Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of B.A.S.S.: More Than a Tournament Organization. In this part, Ray Scott talks about what he did to help fight pollution and bring safer boating to the industry. To read part one, click here.
Over the course of the last six months we’ve talked a lot about B.A.S.S. and the events held in the early 70s. We’ve also delved a little bit into the rules that Ray Scott implemented in his tournaments along with the horsepower race. What we haven’t really touched on, though, is what it meant to be a part of B.A.S.S. (with the periods and all their glory) and why everyone displayed, with pride, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s sticker and patch.
B.A.S.S. was more than a tournament organization – it was you, your fishing partner, your bass club and the bass club in the next county coming together to fight industry and clean the waters across the nation. It was an entity dead-set on making boating safer and it was committed to the preservation of the sport through research and catch and release. To be a part of B.A.S.S. meant you were part of the fight for all of these things we feel so adamant about.
Why don’t we have that symbiotic relation anymore? Has BASS become just another tournament organization that we belong to in order to be able to fish their events? Is B.A.S.S. only a conduit for a monthly magazine and website?
The above has bothered me for some time. You no longer see the camaraderie of B.A.S.S. members like you did in the 70s and 80s. Back then you couldn’t swing a Flippin’ Stik without hitting a car, truck or boat with the B.A.S.S. sticker on it. What’s changed?
In order to get a good feel on the subject, I felt it best to go straight to the man who started it all – Ray Scott. In the following paragraphs are Ray’s thoughts on why he started B.A.S.S. and once he got the ball rolling what he did to make it click.
As a kid growing up in Alabama, Ray Scott liked to fish. He and his buddies would go down to the shores of the Alabama River, cane poles strapped to their bicycles, to catch bass. But there was another facet of that time that really had an affect on his future.
“My buddies and I spent a lot of time down on the shores of the Alabama River fishing,” he said. “When the fish weren’t biting, though, we’d count condoms as they floated down the river. I remember one day I counted 46 or 47 of the things. That always bothered me – the pollution in the river – even as a youngster.”
Because of those events, the seed was planted in his mind.
“When I started B.A.S.S. in ‘68, one of the things buried in the back of my mind was to clean the waters,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t do it on my own but I knew if I had enough people behind me, it was possible. The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society could give me the backing in order to be able to fight the companies polluting the waters.”
Just 1-1/2years into the formation of B.A.S.S., Scott decided it was time to fight. But he had some inspiration in the form of – believe it or not – a Yankee named Robert Boyle.
Scott came in contact with Boyle, a writer for Sports Illustrated, first in 1969 just prior to the All-American event.
“One day a month or so before the ’69 Ouachita All-American this Yankee calls me and grilled me to the third degree about B.A.S.S.,” he said. “Then he asked when I was holding my next event. I told him and he said he’d be there. I didn’t believe he’d go.
“Next thing I know I’m in a hole-in-the-wall diner at Lake Ouachita and in walks this little dude. I didn’t think much of it until this behemoth of a man followed him in with three cameras strung around his shoulders.
“The little guy then asks a waitress, ‘Do you know of a man by the name of Ray Scott?’ I sat up and said, ‘I’m Ray Scott. Who are you?’
“Turns out the little guy was Robert Boyle and the big guy following him was Sports Illustrated photographer, Tony Triolo.
“For the next three days Boyle grilled me on why I wanted to start B.A.S.S.,” he said. “But he also told me of his organization, The Hudson River Fisherman’s Association and the lawsuits they’d filed against industries dumping pollution into the Hudson. He was suing them based on the Federal Refuse Act of 1899. His successes gave me the balls to do the same in Alabama in the name of B.A.S.S. and our membership. Because of that meeting, Robert Boyle has turned into one of my all-time heroes.”
Scott went back to Alabama with big hopes. If Boyle could do what he did in New York, he was bound to do the same in the South.
“The State of Alabama was very industrially conscious,” he said. “In the ‘60s they formed what was known as the Alabama Water Improvement Commission. Sounds like a great commission, doesn’t it? Well, this commission, with the help of the State, was offering companies business rates cheaper than other states by not making them permit their waste. They’d turn their heads at these industries dumping their waste into the river all to bring more big business to Alabama. I didn’t think that was right by any means so I set forth to use the Federal Refuse Act to put a stop to it.
“When I got back from Ouachita and after talking to Boyle, I hired a cheap lawyer and sued the AL WIC along with about 200 other companies in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.”
B.A.S.S. wasn’t just a tournament organization, it was quickly becoming a political powerhouse dedicated to the environment and anglers nationwide were joining Ray’s fight to help.
Another event that took place in those early years had to do with user facilities, specifically the proposal of user fees associated with any U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment. Scott got word of this proposal from a B.A.S.S. member out of Texas.
“In 1973 I got a call from some guy named Richard Long of Fort Worth,” he said. “He asked me, ‘Do you ever keep up with the Federal Register?’ I said, ‘Federal what?’
“Well, Long went on to tell me that the U.S. Army Corps was proposing to instill a user fee at all their facilities. They were going to charge people to enter the facility, launch their boats and even use the toilet. I thought this was crazy since the taxpayers had already paid for the construction of these facilities.
“I put Dave Newton on the task and within a short time Dave had brought all the Federation members together and had them write the Corps and their Congressmen and Senators protesting this action.
“The response from the anglers was astounding,” he said. “The Corps, Congress and Senate got so much mail against this proposal they quit opening it.”
Scott was then invited to the Senate Hearing on the subject as the representative of the anglers.
“I’d never been in a Senate Hearing before and had no idea what to expect,” he said. “We blasted the Corps for their proposal and then, all of the sudden, this light starts flashing and all of the Senators left the hearing room to go vote.
“As we waited for them to return, this man came up to me and introduced himself as General John Morris, Director of the U.S. Army Corps. He said to me, “I’m sorry this had to come about. It was an oversight. Your logic is right; we’re not going to charge user fees.”
Ray and B.A.S.S. had won the fight. But it was only the first battle he’d face against the Corps. One year later Scott was approached by Dr. Wayne Shell, Dean of Fisheries at Auburn University for some help.
“Dr Shell came to me to ask for help funding a baseline study of what was then the new Corps impoundment at West Point on the Georgia/Alabama border. He’d been asking the Corps to support the study but had been told by them, ‘You’re wasting your time asking for money.’
“Well, it just so happens I was invited to the dedication ceremony of the West Point Dam,” he said. “Here we all are in this big room with local citizens and politicians for the dedication and who, by chance, happens to be there but General Morris.
“I walked up to the General and his jaw hit the floor. I said to him, ‘I want to congratulate you on the fine job you’ve done here.’
“You see the Corps had really done a great job with the facility. They had wheelchair access for the handicapped, great ramps and toilet facilities – they’d pulled all the stops.
“But there was one important thing missing – the baseline study Dr Shell wanted to do.”
“The General was proud of all the compliments I was handing him until he asked if there was anything he’d missed. I said to him, ‘There’s one important thing you missed; the $750,000 for Dr Shell here to do his baseline fisheries study. The Corps has turned down Dr Shell numerous times.’
“The General then said, ‘Well, Dr Shell has been talking to the wrong person.’
“The next day a call came in from the Corps and they not only gave Dr. Shell the $750,000 he asked for but upped it to $1,000,000.”
Scott wasn’t only interested in the environment and the cost of fishing, he was adamant about boater safety. You’ve already read here on the Bass Fishing Archives what he did about the horsepower race, the kill switch and staggered starts. Here are Scott’s words on some of these topics and why they were important to him.
“Safety was always in the back of my mind when it came to our events and in general,” he said. “The shotgun starts concerned us as did the fact anglers were powering their boats with bigger and bigger motors. It wasn’t a safe condition at all.
“Then in the early 70s, a gentleman by the name of Allen Tomlin contacted us about a new switch he’d invented that would turn off the big motor should an angler get thrown from the boat. It was ingenious and Harold [Sharp] and I made it mandatory on all boats that would be fishing our events. We even published how to make the thing in BASS Master so everyone could make one. Click here to see the article.
“After we made it mandatory, I got a call from Evinrude. The guy on the other end of the line said, ‘Ray, you’ve been around long enough to know that if you raise the price of something it has an effect on demand. You’ve been talking about this kill switch on boats. Anytime we add something it increases cost. I wish you wouldn’t push that.’
“I told him, ‘Unfortunately it’s already in the rules and it’s gonna stay in the rules. It’ll raise the price maybe only $2 and that won’t suppress demand.’”
Life vest use was another thing Scott made mandatory in his events.
“I instilled the life vest rule at the first Classic on Lake Mead,” he said. “As long as the big motor was running, the contestants were required to wear them.”
Since then, Scott was heavily involved in increasing the popularity of the inflatable life vest.
“One of the greatest things in boating safety has been the advent of the inflatable life vest. One day I received a call from a gentleman named Scott Swanby of Fruitland, Idaho. Swanby told me about the inflatable vest he was working on and asked if I’d be interested in promoting it. At first, I thought he was a little off track but as I thought about it, I realized he was on to something.
“He came down to Alabama and we met. At that time I was pretty involved with George W. Bush’s Presidential race and we got two things accomplished because of that. One we got his inflatable vests placed at Kennebunkport and two, we got the United States Coast Guard to approve the vests.”
Scott also played a part in the safety ladders now integral in most bass boats or offered as accessories.
“The thought occurred to me one day that it’s really difficult to get in a boat if you’re in the water. Not only is it tough to get in the boat if you’re not injured but even more so if you are.
“Earl Bentz and I were having this conversation and he and his folks at Triton came up with the first integral boarding ladder for a bass boat.”
It’s Just Not The Same
Scott has never hidden the fact that he started B.A.S.S. in order to make money. But, at the same time, he felt he had an obligation to his fellow sportsmen to develop an organization that his flock would not only be proud of but also do right for everyone. He feels this main B.A.S.S. attribute has been lost since he sold the organization in the late 80s.
“BASS hasn’t brought on a lawsuit since I left the organization,” he said. “And I say that with a cynical tone. I sold the company to the first group headed by Helen (Sevier) and they did a good job with it but they didn’t have any balls to do the right thing. They were more interested in growing the business to sell it than do the right thing for the environment or the sportsman.
“Here’s a good example.
“One day in 1997 (Scott had sold B.A.S.S. in 1986) I was alerted by close friend Pastor Gary Burton about a battery dumping incident that was going on at Lake Guntersville. The U.S. Coast Guard had been dumping old batteries from navigation lights into the lake as they replaced them with new ones.
“There was also a report that there was an eyewitness – a gentleman who’d just spent the weekend camping on Lake Guntersville. He and his son were eating breakfast one morning and they saw a Coast Guard boat coming in their direction. The boat stopped at a channel marker on the lake and one of the guys in the boat took a new battery from the boat and replaced the old battery. Instead of placing the old battery in the boat to take back to shore, the guy dropped it in the water.
“This outraged me so I got on the phone with Robert Boyle. He came down and we got some divers to go look around the navigational markers. There were hundreds of batteries located around the anchors of the navigational markers.
“To make a long story short, we fought the U.S. Coast Guard in court. But we also got a hold of Matt Vincent, the environmentally conscious Editor of BASS Times and staff writer for BASS Master Magazine. Matt wrote an article covering the problem and it was slated for print in BASS Times.”
The story would not just be placed in BASS Times, it would be the cover story for that issue. Unfortunately, the story would never get past the editor’s desk.
“Not only did I never get to see the story that Matt put together, none of the readers of BASS Times got to read it because Helen Sevier was too chicken to publish it,” Scott said.
“This was a hell of a story and one that BASS should have run, but they didn’t. That was the beginning and end. Today they don’t have the balls to take on subjects like this – they’re more interested in running tournaments.
“This is what’s led to a downturn in BASS Master memberships,” he said. “The anglers don’t feel it’s their organization anymore. When I started B.A.S.S. there wasn’t any subject I was afraid to take on. That tenacity is what built the organization into a 650,000-member force and why everyone who was a member felt proud to be associated with it. Today I really don’t think people feel that way.”
[Editor’s Note: Ray Scott has published two books over the years, Bass Boss and Prospecting and Selling – From a Fishing Hole to a Pot of Gold. Bass Boss is a biography about Ray from childhood to after he sold B.A.S.S. (A Must Read). Prospecting and Selling is about how he used his mentor’s (Ralph K. Lindrop) Cycle of Success to build the B.A.S.S. empire and how anyone can use the same to make their own life a success. Another amazing read.