Following his All-American Bass tournament held in the fall of 1967 on Alabama's Smith Lake, Ray Scott knew he was on to something. For the second time in four months, he'd convinced more than 100 die-hard bass fishermen to pay 100 bucks apiece to compete in what was billed as an exclusive, invitation-only tournament.While promoting the tournaments, Scott had kicked around in his mind the idea of creating a membership organization fueled by the competitive spirit of bass fishing. The first move was to give his farfetched idea a name. After Nashville outdoor editor Bob Steber suggested that Scott call the organization BASS, the abbreviation for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, the name stuck, and Scott went to work.All I knew was that I was going to print a magazine," Scott recounts. "I was going to have the first issue ready before I tried to sign up the first member, because I knew I had to offer something more than a patch and a handshake to join BASS."The first issue of Bassmaster was a grammatical monstrosity that dealt a heavy blow to the English language. At best, it was a collection of rambling stories submitted free of charge, by fishermen, for fishermen. But it addressed a growing void that Scott was creating as a result of his tournaments."It was about nothing but bass fishing, and it was full of meaty information for those hard-nosed bass fishermen," notes Scott. "As the tournaments picked up, more people hungered for knowledge, and that's what jump-started BASS as a business."At the end of its first year, BASS had 2,000 members, all of them recruited by Scott through his growing network of tournament fishermen and bass club followers. By 1971, membership had grown to 54,000, and 10 years later the followers numbered 270,000. The phenomenal growth of what emerged as the BASS marketing machine clearly was fueled by the mystique of the tournament trail and a slicker, refined Bassmaster Magazine.Today, BASS is a multimedia giant wholly owned by ESPN. But it is fundamentally grounded in what Scott set out to accomplish 35 years ago — to build a service organization for bass fishermen by providing them with the information they seek to enjoy the sport even more.
In the first issue of Bassmaster, Scott wrote: "It is my plan that we lift bass fishing up to public par with golf, bowling and pocket billiards. It's high time the public found out we exist."What follows is a look back at 35 of the events that had a profound impact on bass fishing and the growth of BASS:
The Chattanooga Bass Club becomes the first to affiliate with the BASS Chapter Federation, formed to address water pollution at the grass-roots level. The move also adds 19 anglers to a BASS membership consisting of only Oklahoman Don Butler.
Californian Rip Nunnery hauls his 98-pound, 15-ounce catch of 15 bass to the scales in the first round of the 1969 Eufaula (Ala.) National. Amazingly, he finishes third behind North Carolinian Blake Honeycutt, whose three day catch of 34 bass weighs a record-setting 138-6.
The BASS conservation movement begins when the organization takes 250 companies to court for allegedly violating the Federal Refuse Acts of 1899. Conservation remains at the forefront of the BASS mission statement, with a full-time staff devoted to dealing with the issues through the Federation network.Bill Dance wins the first BASS Angler-of-the-Year title. Thirty-three years later, the Busch BASS Angler-of-the-Year title will pay $100,000 to the winner, with a $1,000 bonus paid to the current points leader after each Tour event.
A jetliner leaves Atlanta Oct. 28 with 24 anglers for the first Bassmaster Classic, destination unknown. The plane reaches cruising altitude, and Ray Scott announces the destination is Las Vegas. At Lake Mead, Bobby Murray wins the first Classic and its $10,000-prize purse. The "mystery flights" end in 1977 to accommodate a growing following.
After contenders catch over a ton of bass from Sam Rayburn at the Texas National BASS Tournament, BASS launches its "Don't Kill Your Catch" campaign out of concern for the future of conserving bass populations. Innovative pros rig crude aerator systems fashioned from garden hoses and sprinklers to conform to the new catch-and-release rule.
Fenwick launches the fishing rod industry into the Space Age by introducing the Fenwick HMG (High Modulus Graphite), the first production-grade graphite rod.
BASS Fishing Techniques, an advanced fishing workshop taught by bass pros and other experts, is launched by Gary White in Oklahoma. The program (now known as the CITGO Bassmaster University) was similar to the BASS Seminar Tour led by Scott and several pros (see photo at right) that spread the gospel of BASS throughout the country.
Using a 7 ½-foot rod with precision accuracy to swing baits into tight cover, Californian Dee Thomas catches 35 pounds of bass from Arkansas' Bull Shoals Lake to win the Arkansas Invitational. He calls the technique flipping; the news is printed in Bassmaster, and the rest is history.
With the Classic gaining media attention, BASS holds the world championship in upstate New York on the St. Lawrence River. Two months later, on Thanksgiving evening, ABC's 20/20 prime time ratings hit telecasts with a feature surrounding the hoopla of Classic X.
Classic XI moves indoors to the Montgomery Civic Center, with a crowd estimated at 3,500 on hand to witness Stanley Mitchell's win. Next door is the first Classic Outdoor Show. Since then, the Classic weigh-in has had an outdoor affair only once, in 2000, at Chicago's famed Soldier Field.Roland Martin gets on a hot streak by winning three consecutive BASS Invitationals in Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. His is a feat that has never been repeated.
Mississippi pro Paul Elias adopts the "kneel-and-reel" technique to deep crank his way to Classic victory on Alabama's Lake Montgomery. As a result, crankbaits designed to run at depths of 20 feet or more hit the market.
With mixed support from the marine industry, BASS lobbies successfully for the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to expand the federal Dingell-Johnson Act. Today, the amendment channels about $300 million annually to states for sportfishing projects, such as building boat ramps and enhancing fisheries.Rick Clunn wins his third Classic title on the Arkansas River. He sets the standing record for Classic winning weight with 75 pounds, 9 ounces, with then-Vice President George Bush and then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on hand to weigh in the winning catch. Clunn would go on to win his fourth Classic in 1990, setting a BASS record for number of championships.Humminbird introduces the first liquid crystal display units, the forerunners to what is the standard for such electronics. A decade earlier, Humminbird introduced its famous "Super 60" high speed flasher to keep up with the performance bass boat trend.
"The Bassmasters" TV show debuts on The Nashville Network (TNN), partly as a result of Clunn's dramatic finish. The next year, live coverage of the Classic is shown for the first time, and again the following year. The Bassmasters is now in its 19th season, and is the first program of its kind devoted to tournament angling.
Helen Sevier and a group of investors purchase BASS from founder Ray Scott, who remains as consultant and tournament emcee.Realizing The Bassmasters is a ratings hit, the concept of an exclusive made-for-TV tournament is launched as BASS MegaBucks. The event is held 16 times, with the current Showdown format mirrored after the original concept.
Operating from his garage, Herb Reed creates an elongated soft plastic lure he calls the Lunker City Slug-Go. With a twitch of the rod tip, the bait dips and dives to imitate a wounded baitfish. The following year, news of the pros' secret bait appears in Bassmaster, with the term "soft plastic jerkbait" used to describe it. And a new lure category is born.
BASS Times, the newsletter for BASS club members, is transformed into a tabloid newspaper offering "News & How-To Information for the Serious Bass Fisherman." The publication, edited by Matt Vincent, provides comprehensive tournament coverage and environmental news.BASS launches the Top 100 Super BASS Pro-Am Tournament circuit, with the Top 100 pros sharing their boats with 100 amateurs in a four event schedule. The format is the forerunner to the current CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch. That same year, BASS raises the bar on pro fishing by creating the Association of BASS Professionals, which provides a retirement fund for pros.
Los Angeles policeman Bob Crupi catches and releases a largemouth weighing 22.01 pounds from California's Lake Castaic. Only one other bass in history outweighs it — the long-standing 22-pound, 4-ounce world record caught in 1932 by George Perry.Concerned by the decline in youth fishing, BASS holds a trial CastingKids contest. Twelve years later, the Bassmaster CastingKids program has impacted more than 1 million youths, with annual events held nationwide by the Federation.
Larry Nixon becomes the first bass fisherman to earn $1 million in BASS prizes. Denny Brauer currently tops the list with $1.6 million.
Using superthin "Lynch Line" made of a braided, high-tech synthetic material used in bulletproof vests, Randy Dearman wins the Texas Invitational on Sam Rayburn, launching the "superline" revolution. Several other brands, including SpiderWire, soon hit the market.
Connecticut angler Bryan Kerchal, a member of the Housatonic Bassmasters, becomes the first Federation angler to win the Classic. He dies just five months later in a commuter airplane crash.
Fisheries scientists confirm the presence of a virus of unknown causes at South Carolina's Santee Cooper lakes. The Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) has since spread westward, with top fisheries experts convening at the BASS-sponsored LMBV Workshop.
BASS launches its first Western Invitational trail to qualify anglers for the 1998 Classic. Consequently, California's Mark Tyler catches a 14-9 largemouth (in 1999) from the San Joaquin River that becomes the biggest bass caught in BASS tournament history.
Twenty-three years after he appears in In-Fisherman magazine for building an underwater "observation tower," electronics wizard Jeff Zernov introduces the Aqua-Vu, the first underwater viewing system.
ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports, acquires BASS as the cornerstone for its new ESPN Outdoors initiative, which includes the Great Outdoor Games and the network's popular block of outdoor programming. The following year, the Classic airs live on cable giant ESPN.Arizona pro Dean Rojas shatters BASS records for single day and four day catch weights at Florida's Lake Toho. Rojas weighs 45-2 for the single day mark and an amazing 108-12 for the overall tournament win. (Both records are for five fish limits.)CITGO Petroleum Corp. signs a multiyear advertising and strategic marketing agreement to significantly increase awareness of and generate a higher degree of national, as well as international, interest in the sport of bass fishing. CITGO becomes title sponsor of the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, among other ancillary BASS properties.
Kevin VanDam becomes the first bass fisherman to win an ESPY Award — which recognizes top performers and performances and relives memorable moments in sports. VanDam wins the award over the legendary Rick Clunn, whose streak of 28 consecutive Classics ends that year.BASS doubles the first prize for the Classic to $200,000, and restructures the tournament trail with the CITGO Bassmaster Open and Tour formats, each designed to create a true professional playing field. A record $9.2 million will be paid out for the 2002-03 trail, a 44 percent increase in payout.