Ray Scott, an exuberant promoter who turned bass fishing into a professional sport by organizing a series of tournaments that found television homes on TNN and ESPN, died May 8 in Hayneville, Alabama. He was 88 years old.
His death, at a rehabilitation center, was confirmed by Jim Kientz, CEO of Ray Scott Outdoors, a consulting company.
The idea for a bass fishing tour occurred to Mr. Scott, then an insurance salesman, when rain interrupted a fishing trip with a friend in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1967. Stuck in his hotel room watching sports on TV, he had an epiphany: Why not start the PGA Tour’s equivalent of bass fishing?
He held his first tournament at 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 Anglers Sportsman Society, or BASS.
In 1971, Mr. Scott started what is known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing: the Bassmaster Classic, his organization’s annual championship tournament, which he combined with a marketing expo for boat and fishing equipment manufacturers. of sea bass
Roland Martin, who hosts a fishing show on the Sportsman Channel, began competing on the BASS circuit in 1970. He said in a phone interview that Mr. Scott had a vision of bass fishing that no one else had, one that he expressed to him to his skeptical parents at the time.
“I said, ‘I met this guy, Ray Scott, and he’s talking about all the wonderful things that are going to happen in bass fishing,’” Mr. Martin said. “He made me think there was a professional occupation in fishing.”
Mr. Scott was the showman for BASS, the umbrella company for tournaments, magazines and television shows. Easily recognizable by his cowboy hat and fringed jackets, Mr. Scott memorably served as the MC for the tournament weigh-in, entertaining thousands of fans with his exuberant chatter as fishermen floated fish out of tanks. retention.
“Now isn’t that a truly wonderful fish?” she asked a tournament crowd. “How many of you want to see more fish like this? Come on, let’s hear it for that fish!”
He entered the arenas that were the exhibition sites for the Bassmaster Classic in striking ways: on an elephant, flying on a wire, hatching from a giant egg, on a boat while pyrotechnics made him appear to float on a lake of fire. .
Mr. Martin, a champion angler, said that Mr. Scott could be deceitful in going after tournament cheats.
“I would take a dead fish and mark it, then throw it in the lake hoping someone would find that fish and try to weigh it,” he said. “And I would catch guys doing that.”
One of Mr. Scott’s critical initiatives was a 1972 campaign called “Don’t Kill Your Catch,” aimed at amateur anglers and those competing in tournaments, in which participants had to use aerated wells in their boats. in order to release the bass they were fishing for. caught after 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 those men had releasing that little trout,” Scott said in a 2008 episode of “The Bassmasters,” a television series he created. “I was wondering what they would do if we had guys throwing five or six pound bass, big guys.”
Raymond Wilson Scott Jr. was born on August 24, 1933, in Montgomery, Ala. 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 increase his weight, he sold them to his classmates. He later collected the bills from a local dairy company.
Fishing became an early obsession. She caught his first fish at age 6; When he was 16, he founded a fishing club, charging a 25-cent membership fee.
After studying at Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Mr. Scott served in the US Army in West Germany for two years. He then resumed his education at Auburn University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959.
He sold insurance for Mutual of New York until 1964 and then became a manager for Underwriters National before devoting himself entirely to bass fishing.
He also became known for his conservation efforts, which included filing some 200 state and federal lawsuits in 1970 and 1971 against companies for pollution that had fouled fishing waters, prior to the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972. .
Mr. Scott pushed for the passage of an amendment to the Sport Fish Restoration Act in 1984 that created an excise program that financially benefits state fishery agencies.
He sold BASS in 1986 to a group that included Helen Sevier, the president and CEO, who had been a behind-the-scenes power since joining the company in 1970. ESPN, which had televised tournaments since the 1990s (it saw on TNN before), acquired the company in 2001. He sold the company nine years later, but continued to hold his 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 Bush’s Alabama campaign chairman during his unsuccessful 1980 presidential campaign and regularly entertained Bush at his private lake in Pintlala, south of Montgomery, where he indulged his love of fishing.
Mr. Bush’s favorite magazine was said to be Bassmaster, which publishes BASS.
In 2008, Mr. Scott endorsed former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee for President.
After selling BASS, Mr. Scott started two new businesses; one develops seed products used by hunters to grow forage for deer nutrition, and the other, which is no longer in operation, designed lakes and fishing 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-in-chief of Bassmaster, said Mr. Scott accomplished more than he could have anticipated, and that his influence was not only in making bass fishing an organized sport, but also in accelerating the growth of an industry serving fishermen
If it weren’t for Mr. Scott, he said, the Bass Pro Shops chain and many boat builders might not exist.
“They were founded,” Hall said in a telephone interview, “because of what Ray did.”