This week Ray Scott’s first bass tournament turns golden. It’s the 50th anniversary of the B.A.S.S. founder’s inaugural event.
On June 5, 1967, the All-American Invitational Bass Tournament launched on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake, with 106 anglers from 14 states heading out for Day 1 of No. 1. Each paid $100 for a shot at $5,000 of prize money, and Stan Sloan, of Nashville, Tenn., weighed 37 pounds, 8 ounces over three days to win $2,000 and a trip to Acapulco.
Fishing legend Bill Dance, sporting one of the fastest motors at 60 horsepower, finished second, and he laid claim to the first fish caught. He didn’t go far and landed a bass on his first cast, then noticed everyone else still running to their spots. That’s his story and he’s stuck to it.
After the event was deemed a success, Scott ran with it. He rolled it into the idea of an organization, and by January 1968 he began signing up members for his Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), which blossomed into the largest bass fishing organization on the planet.
Stories celebrating the 50 years have started, but the floodgates will open with full-on anniversary coverage in January. All Bassmaster platforms will present a plethora of special content in 2018.
‘BRAINSTORM IN A RAINSTORM’
In March 1967, 33-year-old Scott left his home in Montgomery, Ala., for an insurance sales trip to Jackson, Miss. An avid angler, he planned to get in some bass fishing at Ross Barnett, but rain sent him back to the Ramada Inn. As the story goes the idea of a big-time event came to him in some sort of premonition as he watched a basketball game on TV — he knew more people fished than played basketball and thought it should have big-time events.
“In a microsecond, I saw it all,” Scott said for a Sports Illustrated report. “I saw the lake I had just gotten blown off. I saw a hundred bass fishermen competing, tournament-style. It just came to me. I knew it would work.”
He immediately began hustling to make his “brainstorm in a rainstorm” come to fruition. His first move was flying to Little Rock to learn about how to go about putting on a fishing tournament on newly impounded Beaver Lake in the northwest part of the state.
In the next several months, there were a couple of snags that might have sent Scott home with tail tucked, and the first was financing.
DOC’S GREEN MEDICINE RESUSCITATES IDEA
Scott was told by the state tourism office to check with Rogers and Springdale, two small towns near Beaver Lake. After being shut down by Rogers, he met with Lee Zachary and Joe Robinson at the Springdale Chamber of Commerce. He told them and Dr. Stanley Applegate, the town physician and civic busybody, of his idea.
Two weeks later Scott was to pitch the full chamber board, but it voted against giving him the $5,000 he requested to put on the tournament. Some folks feared the fast-talking Alabamian might just make off with the dough, Scott wrote later.
Robinson, a local real estate developer, was consoling and conferring with Scott on his next move when Applegate appeared. He had a personal interest in seeing the event go off as he owned a foundering marina on the young lake.
“Turned us down, Doc,” was all Robinson told Applegate. After a moment or two, Applegate looked at Scott and asked what was the least amount he needed to hold the event. Scott gave him his penny-pinching low of $2,500.
Applegate contemplated things for another minute before reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out a checkbook and writing him a $2,500 check. Scott said he’d never forget Applegate’s offer and what he said.
“If the tournament works and you actually pull it off, you can repay the $2,500,” Applegate said. “If it doesn’t work, all I ask is that you never tell my wife I gave you the money.”
That is a well-known part of bass history lore; what’s not is that Scott surprised Applegate when he quickly repaid him in full right after the event.
INVITES, CHALLENGES ACCEPTED
With money secure, Scott now needed a good number of anglers willing to come to northwest Arkansas and pay his $100 entry fee. His plan was to send out invitations to make the All-American appear to be an honor. Tom Mann was among his first names, and Scott asked each angler to nominate other good anglers.
Things weren’t going well early. With only 35 entries, Scott told Robinson he might as well just go home and forget the whole thing. Robinson talked Scott down, and the worm was about to turn.
That’s because Scott had gotten the name of Clyde A. Harbin Sr. and sent him an invite. Harbin happened to be a harbinger of good things, as he was the caption of The Memphis Bassmen fishing team. Besides its members, which included Dance, Harbin knew there was a stout bunch of anglers in Tulsa, which wasn’t far from Beaver Lake. He challenged them against his Bassmen, with the winners getting to pick one lure from the losers tackle boxes.
Harbin also vowed to make badges, like work nametags of the time, declaring “I Beat a Memphis Bassman,” and vice versa. Bob Cobb was the outdoor editor at the Tulsa Tribune and helped the challenge along through articles. (Not long after Cobb became Scott’s first editor of Bassmaster magazine.)
The challenge, which also was accepted by other clubs, helped bolster the mediocre turnout to 106 entries, creating a successful venture. Scott said he left with his mind “a-whirl with plans for the next tournament.” When he got home, he quit his insurance job and set out to “mold the sport of bass fishing into something big and bold and respectable. Something as American as apple pie.”
Mission accomplished, B.A.S.S. Boss, and Happy Anniversary!!