Alabama and the world lost a great man when Ray Scott passed away on May 8, 2022. The “Bass Boss” was 88 years old.
No person in history influenced fishing more than native Alabamian Ray W. Scott, Jr. Field & Stream magazine once listed Ray as one of “20 individuals who most influenced outdoor sports during the 20th Century.”
I first met Ray while reporting on a Bassmaster Classic for a newspaper. A consummate salesman, Ray always made a point to meet new people and speak to them for a few minutes. Over the years, we bumped into each other at various events and I interviewed him several times for both print and radio. He never disappointed.
Born Aug. 24, 1933, Scott grew up in Montgomery during the Great Depression. Forever an entrepreneur, young Ray delivered groceries on his bicycle, cut grass and sold peanuts at baseball games to help his family during those lean times. When not working, though, he went fishing.
“I loved fishing from my earliest memories,” Ray once told me. “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 had caught a largemouth bass. From that moment on, bass fishing was my passion.”
As a young man, Ray began selling insurance until drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954. After his discharge, Ray used his G.I. Bill benefits to earn a business degree from Auburn University.
In March 1967, a storm cancelled a fishing trip, but Ray experienced what he called a “brainstorm in a rainstorm.” He envisioned a national professional bass fishing trail. That summer, after selling insurance for more than a decade, he quit his job to organize a bass tournament.
“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,” Ray recalled. “My biggest challenge was money. I didn’t have any! I had to work smart.”
That first tournament led to a national professional fishing trail and spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 1968, Ray founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, formerly based in Ray’s hometown of Montgomery and now in Birmingham.
“My first tournament proved without a shadow of doubt the passion for an organization was there,” Ray remembered. “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. When we reached about 10,000 members in B.A.S.S., that gave me more confidence. Then it was, ‘Let’s see how far can we go!’”
More than just promoting fishing tournaments, Ray encouraged people to release bass. That changed fishing forever. “Catch and release” became the standard for competitive fishing for bass and other species. He also pressured boat companies to design and build better livewell systems.
“I didn’t invent catch and release,” Ray once said, “but we did make it popular in bass fishing, and that changed the sport in so many ways. We preached that a bass is too valuable to be caught only once. We helped fishermen learn how great it felt to catch a 5- or 6-pound bass and then lean over and let it go and watch it swim away, hopefully to be caught again.”
Scott sold B.A.S.S. in 1986, but continued to serve as the Bassmaster Classic emcee for years. He turned his attention to another one of his passions – deer hunting. He founded the Whitetail Institute of North America, Inc. to fund research on white-tailed deer, particularly on nutrition issues and availability of deer food sources.
“I can honestly say I have no regrets,” Ray told me a few years ago. “Only in America could a guy like me with no money, but a vision and a dose of hustle have been able to pioneer two outdoor industries and make a positive difference in the lives of anglers and hunters across the country. It has been a great journey!”
Indeed it has, Ray. You broke a lot of ground for many others. You left us, but your huge legacy will continue. Farewell and rest in peace, “Bass Boss.”
John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.