Ray Scott, the man who founded Fishing Tackle Retailer (FTR) and the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) and forged the modern sportfishing industry died in Montgomery, Alabama, Sunday night of natural causes. He was 88 years old.
Born in Montgomery in 1933, Scott’s legend is well known among bass anglers. He was an insurance salesman who dreamed of taking bass fishing to a wider audience. In 1967, while waiting out some bad weather on a fishing trip, Scott sat in his motel room and had an epiphany. He would create a bass tournament format that would be fair, honest, and compelling. He dreamed of a time when professional bass fishing would appear on television alongside traditional spectator sports.
“It all just came to me,” Scott said. “I knew it would work.”
In June of 1967, he organized and conducted the All-American bass fishing tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas — the first modern bass competition and the template for all that have followed. Six months later, he started BASS, one of the largest fishing membership organizations in history. In 1968, he published the first issue of Bassmaster Magazine. In 1984, he launched “The Bassmasters” television program. About that same time, Scott started Fishing Tackle Retailer magazine as a division of BASS. It was his foray into the larger tackle industry and created a platform through which he could speak to retailers and industry professionals across the country and across all angling demographics.
“He created an entire industry,” said FTR co-publisher Brian Thurston. “Ray was probably the most influential individual sportfishing has ever seen and one of the best promoters of all time.”
“Ray created thousands — if not tens of thousands — of jobs across America as a result of his entrepreneurial thinking,” added FTR co-publisher Carlton Veirs. “He was a smart, fascinating, brilliant business man who was also friend to everybody he met.”
It would be almost impossible to overstate the importance of Scott in the bass fishing world specifically and in the sportfishing world generally.
While growing BASS — which peaked at about 750,000 members and still boasts over half a million — Scott impacted virtually every other aspect of modern sportfishing, from water quality to safety to catch-and-release. He was a visionary, a trailblazer, an evangelist, an igniter, a showman, a salesman, a marketer, an entrepreneur, a publisher, a conservationist, and a leader. Most of those who work in the bass fishing industry and many in the sportfishing industry owe their careers to him.
Scott sold BASS and FTR to a group of investors in 1986, but he stayed involved as an executive and as the face of BASS. In the 1990s, he created Ray Scott Outdoors, a communications and marketing firm for fishing industry products and companies. Throughout the ’90s, he was a fixture at industry trade and consumer shows.
But fishing was not Scott’s only interest or passion, he also founded the Whitetail Institute of North America, advancing nutrition and habitat efforts for America’s favorite big game animal. And Scott was involved in politics, supporting the presidential bids of George H.W. Bush in 1980, 1988, and 1992. For several decades, Scott dedicated much of his time and resources to supporting his church — Pintlala Baptist Church in Pintlala, Alabama.
He is survived by his wife, Susan, four children — Wilson Scott III (Vickie), Steven Leo Scott (Kelly), Jennifer Eunice Epperson (Larry), and Wilson Freeman Scott (Noel) — 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral services have yet to be announced.