Bassmaster founder Scott brought pro fishing to prominence

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The story of how Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was born has mellowed only slightly with age, much like Ray Scott -- the entrepreneur who created the angling empire 44 years ago.

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Bassmaster magazine founder Ray Scott hands back a dollar that he signed at Wildwood Park on Friday. He was a guest at the 21st annual Military Team Bass Tournament on Thurmond Lake.   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Bassmaster magazine founder Ray Scott hands back a dollar that he signed at Wildwood Park on Friday. He was a guest at the 21st annual Military Team Bass Tournament on Thurmond Lake.
Video: Augusta Outdoors
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"Back in 1967, I was an insurance salesman," he said during a visit to Thurmond Lake on Friday. "Broke as heck, three kids, two car payments and a house."

It was from those humble beginnings that the Montgomery, Ala., native decided to follow his hunch that bass fishing was a gold mine that could be elevated to the professional level of golf, NASCAR and other spectator sports.

"In those days, nobody had ever heard of me or a bass tournament," he said. "We went ahead and tried to hold one."

His first big event -- the June 1967 All-American Invitational held at Beaver Lake, Ark., -- was a rousing success, even if outdoor writers around the nation had never heard of such a thing.

"I was trying to get 100 people signed up and we ended up with 106," he said.

The following year, in spring of 1968, Scott launched the premier issue of a new magazine, Bassmaster , which included his manifesto for using the black bass to lure competitive teams, sponsors, prize money, publicity and fame.

"It is simple why golf and bowling enjoy prominence -- the public is fully aware of their existence," he wrote. "You can't pick up a newspaper or flip on a television without seeing these sportsmen in action."

Bass fishing, he continued, holds the same potential. "The key words are 'National Tournaments.' "

As the concept grew, so also did the organization and the magazine's subscriber base.

"At the end of the first year, we had 2,000 members, and at the end of the second year 10,000. By the time we got to the third year, there were 25,000," he said. "It worked, if I do say so myself."

At its peak, the empire and its signature magazine boasted 650,000 members -- all devoted to bass fishing and the tournament trails it spawned.

Although the concept of bass tournaments came from Scott, the organization's catchy name originated elsewhere.

"In the beginning we didn't know what to call it," Scott said. "I was having a drink with two or three buddies one night and was talking on the phone to Bob Steber, the outdoor editor of the Nashville Tennessean , and I asked him to help me come up with something that said 'bass.' "

Barely 15 minutes later, Steber rang Scott back and proposed Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, or B.A.S.S."

It stuck -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, bass tournaments have long since ascended to the pinnacle of a $50 billion a year industry, and Scott is still going strong.

Field & Stream magazine named him as one of the 20 persons who have done the most to influence outdoor sports in the past century. Outdoor Life magazine listed his founding of B.A.S.S. as one of the top fishing innovations of the century.

He is a also a friend and fishing partner of presidents from Bill Clinton to George Bush and has been a guest on shows ranging from 20/20 to NBC's Today Show , in addition to promoting conservation causes including catch-and-release.

But on Friday, wearing his trademark Stetson hat, he was simply a welcome guest at the American Bass Anglers' 21st annual Military Team Bass Tournament, where U.S. servicemen from every branch, and almost every state, gathered to enjoy fishing and fellowship out of Wildwood Park.

"The military men and women are very dear to my heart," he said. "We owe them our gratitude for their service to our country."

Copies of his biography, Bass Boss , by Robert Boyle, were popular items. Scott is as capable a salesman now as in his younger years.

"If you're a slow reader, this thing will last you two weeks," he joked with a fan.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119,

or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

COREY PERRINE/STAFF PHOTO

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