President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday night at the age of 94, held a lifelong love of fishing, and he was fondly remembered by many in the industry, including B.A.S.S. founder and longtime friend Ray Scott.
“I hated to see him leave us, but he sure lived a good life,” Scott said Monday. “I was very honored, very pleased, to spend some time with him and work for him. He was a great man.”
Over the past several days, people across the globe have eulogized Bush as a great American, devoted public servant and kind human being. In the fishing world, he was remembered as an avid angler who worked to protect and promote the sport he loved.
“To know George Herbert Walker Bush, it was quite an honor,” Scott said. “He was never too busy — I could call him in the middle of a war and he’d call me back.”
A Montgomery politico introduced Scott to Bush in the late 1970s to see if they could work together on Bush’s first presidential campaign for the 1980 election.
“I agreed to meet him and see if I could help him,” Scott said. “He seemed like a good man. He offered me a chance to work as his state chairman in Alabama. I took the job and it was a good experience — taught me about politics in a hurry.”
Bush didn’t win that time — Scott did. Their budding relationship helped solidify Bush’s devotion to the outdoors, which ended up benefitting B.A.S.S. greatly.
Serving as vice president to President Reagan from 1981-1989, Bush was key in passing the Wallop-Breaux amendments to the Sport Fish Restoration Act, which generates more than $650 million per year for sport fishing. During his presidency from 1989-1993, Bush promoted recreational fishing and the health of fisheries by working to create and restore wetlands.
Yet his greatest boost for B.A.S.S., aside from his appearance on stage alongside 1984 Bassmaster Classic winner Rick Clunn in Pine Bluff, Ark., might have been his choice of reading material. Asked about it while in office, Bush responded, “Bassmaster magazine, a fishing periodical.”
Bush was known to fish across the country, from striped bass at his summer retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, to tarpon in the Florida Keys (See All the President’s Fish). Yet he most enjoyed visiting Scott’s private 55-acre lake near Pintlala, Ala., to fish for trophy largemouth.
“He made several trips in here. I tell you he liked that,” said Scott, who subsequently named it President’s Lake. “But Barbara was more serious than he was, and she was good. I always enjoyed fishing with her. Man, she was aggressive. She was dynamite. She would set the hook like a cowboy.”
Scott said he was so blessed to have such a relationship with Bush and his wife, Barbara, who passed in April, as well as their son, “George Jr.”
“I never met a man any nicer, thoughtful. Serious about everything he did. Always straight forward. Honest and fair,” Scott said. “Also had some political savvy.
“You don’t realize what a close friend you’ve got until you lose one. He always honored my family and myself. I don’t think I’ve got a friend closer. He was just good to the bone. I sure will miss him.”
Bush was a lifetime member of B.A.S.S., and he was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2016. Longtime Bassmaster magazine editor Dave Precht quoted Bush upon his induction:
“I love bass fishing, I love everything about the sport. I am proud and humbled to be a member of this outstanding organization …
“As you might have guessed, fishing is my favorite source of relaxation. It is with a rod and reel in my hand that I can count my blessings, especially with my grandchildren or Barbara, the only woman who can fish and read at the same time and catch every word and catch every fish.”
Bush had other close relationships in the fishing world, including Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. In 2016, Bush was inducted into Bass Pro Shop’s Hall of Fame for his lifetime of contributions to the sport fishing community. The ceremony was held at the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, where people were invited to fish for bass in the stocked pond.
“He loves fishing so much,” Morris said at the time. “You get to know someone when you’re sharing a boat or out on a river bank. I count it a real honor that I didn’t get to meet [former] President Bush through politics or anything like that … We became friends through fishing.”
Ever congenial, Bush returned the honor by sending a framed letter to Morris when the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame opened in 2017 at the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo.
“This is another milestone in your accomplished life,” Bush wrote. “The life whose mission is to share your love of the outdoors. … One thing is sure, the imprint your passion conveyed will endure for generations. What a legacy. Sincerely, your friend, George Bush.”
An item posted by Reddit user Raun displayed the president’s inherent love of fishing. Responding to a post of someone surprised to catch a bass from the library’s pond, Raun wrote that he and Bush became impromptu partners years earlier:
“I had the great opportunity to fish with President Bush there in ’04. My buddy and I saw him with his secret service while we were fishing, so we walked over, introduced ourselves, and invited him to join us. He went back to his apartment at the library, and came back with his fly rod. That is my claim to fame.”