Ray Scott: Snapshots of his life

Ray Scott, the founder of B.A.S.S., died May 8, 2022, at the age of 88. This gallery is merely a snapshot of Scott's achievements in the sport of modern-day tournament angling.
In March 1967, Scott came up with the idea of elevating bass fishing to the same level as professional sports like golf. Scott, 33, a life insurance salesman, proceeded to create an invitation-only bass tournament. Later that year, 106 anglers paid $100 apiece to compete in the All-American bass tournament on Beaver Lake, Arkansas. 
The success of the All-American spawned two more groundbreaking ideas. In 1968, Scott would launch a magazine for bass fishermen, written by bass fishermen. Bassmaster Magazine would become the impetus for a membership organization that would unite all bass fishermen under a common banner. And the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S) was born. 
Scott's background as a life insurance salesman paid off. Strapped for cash, Scott recruited anglers through his gift of gab, spending hours on the telephone pitching his idea. By 1969, it was taking hold. The Seminole Lunker was the first to gain a local sponsorship of $2,500. It was Scott's eighth tournament. Scott is standing in the back row.
In 1970 the Oklahoma National won by John Hadad III (Scott is pictured at left) was just one highlight of the year. The B.A.S.S. conservation movement was born when Scott filed antipollution lawsuits against 250 companies, 214 of them in one day. While he didn’t win the lawsuits, the resulting national television exposure was credited as a major impetus for creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. 
In 1971, Scott took his idea of elevating bass fishing to a legitimate professional sport to the next level. That was the first Bass Masters Classic. An outdoor press contingent and the top 24 anglers boarded a chartered flight in Atlanta for a "mystery lake." "We picked the toughest lake we could find," Scott announced.
The plane landed in Las Vegas, with nearby Lake Mead as the first Classic fishery. Bobby Murray won $10,000 for first place. The bigger winner was B.A.S.S., which garnered national media attention. And the "Super Bowl of Bass Fishing" was born.
The backstory behind 1972 Classic winner Don Butler is notable. Butler paid Scott $100 to become the first B.A.S.S. member and B.A.SS. lifetime member in 1967. 1n 1968, Scott received an anonymous $10,000 donation to buy a mailing list essential to growing B.A.S.S. The check came from Butler, after Scott told him about needing the funds during a phone call.
The "mystery flights" were a highlight from 1971 until 1976, when B.A.S.S. recognized the growing potential of the Classic as a fan destination. From 1977 on, the Classic location was announced so fans could plan ahead.
Scott came up with the idea of themed nights at the Classic, to add fun to the mix. In this photo, Classic anglers participated in a greased pig contest. Themed nights were mostly more elaborate affairs, with chefs (oftentimes friends of Scott), flown in from exquisite restaurants to prepare banquet-style meals for the group.
Dedicated to boating safety, Scott began requiring contestants to wear personal flotation devices, and he pushed to make the emergency stop switch a standard safety feature on bass boats. He was appointed to the National Boating Safety Advisory Council in 1976 by then-President Jimmy Carter. As a result of Scott’s influence, the U.S. Coast Guard passed into law a requirement for boats to be built with positive and upright floatation. 
In 1968, 2,000 anglers had joined B.A.S.S. By 1972, the membership had grown to 90,000. That year, Scott’s greatest legacy was born. The B.A.S.S. “Don’t Kill Your Catch” campaign was launched. Realizing his growing fraternity of tournament anglers were loyal to his causes, Scott asked all contestants to keep all bass alive through the weigh-in, when they would be released back into the lake. At the same time, bass boat manufacturers were in a race to keep up with the demands and needs of tournament anglers. Manufacturers answered the call by making aerated livewells standard equipment in bass boats.
In 1984, Scott convinced then-Vice President George H.W. Bush to help secure passage of the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the excise tax-funded Sport Fish Restoration Program. Scott helped draft the legislation and took on the arduous task of lobbying for votes. The amendments established a federal excise tax on marine fuel and an expanded universe of fishing tackle, with the tax revenues dedicated and returned to the states for fisheries restoration and access programs.
Scott, with B.A.S.S. pioneers (from left), Bill Dance, Ricky Green and Rayo Breckenridge, the 1973 Classic winner, prior to boarding a Classic mystery flight.
The Classic was known as the launchpad for revealing innovative lures and angling breakthroughs. Here, it was an effort to polarize the outdoor media and elevate the coverage. In 1976 (this photo) and 1977, Radio Shack provided mobile CB radios for each boat, with the base station located in the official press room. The media gathered around the radio to hear the first ever real-time reports. Riding with the Classic angler was a press observer, who radioed coverage reports back to the press room.
As the tournament trail grew, it spread wings outside the South. In 1978, Roland Martin won the New York Invitational on the St. Lawrence River, where until then, bass fishing took a backseat to perch fishing. That image changed, as it did across the country, as B.A.S.S. held tournaments on undiscovered fisheries.
On Thanksgiving evening of 1980, the Classic was showcased on ABC's 20/20 primetime news program, exposing B.A.S.S. to a nationwide audience. Just two months before, Bo Dowden won the Classic when the segment was videotaped on location.
Scott brought the Classic back home in 1981, when it was held in Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of B.A.S.S.
That Classic made history for the first indoor weigh-in, with the forerunner of the present day Classic Expo in an adjacent convention hall.
Stanley Mitchell, winner of the 1981 Classic, stands between Scott and tournament director Harold Sharp.

Scott valued documenting his own history, and the Classic was shot as a film documentary each year from 1971 through the early 1980s. The film crew took the stage to capture Larry Nixon's winning moment at the 1983 Classic, held on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. In 1984, The Bassmasters TV show debuted on TNN: The Nashville Network. The show became a ratings hit on the network.
The cameras rolled on history in the making, as Scott is joined then Vice President George H.W. Bush, and then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, at the 1984 Classic won by Rick Clunn.
"We live in a country where there are no limits. There is nowhere else in the world where I could chase little green fish across the country and win $40,000." This picture depicts the moment when Clunn gave his winning speech. For Scott, inviting Bush and Clinton was a wise move, as it garnered even more media attention outside the outdoor press. And with Bush, Scott (and B.A.S.S.) would eventually have a friend in the White House.
Just like the birth of B.A.S.S. and the Classic, another innovation to elevate the sport was B.A.S.S. MegaBucks. Finalists rotated through 10 holes at 50-minute intervals in the links-style format. Larry Nixon earned the nickname "MegaMan" after winning MegaBucks four times. The 1992 victory brought his total B.A.S.S. earnings to $1 million.
From the late 1980s into early the next decade, a Classic pre-show added hype before the main event, with pyrotechnics, live entertainment and other theatrics to rouse the crowd. At a Classic in Richmond, Va., Lee Greenwood sang his hit, "God Bless the U.S.A.," followed by Scott, who entered the arena riding on an elephant.
Early on, Scott credited being surrounded by the right people, at the right time, to take his crazy idea to fruition. "I called those early people 'my angels,'" Scott said. "If you think about it in today's terms, my idea was ludicrous to anyone but myself. There was no business plan, nothing. Just a vision. But those people came forth when I was struggling just to make ends meet."
Helen Sevier was one of those angels, and Scott's second full-time employee. Sevier brought much-needed direct mail marketing and business savvy to build the B.A.S.S. membership. B.A.S.S. had 9,000 members when Sevier was hired in 1970. Membership doubled to 20,000 the next year, and broke the 500,000 mark by 1990. In 1986, with an investment group, Sevier assumed ownership of B.A.S.S. With it came the title of president and CEO.
Bob Cobb was an early believer in Ray's idea. As the outdoors writer of the Tulsa Tribune, Cobb covered Scott's 1967 All-American. The next year, he moved to Montgomery and became editor of Bassmaster. Until then, the manuscripts were written by some of the anglers and were crude at best. Cobb established Bassmaster as not only the voice of B.A.S.S., but created editorial standards for bass fishing and tournament coverage that never existed. Cobb became producer of The Bassmaster TV series in 1984, taking tournament bass fishing to the next level on television.
Scott is flanked by Cobb, at left, and Harold Sharp, the first tournament director and third full-time employee. Sharp brought much needed organizational, punctuality and consistency experience from his 26-year railroad industry career. The cheating stereotype cast over tournaments was top of mind with Scott, and Sharp erased that worry by refining the rules and formats of professional tournaments in his two decades with B.A.S.S. “No one got away with breaking the rules when Harold was in charge,” Scott said. “He was firm, but he was fair.”
At right of Scott are Johnny Morris and Bill Dance, two early believers in B.A.S.S. Dance competed in the All-American, won three B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, and credited B.A.S.S. for launching his career as one of television's most recognizable anglers.
Morris fished the tour in the 1970s and qualified for the Classic five times. More notable, Morris would find obscure lures from tackle shops and others used to win Scott's tournaments, and he would sell them in a store in Missouri. The business grew to become Bass Pro Shops. "Without Ray Scott, there would be no Bass Pro Shops, or sport fishing industry as we know it today," Morris said.
Morris joined Scott in testifying before Congress for the passage of the federal Wallop-Breaux Sportfish Restoration Amendment of 1984. When the bill stalled in Congress, Scott’s friendship with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush helped ensure enactment of the amendment. As a result, approximately $375 million in sportfish restoration allocations are provided annually to state fisheries agencies for management, aquatic education and public access projects.
Scott with President George H.W. Bush, during Scott's building fund-raising tournament for the Pintlala Baptist Church. The invitation-only event included the president and Scott's closest friends, among them B.A.S.S. pros and industry leaders. The tournament, held on Scott's private lake, was near the church building site.
Scott’s accolades within the sport and industry that he helped shape are wide and admirable. He is an inductee into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Boating Safety Hall of Fame, and he was honored with many other awards over the years. The most meaningful was the Horatio Alger Award, which he received in 2003 for overcoming adversity to achieve the “American Dream.”
Born during the height of the depression, Scott’s father was a farm laborer and his mother a hairdresser. He overcame poverty and a learning disability (dyslexia) to launch B.A.S.S. and what would become a multi-billion dollar marine and tackle industry. Most of all, he introduced millions to a sport that creates lifelong memories and a pastime that is passed on to future generations.