The Bass Boss - Ray Scott
*Originally published in the Jan/Feb ’05 Inside Line Magazine
I first met Ray Scott in the late 1970’s during a Florida BASS Invitational. I remember sizing him up: tall, impressive, confident, yet friendly and outgoing.
Over the years I learned a great deal about Ray and his passion for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. In realizing his dream, Ray Scott embodies the true spirit of everything American – where hard work meets opportunity to form success.
During our interview Ray mentioned the title of his upcoming book, “Anglers and Other Angels, and an Old Brown Hat”. From the book he describes a mysterious event that took place during a business trip to New York City, where an important meeting was to take place. Due to the significance of that meeting and what was at stake, Ray took his lucky hat along – an old brown western hat that he acquired years earlier – one that, in his mind, brought good fortune whenever he wore it.
As the cab traversed the busy streets of New York City, Ray’s mind wandered – so many people, so much commerce. For a man from rural Alabama the metropolitan landscape was overwhelming. Concentrating on his strategy for the meeting, he hardly realized it when the cab reached its destination. Quickly he gathered his belongings, paid the driver, and entered the massive revolving doors at the front of the towering building. Once inside, he realized something was missing. Discovering what it was, he turned and watched helplessly as the cab disappeared into heavy traffic. Inside that cab was his lucky hat.
About that time a man called to him, “Aren’t you Ray Scott?” of all places, a member of his Bass Anglers Sportsman Society had recognized him among a crowd of scurrying pedestrians. They visited for nearly twenty minutes – the whole time Ray Scott ached from the loss of his trusted hat.
As the conversation wound down, Ray noticed a man entering the building, carrying something under his arm. Incredibly, it was the cab driver returning the hat.
To this day Ray considered that incident to be profound and indicative of the many other fortunate occurrences in his life. In his words, he has been blessed. One thing is certain, through whatever means, Ray Scott has successfully built an angling empire. His Bass Anglers Sportsman Society has legions of faithful followers, and an entire industry has prospered as a result.
Just as the title of his biography states, Ray Scott is the BASS BOSS.
Bernie: First thing’s first, Ray, what’s your age and what did you do before BASS?
Ray: I’m an active 71, and I just greeted the morning sun standing tall and feeling good! After college I worked ten years in the insurance business.
Bernie: When did you decide you wanted to develop an organization for competitive bass fishing?
Ray: That would’ve been March of ’67. I really don’t want to bore you with the details . . . have you read my book?
Bernie: I haven’t, Ray. I apologize; I need to.
Ray: If you had read the book you’d have answers to ¾’s of your questions, and a feel for the early parts of the whole affair, but we’ll proceed. I’ve had the chance after 35 years to reflect a lot. I’ll have another book out in about a year, and I know this probably sounds corny, but the name of it is “Anglers and Other Angels, and an Old Brown Hat”. Goofy, I know, but it’s about the circumstances and the people that crisscrossed my path, contributing to everything that’s happened.
Bernie: Inspired you . . .
Ray: Exactly. I came out of Auburn full of fire (piss?) and vinegar in 1959, went into the insurance business for ten years, and in the process . . . let me tell you something, unless you’ve been in the life insurance business, you couldn’t understand that it’s the toughest, most challenging . . .
Ray: Well, competition’s not that bad but life insurance is the toughest sale in the word because – it was 20 years later before I realized it – men don’t buy life insurance because they’ve never died before. I’d sit down with a guy, describe his situation, illuminate his circumstances including family responsibilities, but I’d never offer an insurance solution until I could get him to admit he had a problem.
After he admitted to his problem I’d offer the solution, a specific, defined, highly organized insurance solution, but the son-of-a-gun still wouldn’t buy. The perfect solution, as close as a signature on the page, and he’d say, “I’m not ready.” The reason? He’d never died. Why wear a life preserver? I’ve never needed one before.
Anyway, I learned how to prospect, how to sell insurance, and it’s more about prospecting than selling – I sold one out of three. People don’t want to talk about dying; they hate it – talk about bass fishing, but not about dying! Once I learned to prospect, to educate, my customers admitted the things we did were appropriate, and were elated because they’d taken care of a problem, solved it. When I’d deliver the policy a few weeks later, they’d invariably tell me, “Ray, I’ve got a brother-in-law who needs some help in this area.”
My point is that once he understood what he had and why he had it, he’d share me with his friends. I love that, and I don’t care what you’re selling – automobiles, insurance or fishing lures. To me, Gary Yamamoto is one of the greatest marketers in the world because he quietly delivers a product that works. And people who know it tell the people who don’t know it, and all of a sudden the audience is bigger. He builds a heck-of-a product, and he’s the quietest, most understated man that I’ve ever known, in any field. He’s almost, well, the word shy wouldn’t be the proper definition, but I know one thing, I’m impressed with him and the reputation of his products.
I’m sitting here on the phone in my den, looking out my window, about 30 yards from the spot where I threw a Senko – I had two guys in the boat, Tim Tucker and Alan Clemons from a Huntsville, AL newspaper. Anyway, first cast I made was right beside a stick-up; I hit on the right side and Tim Tucker smacked a lure on the left. After about 20 seconds I picked it up and felt “donk” when the fish swam out away from the structure, just like he should have, off into deep water. I swept the hook into his mouth, using four-pound test. You know about this fish, don’t you?
Bernie: I’m learning quickly!
Ray: It was four-pound test and I caught a 7.9-pound bass – of course the bass did everything right, including getting hooked. All I’m saying is that the lure, and I don’t make money telling people this, but when I believe in something I don’t mind sharing it with friends, with anybody, maybe even people I don’t like, because I know that I can help. There may be a million lures out there, and God knows they all work on any given day, but you have to have confidence, not only in the product but also in the guy who makes it. I have that feeling for Gary. I don’t know him that well; I know he’s an understated guy, but he understands the fundamentals of doing business, and he’s been doing it for a long time. The bottom line is integrity.
Bernie: I agree with that 100 percent.
Ray: I know it sounds tacky, like I’m running a “Who Loves Gary” show, but he’s a good guy, and he’s got good people working with him. I did all that rambling to say this: once I established myself in the insurance business I felt so confident about my prospecting philosophy that I believed that you could parachute me out of a plane, anywhere in the country, and wherever I lit I’d find a way to make a market – even if I didn’t know anybody. I knew all I’d have to make was one or two sales and I’d be off to the races.
That’s what gave me the courage to go into the bass world. The first tournament I held, 106 men showed up from 13 states, and I did the whole promotion in 30 days by telephone. They paid me a $100 entry fee, they brought their friends, their friends brought their friends, and that’s the way it got started. Jack Wingate was one of my very special angels. He was just one, but the success of that first tournament was due largely to a man I’d never met face-to-face, Jack Wingate. He gave me names, I contacted them, and the rest is history. I know that was only the first question, but that’s how BASS got started. I believed that if I had something that was right, and I could sell it to one man, that he’d share it with his friends.
Bernie: So, Jack basically became an emissary, your promoter.
Ray: Right, my angel. You have to know your product, believe in it, and the when you tell somebody about it, it has to come from a sincere, honest heart. I know I might sound a little silly here, but if you look back to the Bible, Jesus did the same thing. He ran a referral business, with 12 sales managers and the rest is history. It was right, and therefore you couldn’t stop him. I was right and you couldn’t stop me.
Bernie: Where did the acronym for B.A.S.S. originate?
Ray: October ’67 and I was searching for a name, and there were a lot of things happening at the time, including practically going broke with a family of three. I called Homer Circle and said, “Homer, I need a name for my new organization,” which he knew about. He said, “Let me stop you there, Ray. I’m not good on acronyms, but I know a guy who is – Bob Steber.” I’d met him, an outdoor writer for National Tennessean, the newspaper. Homer gave me his number so I called him, told him what I was doing, and that I wanted something centered on the letters B.A.S.S. He told me he’d call me back – in about 15 minutes he gave me the name: Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society. I said, “That’s a long damn name.” He kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah, but Ray that’ll make them call it BASS.” I said, “It’s done, thank you, goodbye.” Twenty years later I found out that there were three men in that room having a drink and they all laughed about this long-ass name, but that’s how it came about.
Bernie: It was recently announced that you were going to again be involved with BASS – in what capacity and how do you feel about it?
Ray: I feel good, but there’s one thing. Before Ray Scott can offer a solution there has to be a problem, and they have a problem. They’re doing a fabulous job, but they’re forgetting that their heart got them there, not their feet. You understand that, Bernie?
Bernie: I believe I do. I see there’s something lacking in the organization and maybe Ray Scott can fill that void.
Ray: I’m hoping so. BASS is an incredible organization, because I didn’t know how to do it otherwise. I didn’t really do it in a traditional way. I was more interested in the vertical nature of the thing – one species. It wasn’t about fish, it was about A fish. It was unheard of at the time. I don’t think anybody had ever done that before. If I’d known how to do it, I probably would’ve done it differently, but to me it was just the way it had to be. I’m in there now trying to help them. They’re doing a fabulous job, it’s just different. They are a powerful, powerful source for promotion of the sport, and they’re going to get it done as far as I’m concerned. Somebody up there is really determined to see that it goes off and it goes off right – to glamorize and promote the whole industry. Everything in the outdoors, everything in fishing, is affected by this organization. I’m trying to help BASS pull up their socks.
Bernie: In what capacity; more with the Federation?
Ray: Yes, the Federation is the part of the membership you can really get your arms around. General membership, you can’t afford to talk to them otherwise, but you talk to them through the pages of BASSMASTER. I like writing columns for both BASSMASTER as well as for BASS Times, which is for the Federation.
Bernie: I kind of put the cart before the horse here, how old is the organization?
Ray: BASS started officially in 1968, so we’re 36 years old.
Bernie: After 36 years, the organization has gone through two acquisitions; it’s now in the hands of ESPN. How do you feel about that and the direction they’re taking the sport.
Ray: I think it’s wonderful. They’ve really been promoting well, they’ve been talking about the goodness of BASS and what the fishermen do. I’m happy with it, bug again, I want to make sure that we don’t forget that there was spiritual nourishment that was in this thing, until this moment. You take the heart and the spiritual connection between the men out of it and what do you have? There’s a unique bonding that takes place in this sport. You don’t see BASS conventions scattered across the world, but there are certainly conventions of doctors. In other words, at a doctor’s convention there’d be physicians, heart surgeons, veterinarians, pediatricians, dentists – they’re all doctors, right?
Well fishermen are the same. We’ve got a zillion species to chase, from saltwater to freshwater, but you don’t find any real bonding going on in that total group of anglers. Can you imagine a chiropractor having breakfast with a heart surgeon at a convention? Not really, sure they’re both doctors but they have something unique, a different approach to the problems of anatomy. All I’m saying is that what we’ve done, we’ve got a bond here that is wrapped tightly on one specific species, and that’s the black bass.
Bernie: So you’ve basically collected anglers from around the world that have a common interest.
Ray: Right. If it were every species, it wouldn’t be that type of bond. That’s why BASS is so unique, and will continue to be unique as long as we promote this unique bonding we have. I don’t want them to forget it was the heartbeat that got us there, not some mechanical gizmo.
Bernie: I agree with you. Before I ask the next question I want to go on record to say that I believe BASS is in good hands with ESPN, and I believe they’ll do good things with the sport. But as recently as this last BASS Master Classic, I was riding on the bus with the other competitors, headed from weigh-in to the boatyard when I overheard a conversation between two senior pros. When asked their opinion about all the hype surround the event on ESPN’s production of the Classic, one of the most prominent veterans said, “We’re not fishing tournaments anymore, we’re doing television.” Ray, do you think that television has compromised the purity of the competition?
Ray: Compromised what?
Bernie: Let me try to explain it better; in the early days it wasn’t about holding a tournament for the sake of television, you were basically just trying to get the competition established, set up the rules, get the guys on the same page and make a level playing field for the sport in it’s purest, earliest stages. Over time it’s become a media event and it’s almost as if the sport is being dictated by TV rather than documented by it.
Ray: That’s an interesting observation and there may be a little of that in there. I don’t think it’s intentional, not necessarily; it’s the motivation. They’re in the TV business, and they’ve got to take the industry forward, to capture it so it can be entertaining for an audience.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think, just as you clearly stated, there’s a very keen responsibility on the part of those that monkey with it, trying to capture it on television and make a drama out of it. I don’t think they need to always be mindful of the integrity we’ve generated over the years, one of the most valued characteristics of the organization.
I’m a bit concerned about some things, but I don’t think it’s deliberate. I think they just don’t completely understand the philosophies of what it’s all about. This isn’t a specific criticism, but none of them can know it as well as I do. I’m sure there’ll be others between me and the producer of the TV show. His motive is to put something on the television screen that makes money. It’s got to entertain and hold the audience, and thus make money. I do worry about it a bit because the integrity of the catch, to me, was always the most powerful motivator.
Can you imagine having 106 men pouring into Springville, AR and I’ve never even seen but four of them before. I knew I had 106 cowboys running around trying to catch fish and I had to somehow pay it to the guy who was the best angler. I was a tore-up, wore-out son-of-a-gun – that’s why some of the rules were so powerfully constrictive. Now everybody kind of laughs about it, but I knew if I had a screw-up it was back home to the insurance business. I had rules, and I’ll tell you something else, I was so careful I paired men from a different state every time.
Bernie: to prevent collusion.
Ray: That’s right, I wanted to minimize the chance of getting killed as a result of a cheating incident, and I don’t think that any of the competitors would have the balls or courage to make a deal with a guy they’d never met. Another precaution I took, after the first day I always paired the top 20 (together). So someone in first would be paired with the guy who was in 20th place. The guy who was in 19th, he’d be paired with the second place guy, and I did that all the way through, adjusting it only to the extent that I didn’t want men from the same state fishing together. In that first tournament on Beaver Lake I also had a rule that if you’d lived in a county that touched Beaver Lake, anytime in the last ten years, then you were ineligible.
Ray: Yes, there were three or four counties that touched Beaver Lake, and if you lived in those counties you couldn’t fish my tournament. Why? Because I was paranoid – I knew if I brought guys from 13 states and some turkey living 100 yards from the lake won the tournament it would certainly kill my future. Who the hell wants to compete with a guy who literally lives on the water? So I outlawed it. On the other hand, I know I would’ve gotten more fishermen, but I didn’t (allow it). Looking back now, the local guys never hurt us. It’d be a handicap because of having too much knowledge. You know that story; they very seldom win. But I didn’t know that in 1967. The other thing was, if you were in the top 20 after the first day, I paired you with a guy from another state and had a third man, a volunteer, sit in the boat with you all day long. The observer didn’t touch a fishing pole, strictly an observer.
Bernie: Wow, that tight all the way back in the beginning.
Ray: That’s the way it started – I was trying to save my rear from a cheating incident of any kind. Severely strict rules never kept a good man away from a tournament. On the contrary, good, honest men are attracted by strict, well-administered rules.
Bernie: I think that the sport has evolved to the point where that just proves everything you just said.
Ray: I couldn’t be everywhere, so I needed a polygraph examiner occasionally. They’ve eliminated polygraphs today, for whatever reason, but I think they’re working quietly to bring them back.
Bernie: It’s a good deterrent. Whether they’re accurate or not, I think they’re a good deterrent.
Ray: Absolutely, that’s the best reason. I’m guessing that I gave over 100 polygraphs and believe it or not, over 90% of those tests actually proved the man’s innocence.
Bernie: I think a better deterrent than the polygraph was the fear of the example you’d make if you did cheat.
Ray: I caught a guy one time and put a news release out that circulated to every newspaper man in America. He deserved it, and I wanted everyone to see what I did to him.
Bernie: In contrast, in competitive bass fishing’s brief history I don’t believe any person ever promoted the anglers more aggressively than Ray Scott. In Nick Taylor’s book, Bass Wars, he painted an accurate and flattering description of Ray Scott as somewhat like a southern preacher looking after his flock. I’m sure it makes you feel good, but do you feel it’s accurate?
Ray: He describes a sharp businessman. Everything I do is to give me continuity and to extend my lifespan in business. As I said earlier, strict rules won’t insult a good man.
Bernie: I appreciate that, but I think there was more. I think you had . . . I know the fishermen – in the period when you were on-stage and conducting weigh-ins – there was deep respect and loyalty from the anglers, and I think it was mutual. I’ve seen too many instances in my career that reinforced that. I think Ray Scott was a strong proponent; he wanted to see all the guys loyal to the tour succeed. Not one or two, I’m sure there were guys like Roland and others that were like the prodigal child, the guy you wanted to see at the forefront, but it seemed you wanted all of us to succeed.
Ray: I agree with that. Again, it’s just a reflection of my desire for this business. Everything I do is designed to be a success with integrity. It makes me think of ligaments – if you didn’t have ligaments you’d just be a pile of bones and meat on the floor. Strict, enforced, administered rules are the “ligaments” of what I do. To diminish or weaken the ligaments, or rules, is to go downhill, and downhill fast. Back in ’68 I’d have killed you before I’d let you screw up my tournament, or allowed you to get it away from me. Not just because you deserved it, but my future depended on it and so did bass fishing – I was being watched closely by 105 other men. I’m convinced that the stricter I am, and the fairer I am, the more the honest man likes the party.
Bernie: We talked about the anglers that came into the limelight under your tenure as emcee and head man of BASS. Those guys are getting older and ESPN has embraced the young guys in the sport for obvious reasons – that’s the future of the sport and it makes good business sense. But some of the senior anglers feel displaced; what do you say to them?
Ray: I don’t have anything to say to them. ESPN has made a good decision to put the influence on the younger more theatrical bright spots out there. That’s a marketing decision I don’t think can be criticized. It’s not disapproval or an unappreciative attitude toward the seniors, it’s just business. The Iaconelli’s of the world are going to get on TV because of their theatrics. Whether you like it or not that’s the stuff the general audience wants to see – it draws, pulls, and holds audiences.
Bernie: In the beginning you hired James “Pooley” Dawson as your right-hand man. Pooley remains a steadfast employee of BASS, the most senior employee of the organization. Tell me about Pooley.
Ray: Pooley fell out of the sky in 1970, just when I needed him. I was fantasizing about a getaway fishing trip to Eufala in the spring. I wanted to camp-out, get out of bed in the morning and someone would hand me a cup of coffee, sit down and eat a big old plate of eggs and grits, then get in the boat and go fishing and come back to find lunch waiting. I went to see Pop Spencer, custodian at the armory here in Montgomery and told him about my dream trip to Eufala one morning over a cup of coffee. Pop said he could help and introduced me to the man who could help me. I couldn’t afford him full-time, but I told him when I could I wanted to hire him to work for me. He agreed and that’s the way Pooley came on board. He became by man and short of killing somebody, Pooley could always get it done.
Bernie: Did you ever imagine that Pooley would be . . . I mean it’s almost ironic that he’s a black man, and the most senior employee at BASS, an organization basically founded for southern, white, Anglo-Saxon anglers. I mean, BASS evolved to include all races and cultures, and the sport is bigger than the world now.
Ray: The bottom line is that Pooley’s just an enormously sharp man. There’s nothing about him that I wouldn’t trust – with my money or my life. I could do a book about Pooley, great stories, things that he did over the years, problems we had and solutions we found. After Pooley did the campout in April of ’70 as a spare-time deal, I wanted a kick-off banquet and awards banquet in February at Seminole, our second tournament. I couldn’t find a place big enough to feed 150 folks plus guests, so I decided to do a buffet kind of deal on the grounds. I found a local guy and delegated it all to him. When it came time for supper and the folks got in line – that dude had one Johnny Morris-sized cooker and a bucket full of fish!
I was embarrassed as hell – no way was he ever going to cook enough fish for the folks already lined up. I survived that ordeal without a fight, but that night I called Pooley, who still didn’t work for me. I told him I needed help, and like always, he took care of it.
After the final weigh-in folks began to line up at the buffet and we had tables, table-cloths, cloth napkins and real silverware, and the grill was set up with prime steaks cooked to order. And I never had to tell him what to do. Everybody was knocked out, and it sure helped cover the embarrassment of the first night. Everybody needs a Pooley in their life, but few are as fortunate as I was to find him.
Bernie: We talked about TV and ESPN’s impact on the sport, but there likely wouldn’t be any ESPN television coverage if it weren’t for the groundbreaking you did with Bob Cobb and the BASSMASTERS TV series. Bob was the original editor for BASSMASTER Magazine and you reassigned him to develop the TV series, ultimately an award-winning production.
Ray: Bob was my friend from the get-go. When I was working on that first tournament at Beaver Lake, I couldn’t draw from Oklahoma – Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, but not Oklahoma, particularly Tulsa, less than 100 miles away. I got the Tulsa Tribune every morning and twice a week read a column by Bob Cobb.
I called a bigmouth, egotistical kind of guy in Memphis and told him I was having trouble getting Tulsa. I suggested he write a letter to the editor of the Tulsa Tribune and tell him that if those pussies over in Tulsa had any balls they’d come out to Beaver Lake and challenge the Memphis anglers. He wrote that letter to Bob Cobb and Bob actually printed it. Next morning, Bob Cobb looked up to see a big tall guy standing in front of his desk. “You Bob Cobb?” he asked, and Cobb answered, “Yes, sir.”
“Who’s this son-of-a-bitch from Tennessee?”
As a result of that letter I got 14 Oklahoma entries inside a week. The duel was on – the losing team (Memphis vs. Tulsa) had to allow the winning team to reach into their tackle boxes and take any lure they wanted. After the whole shebang was over, all in fun, everyone ate dinner, belched, and left . . . except for one guy, Bob Cobb. He still sat there writing on his notepad. I introduced myself, and then hired him for less money than he was making. I did that with everyone though, because I didn’t want them to work with me for more money, but for more opportunity. It worked, too. I wanted people who were motivated by the opportunity to do something that had never been done before. Bob gave up a heck of a career and moved his family.
Bernie: That may be your strongest virtue – you assembled so many quality people, to realize the dream I guess.
Ray: Sure, they saw the dream, and saw the heat coming off of it. That’s very attractive to people. I agree that is my greatest strength. I could never have done it without the team. I’ve got limitations. I’m good at what I do, but I recognize my limitations.
Bernie: Harold Sharp was your first tournament director.
Ray: He’s the guy you should talk to. He read about the first tournament in the newspaper and promptly signed up for the second one on Smith Lake in northern Alabama. During the tournament I had a newspaper writer out in a boat to get a feel for what we were doing – he didn’t know a bass from a bull’s ass.
I looked back into a cove and saw a boat that looked like this Harold Sharp guy I’d met the day before. We eased in close enough to holler and I asked Harold how he was doing and told him the gentleman in my boat wanted to see him catch a fish. “Sure thing,” Harold said. He made a cast with a topwater back into the cove and I swear, he popped that little bait twice and a fish just unloaded on it – he caught a six-pound bass! The newspaper guy said, “Okay, I’ve got enough,” so I took him to shore and unloaded him. Harold caught the biggest bass of the tournament on that cast and the rest is history.
Harold was on fire with the whole idea and put together his own bass club and was the first one to affiliate with Ray Scott and BASS. He’d constantly write to tell me he wanted to work for BASS but I couldn’t afford him. The Mississippi Association of Bass Clubs was copying my deal a bit, so I started catch-and-release. Anyway, they asked the Mississippi Governor not to let BASS release fish – it embarrassed them because they didn’t release fish. We’d released fish for two tournaments and now they were telling us we had to kill them.
So we met with the Governor’s appointee in charge of conversation, Avery Wood. I asked him to explain why we couldn’t release fish and he just kept saying we couldn’t. Harold and I told Wood that we’d bought licenses, and we could do with the fish what we wanted. That ended that; we weren’t going to kill them. They finally agreed but had a truck there to take all the live fish. I never objected to that. Do experiments or whatever, just don’t waste the fish. I found out later they released them in a very shallow fenced area; it was hot weather so a lot of fish died, but 30 pounds or so lived.
Harold and I were in this thing together and that was one of the toughest hurdles we encountered. If I hadn’t been so hard-headed we would’ve just accepted the state’s ruling and gone on, but it was the principle. It was painful enough, though, just like the birthing of anything.
Bernie: Was that when Harold became tournament director, right after that?
Ray: When we got to Jackson, MS that catch and release problem was all in the news. Rather than just sit back and take licks I organized a seminar in the War Memorial building, announced to the newspapers it was free to the public, and brought in some pros – Billy Dance, Tom Mann, four or five others and me. It was hot as hell in that building, the middle of July. Wegot there early to make sure we could get in and as we walked up the steps there were 20 guys sitting on the steps. I didn’t say anything, I figured they were waiting for a bus – but they were (actually) waiting for the doors to open! They were hungry for information. In 15 minutes there wasn’t a seat available – around 350 people – the TV man from the local station couldn’t get in because there wasn’t room. It was the damndest thing you ever saw.
I introduced the program, what each guy was going to talk about, and there was such hunger for knowledge – they hadn’t been getting it out of the Field and Stream. I was so taken by the whole thing that I asked someone to play a piano that was sitting in the corner, and we sang God Bless America. That was the kick-off of seminars as we know them today. Education turned a difficulty into a positive thing; catch-and-release was reborn, galvanized in my mind, and we sold BASS memberships to lots of guys. Eventually we started charging a dollar admission and got twice as many people as we did for free.
Things grew from there and I realized that I needed a director, so I called Harold Sharp but he was asleep. He called me back about three in the morning and said he’d come out and go to work. After I hung up I realized he’d never asked what he’d be doing or what he’d be paid. I called him back – he’d worked for the railroad over 25 years – I asked him if we wanted to know what he’d be doing and he said, “Well, sure, but I know it’ll be fun.” I reminded him he hadn’t asked me how much he’d be making and he said, “Well, sure, but I know you’ll be fair.” Harold was a disciple of the first order.
We did 101 seminars from Maine to California and it was the greatest thing that ever happened for BASS – we took the message out, planting little small trees in every community we stopped in and they all blossomed, bloomed and made fruit. Next, I made Harold my assistant for about three tournaments, then I handed him the baton.
Bernie: I’d like to ask you about another integral person in the development of BASS, that’s Helen Sevier. But before I do, in the early 90’s there was a lawsuit filed against BASS, one that challenged your integrity and the integrity of the organization. Can you comment?
Ray: The lawsuit’s still floating about after all these years. It claimed that I started BASS based on a non-profit motivation. That’s absurd, but they filed a class action suit with a witness from Kansas heading it up. I never believed they’d win, but I also never believed it would stay in court this long. We’re going to win, but we have to go through the whole miserable process.
Bernie: The case is still ongoing?
Ray: Well, we won the case, but they keep appealing on technicalities. It’s still gloating around out there. It’s really disgraceful.
Bernie: Did that have anything to do with your departure from BASS, or were there other reasons for that?
Ray: Not related at all. I left BASS because I sold it and I’d drifted a little; I was a little frustrated by some of the things I saw being done. It’s the old story – when you leave your child, or vice versa, you don’t really lose him, you just move away. You still have a keen interest in him, are critical of his actions and behavior. I’m probably making excuses for leaving, but that was the reason, not because of the lawsuit.
Helen Sevier, Harold Sharp and Bob Cobb, those were my three superstars. Helen came out of an industry where direct mail was her primary motivation and exercise. I hired her the same way I did Harold and Bob, but I had a sneaky way I did it. She was working for a direct mail outfit in Montgomery and I went to see the owner. I asked him how to get a copyright on an old book. We chatted about that, I was going to produce an old book called Book of the Black Bass, one of the first books on the subject.
During the conversation I asked how he managed to even break even on direct mail, that I was having trouble with my math. He laughed and said, “I don’t know how, but I know someone who does,” and he introduced me to Helen Sevier. I told her some of the things I was doing and she was intrigued – she’s a brilliant, brilliant gal. As we walked back to the car I told Bob Cobb I was going to hire Helen – if nothing else she could help me figure out how to break even.
I’d given her some numbers and she was going to work some stuff out for a promotion. When we returned to her office I asked Bob not to say anything. We went through the numbers she’d worked up, I asked what we owed her and she said, “Nothing. I’m glad to help. By the way, I think what you guys are doing is very interesting. I think it has a lot of potential.” She went on to tell me the things I wanted to hear, and she said she’d have interest if we ever decided to hire someone. I saw the veins pop out on Bob’s neck when I told her we’d keep her in mind. On the way back to the car Bob said, “She gave you the perfect opportunity!” and I responded, “Yeah, but that cost her lots of money!” That was an inside joke I shared with Helen over the years. Everybody laughs about the wages; I hired people, but I did it my way.
I knew a guy working for the state of Alabama, another angel, and anytime I wanted to know how much a citizen of Alabama was making all I had to do was call. He’d go to the computer in the tax department and find out – illegal as heck, I’m sure, but he’s dead so it doesn’t matter now. Anyway, I found out Helen was making around $14K/year. When we talked I asked how much she made – I told her I expected $16 to $18K. Helen said, “Not quite, but almost $13K, I think.” I said, “Well, I can’t pay you that much, but I can pay you $12,500.” In three weeks she was working in my office. The point is that she told me the truth. I would’ve accepted a lie, because I would’ve probably lied a little bit, but she went down instead of up. I was looking for that kind of spirit of adventure and a desire to be part of something. It was hard to see the greatness in those days when we were young and struggling, but she did.
Bernie: So, from a modest $12,500 salary, she grew to ultimately become the CEO of BASS.
Ray: That’s right. She ended up with the company and later sold it to ESPN. She’s such a great gal, and an incredible woman. I’ve been so blessed with people of greatness.
Bernie: I always enjoyed sitting in on those board meetings. During Helen’s tenure I was on the Angler’s Board, they call it the BASS Athletes Advisory Council now. I sat in on some of the meetings and she was a savvy lady. I always enjoyed the interaction.
Ray: Compassionate, but strictly business. She wrapped everything with compassion, and that’s important in an enterprise that you expect to be in for the long pull.
Bernie: I’m going to switch gears on you, and this will probably wrap it up for me. It’s an election year and everyone who’s followed your career knows Ray Scott is a staunch Republican, that you’re close to the Bush family, and that politics is a big part of who you are. By the time this is printed we’ll know who the new president is, or if it’s Bush again. Are you concerned about that or how the outcome might affect our industry?
Ray: It’s just September now but I’m predicting right now that he’s going to win in a substantial way, decisively. Elections are won not by the right or the left, but by the guy who can’t make a decision, that’s that five to seven percent in the middle. Those five to seven percent were really impacted last night at the convention. Anyway, he’s a good man and my whole life has been blessed with good fortune. Probably my best good fortune was when I had the occasion to get to know him and be his father’s campaign manager, when George Sr. ran against Reagan in 1980. Of course we lost; I don’t think God could’ve beat Regan for the nomination that year. But, we came in a pretty good second and because of some issues I brought up and some tricks I did at the convention, George Sr. was selected as Reagan’s VP. I sound like I’m bragging, and I guess I am a little bit. That good fortune just fell into place; I was his campaign manager and the rest is history.
I believe in synchronicity big time; it’s just the way things happen. I know I’m convinced that we wouldn’t have the quality of bass fishing we have today with George Bush. The most important factor today is resource people that have the money to do things that need to be done. I pushed the idea of expanding the excise tax for fishing enhancement, today known as Wallop-Breaux?
Bernie: I know you were an integral part in accomplishing that.
Ray: It wouldn’t have happened had I not met George Bush. I worked five years on the darn thing, but finally it passed, and it was due to George Sr.’s influence with Congress, and it’s all documented.
Bernie: You’re confident that it will be a decisive victory for the Republicans and the Bush family. What will the impact be on our industry? Make it tangible to the reader – will it impact fishing?
Ray: you’ll have a damn good bass fisherman sitting in the White House. He’s better than most men I know, period. And he’s about five times better than his daddy, who loves it as well. George W. Bush leans on the rod; he doesn’t rear back and cross his legs – he’s aggressive. The first time George Sr. came to my house we had a fundraiser tournament for the church. When I went to pick up the President and get him in the middle of this tournament, guess what? He’d brought his little boy with him, George W. I told him I had a problem because I had three men in every boat and I didn’t have a place for him. George W. said he didn’t mind, and would be happy to just do whatever. I sent him over the hill to a small lake about ¾-mile away, and he fished up there.
When we took a lunch break all the boats came back to my house where we had a great lunch. About the time they all headed back out; guess who walked over the hill with a string of fish he could hardly lift? George W., true story. He’s a good man. Not perfect, but he’s got a fire in his heart for this country. He stumbles and fiddles and stumbles a bit more, but he’s getting through that he’s right on target in my book.
To give you another synchronistic example, I was at my second home in Santa Fe when I got a call from Harold Sharp. Seems there’s a little lake outside of Bastrop, and some of his Texas buddies told him they were fixin’ to nuke it. There was a lot of grass in the Lake and they wanted to kill everything in it. They’d prepared a million dollar’s worth of chemical residue to dump in the water. The Texas anglers were begging for relief.
Well, I called the governor of Texas and guess what? Yep, I got him on the phone without waiting for a call-back. “George, I’ve got a problem and I hate to bother you, but can you help?” I wanted the opportunity to show there was an alternative to chemicals – a machine that cut the grass. George called me back and told me we had a 30-day reprieve. I got on the phone and used $10,000 of my money to send an operator to do a demonstration, and was able to get the Governor to come see the machine operate. In fact, he rode it! The next morning the Colorado River Authority paid $225,000 for a weed-eater, all because of synchronicity. I feel so very fortunate that we were able to build this organization. It’s more than just a club; it’s a powerful force for righting things.
Bernie: It’s been an incredible journey, Ray.
Ray: It’s almost miraculous the things that have happened during my life. I can track BASS back to a Sunday School teacher when I was 13 – the older I get the more I realize it was his inspiration that interested me. I thought, “Man, I want to be like him.” He was a good lookin’ guy, well dressed, shiny shoes, smooth delivery, and he was in the insurance business – I wanted to be like him, he was kind of my hero. I always had the burning desire, and I didn’t know a thing about insurance. That was probably good because if I’d known, I wouldn’t have gotten into it – it’s so damn tough.
Because of that inspiration I can take you down a time line. Fifty-one years ago I fell off a third-story scaffold while I was doing construction work during college; I nearly got killed. It was 51 years ago today, about 2:00 this very afternoon. I was a college ball player at a little school in Birmingham, in fact my quarterback was a guy named Bobby Bowden; you may know him, Florida State’s coach. At any rate I was hurt and couldn’t play any more; I wanted to but couldn’t. I told my dad I wasn’t going back to school – even though they offered to honor my scholarship, I said no. I told him I was going to get a job in the insurance business. My daddy thought I’d lost my mind.
I went to see my old Sunday School teacher who was with Franklin Life Insurance, and offered myself to several other companies. When they looked at me I knew what they were thinking, “Who in the hell’s gonna hire a 19-year old boy?” You had to be 21 to get a license. I didn’t have the sense to know any better so I just kept knocking on doors. I finally got a call from a little-bitty Birmingham company, kind of a burial insurance company – they asked if I still wanted a job because they had one - $65 a week plus a $5 weekly expense account. I took that job in Phoenix City, Alabama, and it all goes back to a Sunday School teacher I admired. Later, I was drafted into the Army, finished school, and got a degree in business. The rest, as they say, is history.