Ray Scott, dubbed the “Father of Modern Bass Fishing” for helping turn a regional leisure sport into an industry with an economic impact of $125 billion per year and related media including magazines, web sites and an iconic TV Show, died in his sleep Sunday night at his home in Alabama, according to an announcement on Bassmaster.com. He was 88.
A child of the Great Depression, Scott worked for a decade as an insurance salesman before his lightbulb moment came.
Rained out on a fishing trip, with basketball the only sports on TV, he thought to himself, “Why doesn’t someone cover fishing on TV? There’s more folks fishing than playing basketball.”
So in 1967, leveraging a great idea and a flair for promotion, Scott launched the first national professional bass-fishing tournament. A year later, he founded what has become the world’s largest fishing organization, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — or B.A.S.S. — and Bassmaster magazine, which would eventually boast 650,000 subscribers.
The evangelizing angler was featured on NBC’s Today, ABC’s Dick Cavett Show and on 20/20.
In 1984, he and then-Bassmaster Editor Bob Cobb created The Bassmasters, a TV show that became a hit for The Nashville Network. Today, the program is broadcast on Fox Sports, putting it among the longest-running and most-watched fishing shows in history.
The tournament born in 1967 became known as the Bassmaster Classic — and also known as the Super Bowl of bass fishing. The Classic along with the Bassmaster Elite Series and related events such as the Classic Outdoor Expo grew to attract more than 125,000 fishing fans each year, according to Field & Stream. They also provided a growing content offering for the Fox Sports TV franchise.
You can watch Scott and Bob Cobb reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Bassmaster Classic in 1990 below.
Scott was a conservationist, introducing the concept of catch-and-release to bass fishing, working with B.A.S.S. to promote clean water, catch watershed polluters and promote safe boating.
Among his fans were Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, with whom he fished.
Scott sold B.A.S.S. to an investment group in 1986, but he continued to serve as emcee of the Classic for several more years.
He is survived by his wife, Hope Susan Scott; four children, Ray Wilson Scott III, Steven Leo Scott, Jennifer Eunice Epperson, Wilson Freeman Scott; 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Daniel and Edward Scott, and his first wife Eunice Hiott Scott.