BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Ray Scott, a consummate promoter who helped launch professional bass angling and became a fishing buddy to presidents while popularizing the conservation practice of catching and releasing fish, has died, a longtime aide said Monday.
Scott died of natural causes late Sunday at a rehabilitation center near Montgomery, said Jim Kientz, who worked for Scott for more than two decades. He was 88.
A member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Scott founded the first professional bass fishing tournament in the late 1960s. Anglers could win money based on the weight of the fish they caught over several days on a lake or river, and they were penalized if a fish died.
Pro fishing caught on and Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, or BASS, grew into what it describes as the world’s largest fishing organization. Its signature tournament, the Bassmaster Classic, includes equipment shows that draw thousands of spectators.
For years, Scott — with an ever-present cowboy hat and a wide grin — emceed the tournament weigh-in shows where anglers pull live, flapping fish out of holding tanks as thousands watched.
“He was one of the few who could just walk on and light up a stage like no ones business,” Kientz said. “He was the ultimate showman.”
Scott’s vision for bass fishing created an entire industry, said Chase Anderson, the current chief executive of BASS, which Scott sold in 1986.
“Ray’s contributions and impact on conservation and his advocacy and passion for anglers and our sport set the standard for tournament fishing and are something we will always strive to uphold,” he said in a statement.
At the height of his success, Scott had a rural spread with a stocked fishing lake in the tiny central Alabama community of Pintlala that attracted former Presidents George H.W. Bush and son George W. Bush.
The late first lady Barbara Bush came along on a New Year’s trip in 1990 and held up a gigantic mounted bass in a boat as Scott laughed nearby. Through the years, Scott played host to “a slew of other politicians and celebrities along life’s highway,” Kientz said.
Interested in conservation, Scott helped popularize the now-common practice of catch-and-release fishing in which sport anglers hook a fish and return it quickly to the water once caught through tournaments. He also advocated for safer boating by requiring tournament participants to wear life preservers and pushed for boating safety laws before founding a company that sells deer-hunting supplies.
Scott retired from business several years ago and still lived in Pintlala, Kientz said. Survivors include his wife, Susan, and four adult children, he said.