With the 47th Bassmaster Classic just a couple of weeks away on Lake Conroe out of Houston, I’m already thinking about travel, about walking the Expo floor, about appointments with friends and business associates, about time talking with the competitors at Media Day and about the way the event will impact the life of the angler fortunate enough to win.
I also think about the origin of the Classic and about the August 1970 drive from Montgomery, Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia, by B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott and editor, Bob Cobb. They were headed to Atlanta for a tackle show and discussing the need for more publicity for their tournaments. They came up with the basic structure of what they hoped would become the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the Bass Masters Classic.
Well, that’s what it was called initially. Through the years it’s been the Bass Masters Classic, the BASS Masters Classic and the Bassmaster Classic (since 2003). Though names, creel limits, field sizes, destinations and management have changed through the years, it’s remained mostly the same — a three-day event featuring some of the best anglers in the world vying for the sport’s biggest title and a pretty good payday.
The Classic has had its ups and downs, but its endurance reminds me that when the core idea is solid you really have to screw it up to destroy it. Scott and Cobb got it right. They knew how to attract an audience. They knew how to work with media. And they knew how to put on a show.
Even before the Classic, Scott was getting things right, particularly when he created the first modern bass tournament in 1967. He called it the All-American and held it on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. The success he had there gave him the confidence to start B.A.S.S., but the genius was in his rules. They are essentially the same rules that every tournament organization in the country still follows today.
We may argue about the best bass tournament angler of all time. Is it Kevin VanDam or Rick Clunn or Roland Martin? (Hint: His initials are KVD.) We may argue about the best lure ever devised to catch bass. (I’m voting for the plastic worm.) We may even debate the best television fishing show. (It’s “Bill Dance Outdoors” — 49 years in production and counting!)
But there’s no doubt about the greatest advocate, salesman and influence in the history of bass fishing. It’s Ray Scott. Everyone else is fighting for second place.
I’ve attended more than my share of industry functions through the years and been surrounded by the luminaries of the sport — pro anglers, television hosts, tackle designers and manufacturers, prominent media and any other category you’d care to name. Usually someone will take the opportunity to say something about the collection of industry influence or impact. They’ll call it a Who’s Who of freshwater sportfishing, or something like that.
When they say it, I’m invariably reminded of something John F. Kennedy said in 1962. He was addressing a group of American Nobel Prize winners — writers, scientists, statesmen — and marveling at the groups’ accomplishments. Then he said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House … with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Ray Scott fills the Thomas Jefferson role very nicely. He’s the architect, the founding father, the igniter of what followed not just in bass fishing, but in much of sportfishing — in competition, in equipment and in media.
If you’re going to Houston for the Classic, don’t forget to take a moment to put it in perspective and call it what it is, the show that Ray built.