more memberships pouring in, that gave me a lot more confidence. At that point, it was “let’s see how far can we go!” Now, look what it has become. Not bad for what most people considered a harebrained idea in 1967!

If you were young again and wanted to start a fishing organization, what would you do differently?

I can honestly say I have no regrets. We grew organically and that was healthy. We certainly directed our course with conviction, but we were also highly responsive to our members and the industry. That kept us on track as well as expanding our horizons. We had a few dead ends and detours, but they are amusing in retrospect. They were all part of an enthusiastic creative process.

From your love of deer hunting evolved another business. Tell us more.

In 1986, I sold B.A.S.S., but stayed as president. Two years later, I had another brainstorm and started the Whitetail Institute of North America (whitetailinstitute.com). Again, it was based on a personal passion. I discovered a new clover that whitetails really liked. That experience got me interested in developing nutrition produced exclusively and scientifically for whitetail deer and promoting proper whitetail management and conservation practices. It has been a solid success for more than 30 years now.

With so much said and written about Ray Scott over the years, what’s something nobody knows about you?

I think people might be surprised to know that, although I am the definition of an extrovert, I am also a homebody. I don’t particularly relish structured social gatherings, but I love the public at large. I’m very happy at home in my recliner with my two dogs in my lap … and probably on the phone. My wife always tells me I could run the whole country from a phone.n