By JAY REEVESAssociated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Ray Scott, an accomplished promoter who helped launch professional bass fishing and became a fishing buddy to presidents while popularizing the conservation practice of catch-and-release fish, has died. a former aide said Monday.
Scott died of natural causes Sunday night at a halfway house near Montgomery, said Jim Kientz, who worked for Scott for more than two decades. He was 88 years old.
Scott, a member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, founded the first professional bass fishing tournament in the late 1960s. Anglers could earn money based on the weight of the fish they caught over several days in a lake or river, and were penalized if a fish died.
Professional fishing caught on and Scott’s Bass Anglers Sports Society, or BASS, became what it describes as the largest fishing organization in the world. Its flagship tournament, the Bassmaster Classic, includes team shows that draw thousands of spectators.
For years, Scott, with an ever-present cowboy hat and a broad smile, was the master of ceremonies for tournament weigh-ins where anglers pull live, flapping fish from tanks as thousands watched.
“He was one of the few who could walk around and light up a stage like nobody’s business,” Kientz said. “He was the greatest showman.”
Scott’s vision for bass fishing created an entire industry, said Chase Anderson, the current CEO of BASS, which Scott sold in 1986.
“Ray’s contributions and impact on conservation and his advocacy and passion for anglers and our sport set the standard for tournament fishing and is something we will always strive to uphold,” he said in a statement.
At the height of his success, Scott had a rural tract with a stocked fishing lake in the small central Alabama community of Pintlala that attracted former presidents George HW Bush and his son George W. Bush.
The late First Lady Barbara Bush came on a New Years trip in 1990 and held a gigantic mounted bass in a boat as Scott laughed nearby. Over the years, Scott played host to “a host of other politicians and celebrities along the highway of life,” Kientz said.
Interested in conservation, Scott helped popularize the now-common practice of catch-and-release fishing in which sport fishermen catch a fish and quickly return it to the water once caught in tournaments. He also advocated for safer boating by requiring tournament participants to wear life jackets and pushed boating safety laws before founding a company that sells deer hunting supplies.
Scott retired from the business several years ago and still lived in Pintlala, Kientz said. Survivors include his wife, Susan, and four adult children, he said.
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