Daily Limit: Big Bass Splash turns 35

Fishing in early B.A.S.S. events, Texan Bob Sealy admired Ray Scott and how he promoted professional bass fishing. Knowing he couldn’t compete, but Sealy dug out his own niche.

Sealy came up with a way to serve amateur anglers in a tournament circuit that has been going strong since 1984. This week’s Big Bass Splash on Texas’ Lake Sam Rayburn marks the 35th anniversary of Sealy’s brainchild.

“You know my slogan is, ‘Where amateurs win like the pros,’” Sealy said. “The Bassmaster Classic pays $300,000 to the winner, so the winning amateur, the one person who brings in the biggest bass this week, is going to win a $300,000 Sportman’s Package of cash and prizes.

“This year is going to be the biggest guaranteed payout I’ve ever done — $1.2 million. I’m looking to draw 8,000 entries or better.”

Having the second biggest bass is no chump change at $100,000, nor is third ($75,000), fourth ($50,000) or even fifth ($25,000). Yet another $376,000 will go out in hourly payouts, from $5,000 for largest to $500 for 15th largest each hour from 7-8 a.m. to 1-2 p.m. The hourly payouts was one of Sealy’s kicker draws to his events, as were his guaranteed payouts.

Sealy said it all came about because he wanted to emulate Scott, who became a good friend when he fished B.A.S.S. events in the 1970s.

“I was in awe of what he was doing. I just told myself one of these days I’m going to do what he’s doing,” Sealy said. “I knew I couldn’t compete with him and B.A.S.S. I was thinking about all the people like me who sit and watch TV and say, ‘I wish that was me.’”

It was 43 years ago when Sealy convinced three radio stations to hold such an event, and those one-day big fish derbies lasted around five years. But Sealy just ran them — he didn’t own them. He then teamed up with a Burger King owner in Jasper, Texas, for another two years before interest in backing it waned.

Sealy wasn’t sure what he would do next, but a representative from McDonald’s called and offered a deal.

“He said he’d be interested if I benefit Ronald McDonald House,” said Sealy, who was off to tour of one of its facilities in Houston. “It didn’t take me but about 5 seconds to see what they were doing. ‘Yep, this is what we are going to do.’ Raised tons of money for Ronald McDonald houses. I count my blessings every day.”

Now affiliated with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Sealy Outdoors and the Big Bass Splash have the same basic format as in 1984, “we’ve just added a lot more hourly places over the year, and our guarantees.”