Ray Scott, considered the Father of Modern Bass Fishing, passed away on May 8. He was was 88 years old. 

Scott founded the first national professional bass fishing circuit, the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, in 1967 and the following year founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — B.A.S.S. — the largest worldwide fishing organization.

“Our entire organization was saddened to hear about the passing of our founder, Ray Scott,” said Chase Anderson, B.A.S.S. C.E.O. “Ray’s passion and vision for bass fishing birthed our entire industry more than 50 years ago when he founded B.A.S.S. and started the first professional fishing tournament series. His legacy is felt to this day and continues to influence B.A.S.S., the world’s largest fishing membership organization, which he started in 1968. 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.

Our hearts and prayers are with the Scott family.”

The bass tournament competition Scott created rewarded anglers who caught the heaviest limits of bass in the three- or four-day events, which served as the proving grounds for rapid advancements in bass boats, outboard engines, fishing tackle, lures, and electronics. Anglers began purchasing what the bass pros were using, creating the bass fishing industry that today boasts an economic impact of over $125 billion a year and employs more than 800,000 people nationwide.

Before Scott began pursuing his dream of organizing America’s bass anglers, the sport was a laid-back, mainly a Southern pastime largely overlooked by the trout-focused national outdoor media. To serve B.A.S.S. members and publicize the tournament trail, Scott launched Bassmaster Magazine, which the New York Times described as “the Bible of Bass Fishing,” delivered to 650,000 B.A.S.S. members monthly.

In 1984, he and then-Bassmaster Editor Bob Cobb created The Bassmasters television show, which attracted more than one million viewers weekly on The Nashville Network. Aired today on Fox Sports, the program is one of the longest-running and most-watched fishing shows.

In 1972, he debuted the “Don’t Kill Your Catch” campaign and mandated that all tournament competitors’ boats feature an aerated livewell to keep their bass alive. 

“I didn’t invent catch and release,” Scott acknowledged, “but we made it popular in bass fishing, which changed the sport in so many ways. We preached that a Bass is too valuable to be caught only once. We helped fishermen learn how great it felt to catch a 5- or 6-pound bass and then lean over and let it go and watch it swim away, hopefully, to be caught again.”

As a result, the catch-and-release ethic caught on that more than 90 percent of bass anglers today release all, or most, of the bass they catch.

Scott and the B.A.S.S. organization also crusaded against the industrial pollution of America’s waterways. In 1970 and 1971, Scott filed some 200 anti-pollution lawsuits, drawing national attention to declining water quality and contributing to the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

He was an early advocate of bass fisheries research, and he campaigned for the passage of the federal Wallop-Breaux Sport Fish Restoration Amendment of 1984. When the bill stalled in Congress, Scott’s friendship with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush helped ensure the amendment’s enactment. As a result, approximately $375 million in sportfish restoration allocations are provided annually to state fisheries agencies for management, aquatic education and public access projects.

Few individuals have had a more positive impact on boating safety than Scott. Early on, he began requiring tournament competitors to wear personal flotation devices whenever boating, and he convinced manufacturers to make emergency shut-off devices — “kill switches” — standard features on motorboats. In 1994, he was instrumental in passing the comprehensive Boating Safety Reform Act in Alabama, which became the first state to require that boat drivers pass a written exam and obtain a boat operator’s license. 

In recognition of his efforts, President Jimmy Carter appointed Scott to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council and in 2002, he was inducted into the National Boating Safety Hall of Fame. Scott earned other accolades and honors for his contributions to outdoor recreation.

Field & Stream Magazine listed Scott, President Theodore Roosevelt, environmentalist Rachel Carson, and naturalist/conservationist Aldo Leopold among 20 individuals who most influenced outdoor sports during the 20th century.

He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2001, the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2004 and the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 1987. He was named the 1988 Sport Fisherman of the Year by the Sport Fishing Institute. 

The elder President Bush picked Scott as his Alabama state chairman during his 1979/80 presidential campaign, and the two remained good friends and fishing companions throughout Bush’s terms as Vice President and President of the United States.

Scott was born in Montgomery, AL, in 1933 and grew up there during the Depression. His father operated an ice cream cart, and his mother worked as a hairdresser to support the family, all living in a one-bedroom home. Scott contributed to the family by delivering groceries on his bicycle, mowing lawns and selling peanuts at baseball games.

Scott had dyslexia, which contributed to his having to repeat the eighth grade. However, he earned a degree in Business Administration from Auburn University and became one of Mutual of New York insurance company’s top salesmen in the Southeast. 

In recognition of his successes, Scott received the 2003 Horatio Alger Award, which honors the achievements of outstanding Americans who have succeeded despite adversity.

After a decade in the life insurance business, Scott had a vision that he might be the one to elevate the national profile of bass fishing to be, as he said, “on par with golf” and worthy of television exposure. That year, 1967, he quit his job and began organizing the first major national bass fishing tournament, the All American at Beaver Lake, Ark. The event was successful enough for Scott to start holding tournaments at other reservoirs in the South and to launch B.A.S.S. and Bassmaster early in 1968.

The annual Bassmaster Classic world championship grew from two dozen competitors and about that many spectators at Lake Mead, NV in 1971, to become the biggest event in sportfishing over the next half-century. Today, the Classic and related events, such as the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo, record more than 100,000 fishing fans each year.

He sold B.A.S.S. to an investment group including his executive vice president, Helen Sevier, and other employees in 1986, but he continued to serve as emcee of the Classic for several more years. He later became a consultant and a spokesman for companies in the fishing industry, and he launched a hunting industry business to market deer feed and related products through his Whitetail Institute.

After a half-century of helping to grow and shape the sportfishing industry worldwide, Scott retired to his farm near Pintlala, AL where he remained primarily out of the public eye in the years before his death. He is survived by his wife and four children.