NEW ORLEANS — "As I look out here, I see all the soldiers — all the men and women who made this great bass-fishing industry."
Forget the fireworks. Sportsman and conservationist Ray Scott's theatrics were just the kick-start needed to open the Classic Outdoor Show at the Louisiana Superdome.
For all the VanDams, Yelases and Martins here for the Super Bowl of fishing — the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, which runs today through Sunday — Scott's star power simply cannot be denied. Indeed, the 69-year-old founder of BASS from Pintlala, Ala., is back in the spotlight where he's clearly most comfortable.
"These are the grass-roots anglers who took up the BASS call and became a political force for good — from conservation to boating safety to youth fishing," Scott bellowed Thursday evening from his pulpit — a single microphone on the carpeted floor of the stadium. "You are the frontline BASS soldiers."
Flamboyant and full of himself, Ray Scott is the impassioned ambassador to a sport, which, like Scott himself, has evolved from bailing-wire-and-bubble-gum roots to tony product lines, showy sponsorships and glamorous surroundings.
The role of "Bass Boss" — the title of his 1999 biography by Robert H. Boyle (Whitetail Trail Press; $24.95) — befits a man who wears ostrich boots, aviator shades, fringe on his leather vest and a signature white cowboy hat, all on a singularly confident frame with not a humble bone in it.
"I'm just a 6-foot-2, 220-pound monument to the fishermen who want knowledge," Scott said of the Outstanding Achievement Award he is to be presented with Saturday by BASS. "I'm very happy they recognize that."
Asked how he feels about the lofty praise laid upon him as an influential outdoorsman — spoken by some publications in the same breath as Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and Aldo Leopold — Scott is to the point.
"I think they're right. I know it doesn't sound immodest. But it needed to be done," he said.
Scott's story is common knowledge among the bassing community, but it bears repeating.
From selling peanuts at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., in the early 1940s to a stint in construction, Scott became a life insurance salesman "busy trying to survive."
But with remarkable marketing skills and a live-for-bass obsession, Scott founded what was then the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society in 1968 in Montgomery and reconfigured what was a lazy weekend recreation into what is today a multibillion-dollar industry.
Over the next three decades, he attracted more than 600,000 followers who joined the ranks as BASS members and organized a conservation and political agenda to protect the environment and secure the future of bass fishing. Fishing clubs gave way to what now is a wildly successful professional bassing circuit. Magazines, Web sites and TV shows are dedicated to following the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail and disseminating fishing techniques and bass destinations to anglers hungry for information.
And Ray Scott is not about to let anyone forget it.
Offered the chance to represent his background in a more modest approach, Scott thought better of it.
"I'm the idea man. I struck the two stones together and made the spark," he said. "It's been a hell of a damn storm since then."
Some might call it rhetoric; others may say it's preaching. But if you listen closely and believe the pitch, his passion is what's left when the flash is peeled away.
"Never forget," he told his audience at the Superdome, "we're not just a Tournament Trail, we're not just a magazine and we're not just a TV show. We're BASS and we're represented by an emblem known around the world.
"It looks a little different today. After all, it represents a new century. And after 35 years, it represents a renewed commitment to everything B.A.S.S. stands for — everything.
"Better fishing. Better products. Better conservation. Youth fishing. Boating safety. Fair and exciting competition. Fishing heroes."
"Folks, that's your history and your heritage," Scott said. "It's all in the emblem, whether you wear it on your chest or on your rear window of your boat. It stands for the spirit of BASS. It's hard to explain to people, because, frankly, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
"But it all works together thanks to you."