Ray Scott, an exuberant promoter who turned bass fishing into a professional sport by hosting a series of tournaments that found televised homes on TNN and ESPN, died May 8 in Hayneville, Ala. He was 88 years old.
His death, at a rehabilitation center, was confirmed by Jim Kientz, executive director of Ray Scott Outdoors, a consulting firm.
The idea for a bass fishing excursion came to Mr. Scott, then an insurance salesman, when rain interrupted a fishing trip with a friend in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1967. Stuck in his bedroom from hotels to watching sports on television, he had an epiphany: Why not launch the equivalent of the PGA Tour for bass fishing?
He held his first tournament in Beaver Lake, Arkansas, where 106 anglers paid $100 each to compete over three days for $5,000 in prize money. A second tournament followed that year; in 1968 he formed a membership organization, the Bass Angler Sportsman Society, or BASS.
In 1971, Scott launched what became the Super Bowl of bass fishing: the Bassmaster Classic, his organization’s annual championship tournament, which he paired with a merchandising show for bass makers. bass fishing boats and equipment.
Roland Martin, who hosts a fishing show on the Sportsman channel, began competing on the BASS circuit in 1970. He said in a telephone interview that Mr. Scott had a vision for bass fishing that no one Else had, a vision he expressed to his skeptical parents at the time.
“I said, ‘I met this guy Ray Scott and he talks about all the great things that are going to happen in bass fishing,'” Mr Martin said. there was a professional occupation in fishing.”
Mr. Scott was the showman for BASS, the umbrella company for tournaments, magazines and TV shows. Easily recognizable in his cowboy hat and fringed jackets, Mr. Scott memorably served as MC for tournament weigh-ins, entertaining thousands of fans with his exuberant crackle as anglers hauled fish out of reservoirs.
“Now isn’t that a really wonderful fish?” he asked a host of tournaments. “How many of you want to see more fish like this? Come on, let’s hear it for this fish!
He entered the arenas that were the show grounds of the Bassmaster Classic in eye-catching fashion: on an elephant, flying on a wire, bursting from a giant egg, in a boat as pyrotechnics made him appear to be floating on a lake of fire .
Mr Martin, a champion angler, said Mr Scott could be sneaky in pursuing tournament cheaters.
“He would take a dead fish and tag it and then throw it in the lake in hopes that someone would find that fish and try to weigh it,” he said. “And he would catch guys doing that.”
One of Mr Scott’s critical initiatives was a 1972 campaign called “Don’t Kill Your Catch”, aimed at recreational anglers and those entering tournaments, during which participants were required to use aerated livewells on their boats so they can release the bass they caught after the weigh-ins. He had seen fly fishermen release their catch at an event in Aspen, Colorado, and thought he could bring that conservation ethic to bass fishing.
“I saw the excitement these men had to release this puny little trout,” Mr. Scott said in a 2008 episode of “The Bassmasters,” a television series he created. “I wondered what they would do if we had men releasing five or six pound bass – big guys.”
Raymond Wilson Scott Jr. was born on August 24, 1933 in Montgomery, Alabama. His father operated a group of ice cream carts. His mother, Mattie Scott, was a hairdresser.
Ray had an early entrepreneurial streak: In third grade, when his mother gave him extra sandwiches to add weight to his body, he sold them to his classmates. Later, he collected bills for a local dairy company.
Fishing became an early obsession. He caught his first fish at age 6; when he was 16, he started a fishing club, charging a 25 cent membership fee.
After attending Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Mr. Scott served in the US Army in West Germany for two years. He then resumed his studies at Auburn University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959.
He sold insurance for Mutual of New York until 1964, then became a manager for National Underwriters before devoting himself full-time to bass fishing.
He also became known for his conservation efforts, which included the filing of approximately 200 state and federal lawsuits in 1970 and 1971 against companies for pollution that had polluted fishing waters, before the passage of the federal law on pollution. clean water in 1972.
Mr. Scott lobbied for passage in 1984 of an amendment to the Sports Fish Restoration Act that created an excise tax program that financially benefits state fish agencies.
He sold BASS in 1986 to a group that included Helen Sevier, the president and chief executive, who had been a behind-the-scenes powerhouse since joining the company in 1970. ESPN, which had televised tournaments for years 1990 (he was seen on TNN before that), acquired the company in 2001. She sold the company nine years later but continued to run her events until 2020 when Fox took over.
Mr. Scott, who remained the public face of BASS for another dozen years, also befriended President George HW Bush. He served as Mr. Bush’s campaign chairman in Alabama during his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1980 and regularly hosted Mr. Bush at his private lake in Pintlala, south of Montgomery, where he indulged in his love of the sin.
Mr. Bush’s favorite magazine was said to be Bassmaster, which BASS publishes.
In 2008, Scott endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for the presidency.
After selling BASS, Mr. Scott started two new businesses; one develops seed products used by hunters to grow fodder for deer nutrition, and the other, no longer in business, designs fishing lakes and ponds.
In 1995, Field & Stream named Mr. Scott one of the 20 most influential people in outdoor sports of the 20th century. In 2001 he was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his wife, Susan (Chalfant) Scott; his daughter, Jennifer Epperson; his sons, Ray III, Steven and Wilson; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her marriage to Eunice (Hiott) Scott ended with her death.
Mr. Scott felt even in the early days of his bass fishing tour that he had tapped into a market with great potential. But James Hall, editor of Bassmaster, said Mr Scott had achieved more than he could have anticipated, and his influence was not only to make bass fishing an organized sport, but also to accelerate the growth of an industry that serves fishermen.
Without Mr. Scott, he said, the Bass Pro Shops chain and many boat builders might not exist.
“They were founded,” Mr. Hall said in a telephone interview, “because of what Ray did.”