Ray W. Scott, who transformed bass fishing from a tranquil, mainly southern pastime into a multibillion dollar industry, passed away Sunday, May 8, at his home in Pintlala, Ala. He was 88 years old. Scott’s vision to build bass fishing into a sport worthy of television coverage led him to create the first bass fishing tournament trail in 1967. The following year, he founded B.A.S.S.—an acronym for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society—and launched Bassmaster, the membership magazine that would eventually attract as many as 650,000 subscribers.
From the outset, B.A.S.S. tournaments served as the proving grounds for innovations in every aspect of fishing, from boats and motors to rods, reels, lures, and electronic fish-finding devices. The V-hull aluminum fishing boats of the 1960s soon were replaced by sleek fiberglass bass boats sporting electric trolling motors, sonar, devices and high-powers outboards.
In search of a competitive edge, tournament anglers and their sponsors entered a fishing arms race that made bass fishing the main driver in an industry that today boasts and economic impact of more than $125 billion a year and employs more than 800,000 people nationwide. Scott’s brainchild championship tournament—the Bassmaster Classic—became bass fishing’s version of the Super Bowl and annually attracts an attendance in excess of 125,000 fishing fans.
Scott’s impact extends far beyond competitive fishing. Recognizing that, as he said, “a bass is too valuable to be caught only once,” he launched the “Don’t Kill Your Catch” program in 1972 and required that tournament boats be outfitted with aerated livewells so the anglers’ catches could be released alive after weigh-ins. The catch-and-release ethic he promoted caught on so well that almost all bass anglers today release all or most of the fish they catch.
Scott was a tireless advocate of boating safety, requiring competitors to wear life jackets whenever the outboard was running, and he campaigned for kill switches to be installed on their bass boats.
His relentless push for passage of the Wallop-Breaux amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act resulted in an excise tax program that currently allocates approximately $375 million each year for state fisheries agencies to spend on management, aquatic education and public access projects.
Field & Stream Magazine listed Scott—along with President Teddy Roosevelt, environmentalist Rachel Carson and naturalist/conservationist Aldo Leopold—among 20 individuals who most influenced outdoor sports during the 20th Century. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2001, the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2004, and the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 1987. He was named the 1988 Sport Fisherman of the Year by the Sport Fishing Institute.
The millions of anglers worldwide who love bass fishing owe a huge debt of gratitude to Scott for his advocacy of sound fisheries management, public access, and youth fishing programs. As Bob Cobb, the founding editor of Bassmaster Magazine, and Scott’s partner in building the B.A.S.S. organization, put it, “Ray Scott pioneered the path for the popularity of bass fishing and the growth of the modern-day bass fishing industry. His legacy will be the hallmark stamped on the future of bass fishing. Scott was a true legend in his time.”
Scott is survived by his wife, Hope Susan Scott; four children, Ray Wilson Scott III, Steven Leo Scott, Jennifer Eunice Epperson, Wilson Freeman Scott; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.