[Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series on B.A.S.S., Ray Scott and the organization he built. Part One is an account by the Bass Fishing Archives on the early doings of B.A.S.S. with respect to pollution and the fact that the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was more than a tournament organization. Part Two concludes with an interview with Ray Scott and his thoughts on those early days, some of the fights he took on, some of the changes he made to the boating and fishing industry and his thoughts on where B.A.S.S. has gone since he left the organization.]
I don’t know if you remember this but B.A.S.S., at one time, was more than just a tournament organization. Yes, Ray Scott started the BASS Anglers Sportsman Society to make competitive bass fishing a respected sport, but there was more to it than that. He had grandiose ideas that went further than competition – although those thoughts might have been born after he realized what he’d started.
Scott’s idea to hold tournaments are well documented in his book Bass Boss. In March, 1967, on a business trip to Mississippi, Scott had set aside a day to fish with his friend Lloyd Lewis. After four hours of fighting the cold rain, the two anglers gave up and headed for the dock. What, at the time, might have seemed like an unfortunate event, ended up as the cornerstone of modern competitive bass fishing.
Alone in his motel room that same day, Scott dreamed up the making of the first high-entry national bass tournament complete with rules. The tournament would be known as the All-American and would be held on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. The rest is history.
After a couple years Scott not only had a respected tournament organization, he had a quarterly magazine and a growing membership that was getting noticed among the outdoor crowd. It was this growing membership, though, that would give Scott the power to do things he had only dreamed of earlier in life.
Scott makes no bones about his dream of B.A.S.S. as a money-making venture. In a recent phone conversation with him, though, he said, “It’s the American dream to build a company and become a millionaire. But it’s also the American way to give back to society. I knew that with B.A.S.S. and its growing membership, I had a chance to give back to society.”
Scott would “give back to society” in a number of ways over the course of his tenure as the owner of B.A.S.S. and you read about them all in the pages of BASS Master Magazine.
The first of many fights, though, was the Peg A Polluter campaign. The campaign got its start in 1969 after a chance encounter with a gentleman named Robert Boyle of New York. Scott took Boyle’s encouragement and by 1970 was ready to fight at the national level.
By the time the Fall 1970 Issue of BASS Master came out, Scott had filed suit against 216 polluters in the U.S. District Court and had been on the Today Show talking about the problem of unmitigated dumping in navigable waters. B.A.S.S. was more than a tournament organization – it was a tool to fight for what was right – and by being a member you were part of that fight.
Although Scott’s desire to fight pollution came out in earlier issues of BASS Master, the Fall 1970 issue really drove home the support he’d gained from other outdoor organizations and the public. One look at Mail Call shows letters of support written by the Executive Vice President of the Sport Fishing Institute, Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Director for the Izaak Walton League of America, among others.
Ray’s Scott on the Line editorial that issue talked about why they were suing industry, local government and how they were going about it. Grits Gresham’s, the B.A.S.S. Conservation Advisor, report that issue told readers how to get involved with reporting polluters and not to let them slide.
In BASS Chapter’s News, there was an article about Harold Sharp and the “Peg A Polluter” tournament hosted by four Tennessee clubs to raise funds and awareness on the pollution at Nickajack Lake on the Tennessee River. The tournament raised $1000 – money that went to support the Society’s fight against pollution.
On page 40, Earle F. Dodds wrote a piece, Eulogy to a Dead Fishing Paradise, about the mercury poisoning on Pickwick Lake. The article talks about how the levels of mercury in bass were five-times higher than allowed by the FDA – and those were 1970 numbers. Today’s limits are even lower.
In all there were four articles written on the quest to stop pollution, one ad and one pullout card on how to Peg A Polluter. This coupled with the Mail Call and a couple of cartoons by Harold Sharp (he was the BASS Cartoonist at the time) made up 15 pages of the 66-page issue. The rest of the issue, of course, was all about how to become a better bass angler.
You see, B.A.S.S. was more than a tournament organization – it was a Society that fought for a safer, sounder outdoor experience.
In Part Two Ray will talk about his fight against the polluters, his role in boater safety and his opinion of BASS after he sold it in 1986.