Ray Scott, Creator of the Super Bowl of Bass Fishing, Dies at 88

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 on May 8 in Hayneville, Ala. He was 88.

His death, at a rehabilitation facility, was confirmed by Jim Kientz, executive director of Ray Scott Outdoors, a consulting business.

The idea for a bass fishing tour came to Mr. Scott, then an insurance salesman, when rain cut short a fishing outing with a friend in Jackson, Miss., In 1967. Stuck in his hotel room watching sports on television, he had an epiphany: Why not start the equivalent of the PGA Tour for bass fishing?

He held his first tournament at Beaver Lake, in Arkansas, where 106 anglers paid $ 100 each to compete over three days for $ 5,000 in prizes. A second tournament followed that year; in 1968 he formed a membership organization, the Bass Angler Sportsman Society, or BASS.

In 1971, Mr. Scott started what has become known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing: the Bassmaster Classic, his organization’s annual championship tournament, which he paired with a merchandising expo for manufacturers of bass fishing boats and gear.

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 for bass fishing that no one else had, one that he expressed to his skeptical parents at the time.

“I said, ‘I met this guy Ray Scott and he’s talking about all the great things that are going to happen in bass fishing,'” Mr. Martin said. “He made me think there was a professional occupation to be had in fishing.”

Mr. Scott was the showman of BASS, the umbrella company for tournaments, magazines and television shows. Easily recognized in his cowboy hat and fringed jackets, Mr. Scott memorably served as the MC for tournament weigh-ins, entertaining thousands of fans with his exuberant patter as anglers pulled flopping fish out of holding tanks.

“Now, ain’t that a truly wonderful fish?” he asked one tournament crowd. “How many of you want to see more fish like that? C’mon, let’s hear it for that fish! ”

He entered the arenas that were the exposition sites of the Bassmaster Classic in eye-catching ways: on an elephant, flying on a wire, bursting out of a giant egg, in a boat as pyrotechnics made him appear to be floating on a fiery lake .

Mr. Mr. Martin, a champion fisherman, said that Mr. Scott could be devious in pursuing tournament cheaters.

“He’d take a dead fish and mark them then throw them in the lake in the hope that someone would find that fish and try to weigh them in,” 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 amateur anglers and those competing in the tournaments, at which entrants had to use aerated livewells on their boats so they could release the bass they caught after the weigh -ins. He had seen fly fishermen release their catch at an event in Aspen, Colo., And thought that he could bring that conservation ethic to bass fishing.

“I saw the excitement those men had releasing that puny little trout,” Mr. Scott said in a 2008 episode of “The Bassmasters,” a TV 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 Aug. 24, 1933, in Montgomery, Ala. His father operated a group of ice cream pushcarts. 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 frame, he sold them to his classmates. He later 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 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 turning full time to bass fishing.

He also became known for his conservation efforts, which included filing about 200 state and federal lawsuits in 1970 and 1971 against companies for pollution that had fouled fishing waters, in advance of the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972.

Mr. Scott lobbied for the passage in 1984 of an amendment to the Sports Fish Restoration Act that created an excise tax program that financially benefits state fisheries 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 power since joining the company in 1970. ESPN, which had televised tournaments since the 1990s (it was seen on TNN before then), acquired the company in 2001. It sold the company nine years later but continued to carry its events until 2020, when Fox took over.

Mr. Scott, who remained the public face of BASS for a dozen more years, also became friendly with 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 his love of fishing.

Mr. Bush’s favorite magazine was said to be Bassmaster, which BASS publishes.

In 2008, Mr. Scott endorsed the 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, no longer in operation, designed fishing lakes and ponds.

In 1995, Field & Stream named Mr. Scott one of the 20 people who most influenced outdoor sports in 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. His marriage to Eunice (Hiott) Scott ended with her death.

Mr. Scott sensed even in the early days of his bass fishing tour that he had tapped a market with great potential. But James Hall, editor in chief of Bassmaster, said that Mr. Scott achieved more than he could have anticipated, and that his influence was not just in making an organized sport out of bass fishing but also in accelerating the growth of an industry that serves anglers.

If not for Mr. Scott, he said, the Bass Pro Shops chain and many boat builders might not exist.

“They were founded,” Mr. Hall said in a phone interview, “because of what Ray did.”

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