Fishing legend and world-famous conservationist Ray Scott died Sunday according to a longtime aide. He was 88.
Scott, a charismatic promoter and friend to multiple U.S. presidents thanks to his easy, affable personality and love for the outdoors, is credited with popularizing catch-and-release fishing. Jim Kientz, who worked for Scott for more than two decades, said he passed away near Montgomery, Ala., over the weekend of natural causes.
A member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Scott organized the country’s first professional bass fishing tournament in the late 1960s. Until sportsmen saw the potential in angling as an exciting hobby, fishing was known as a slow, sleepy activity, or a job with the goal of selling fish. Never before could anglers win money based on the weight of the fish they caught and then immediately released. And never before had anglers faced penalties if fish died during the catch, the New York Post reports.
Pro fishing caught on with fans, and soon Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) grew into one of the world’s largest fishing organizations. Scott’s signature tournament, the Bassmaster Classic, maintained its popularity for decades. It includes equipment shows that draw thousands of spectators as it pits the top anglers in the sport against each other in multi-day competition.
Ray Scott brought showmanship to fishing that live audiences loved
Many in Scott’s orbit claim that the success of the BASS events largely fell on Scott’s showman shoulders. His oversized cowboy hat and ear-to-ear grin became staples at tournaments. At the events, he would routinely hop on stage and invigorate the crowd during weigh-ins.
“He was one of the few who could walk and light up a stage like no ones business,” Kientz said. “He was the ultimate showman.”
Chase Anderson, the current chief executive of BASS (which Scott sold in 1986), said Scott’s early vision for the bass fishing industry literally created much of its current form.
“Ray’s impact on conservation and his advocacy and passion for anglers and our sport set the standard for tournament fishing. They are something we will always strive to uphold,” Anderson said in a statement.
During his most successful era, Scott enjoyed a large, isolated spread with a stocked fishing lake in the small central Alabama community of Pintlala. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and son George W. Bush, as well matriarch Barbara Bush, all made the pilgrimage to Pintlala to bait and cast a line. Through the years, Scott played host to “a slew of other politicians and celebrities along life’s highway,” Kientz said.
Scott’s conservationist efforts also echo throughout the sport’s bylaws now, as well. Besides advocating for catch-and-release fishing, Scott was a well-known proponent of boat safety, both for individuals and for the environment.
Scott retired from the business of bass several years ago and still lived in Alabama, Kientz said.