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Ray Scott's Retreat a Bass Angler's Dream
April 3, 2014
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Just six weeks ago, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) was filled to the brim with fishing fans from all over the world. Inside the Civic Center, the daily weigh-ins from the Bassmaster Classic showcased the best bass anglers in the world. In the adjacent buildings in the BJCC, displays featured everything from $70,000 bass boats to $4-a-pack plastic worms.
For all practical purposes, that fishing extravaganza could certainly be called “The House That Ray Built.” Anyone with knowledge of bass-fishing history will know exactly who that is – Montgomery’s own indomitable Ray Scott, who took bass fishing from local “buddy” events to the national stage during his tenure as the head of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society or, as it’s more commonly known, B.A.S.S.
Although he sold B.A.S.S. in 1986, Scott has remained the most recognizable name in bass fishing around the world. Although he’s been gone from the helm of B.A.S.S. for more than 25 years, Scott remains the face of bass fishing, as shown by his reception from the crowd during the recent Classic.
Despite his reduced role at the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing,” he remains active in the bass-fishing arena. He helps the fledgling American Bass Anglers because “they remind me so much of B.A.S.S. when we were first getting started,” and continues his quests for clean water and preserving fishing habitat, which included recruiting more than 500 anglers to protest a proposed grass eradication plan by TVA on Lake Guntersville.
“I used to ride a bicycle with a buddy of mine, Gene Gray, and we’d ride down and fish Three-Mile Branch out on Atlanta Highway,” Scott said. “Every once in a while, we’d ride all the way out to the Alabama River.
“Back then everybody’s waste went into the Alabama River. I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but when I was old enough, I realized what this was doing to our fishing. I sued (more than 200 lawsuits) those people to stop dumping raw waste into our rivers.”
In 1967, a few years before he started the clean-water efforts, the insurance salesman hatched the idea of a bass-fishing circuit that would clean up the tournaments that were being held at the time.
“I’d been to some of those derbies and you could smell the stink coming off of them,” Scott said. “You’d have guys weighing in 40 pounds of fish, and you could tell some of those fish had been freshly thawed. They were crooked as hell. I always dreamed of having tournaments that weren’t infected like that.”
In 1968, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society was born, and Scott went from an extra desk in his insurance office in Montgomery to a separate B.A.S.S. office with two desks the following year.
Membership in B.A.S.S reached 2,000 in the first year, which Scott called “a monumental climb. Then the next year we hit 6,500, and the next year 25,000. And it kept going to glory, whew.”
Scott and Bob Cobb, editor of the Bassmaster magazine, hatched the idea for the Bassmaster Classic on a trip to an outdoors show in Georgia in 1970. When Cobb asked where they would hold the Classic, Scott responded, “We won’t tell them. We’ll keep it a secret, and that’ll give us a year to decide where to go.”
In 1971, Scott put the top 24 bass anglers on a plane and didn’t tell them where they were going until they landed in Nevada, where the first Bassmaster Classic was held on Lake Mead with little fanfare or media coverage. Arkansas’ Bobby Murray won the first Classic and the $10,000 top prize. In contrast, Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., won the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville and took home a $300,000 check and a marketing value of more than $1 million during the remainder of his career.
On a trip out West during the B.A.S.S. early years, Scott witnessed a trout fisherman with all his paraphernalia carefully releasing a small trout back into the stream. Another revelation popped into Scott’s head – catch-and-release.
“We were killing too many fish,” he said of the early tournaments when the limit was 15 fish. “I wrote all the fishermen a letter and told them I wasn’t going to penalize them for a dead fish, but I wanted them to try to keep the fish alive. Some of them said, ‘What are we going to do, put them on a stringer and hang them over the side of the boat?’ That’s what some of them did. They tried. They put coolers in the boat and transferred water from the lake to and from the cooler. We managed to keep about 35 percent of them alive.
“Then Don Butler, the first member of B.A.S.S., helped develop the first livewell. Now we’re keeping 97 to 98 percent of the fish alive.”
At 80 years old, Scott now spends much of his time near Pintlala at his place that could be called the “Retreat That Bass Fishing Built.”
Ray Scott’s Trophy Bass Retreat was once the private farm where Scott entertained two Presidents – George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – and numerous other dignitaries and celebrities. Bass-fishing legend Rick Clunn, a four-time Bassmaster Classic winner, caught the heaviest bass of his career (13 pounds, 15 ounces) in Presidents Lake.
Several years ago, Scott decided to open the retreat to the public after “Outdoor Life” magazine named the 55-acre Presidents Lake the best bass lake in America.
Scott bought the 200-acre tract in the 1980s and built three additional lakes around 1990. He entertained the Bush presidents in the mid-1990s. When Scott and Buckmasters founder Jackie Bushman became spokesmen for the initiative to promote the Black Belt (Alabama Black Belt Adventures), Scott decided to open his private bass-fishing haven to the public.
“I guess it was a dream to have my own fishing lake,” he said. “After word got around, everybody wanted to fish it. After we put a price on, it cut down the demand. But it’s worked out well.”
The retreat (RayScottBassRetreat.com) offers several different packages that range from a day on the water to the deluxe package with three nights’ lodging and two days of fishing. The lodge built on a point in the Presidents Lake provides the site for plenty of hospitality from Jim Kientz and Jim Liner, not to mention the excellent food prepared by Scott’s youngest son, Wilson.
Scott invited me and my best buddy, Jay Gunn, to Pintlala for a little fishing recently. Despite a cold front that had the big fish suspended and unwilling to bite, Gunn and I managed to leave with our thumbs torn to shreds from grabbing the fish by the lower jaws to toss them back. Although Scott apologized for the “poor” fishing, our count for the day was 93 bass with the largest at 5-plus pounds.
Despite keeping a busy schedule, Scott regularly entertains visitors to the retreat with numerous tales of B.A.S.S. and his outdoors exploits.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great people through the years,” he said. “I am the most blessed man in the world.”
Scott still remembers the incident that started his bass-fishing obsession. It was a fish he caught at Bridge Creek near Prattville a long time ago.
“Daddy (Ray Scott Sr.) had a little one-bedroom cabin up there,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old. I went below the spillway of the lake with a cane pole and some worms I’d dug up. I’d been catching bream about as big as three fingers. Then all of sudden my cork went under and I thought I was going to lose my pole. I finally got the thing in and it was a bass about a pound. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I couldn’t wait to show it to my mother. I never will forget it.
“That was my introduction to bass fishing, and I never got over it.”
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Ray Scott has been the face of bass fishing for decades. The founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) now spends most of his time at Ray Scott's Trophy Bass Retreat near Pintlala, where he entertains clients with some of the best bass fishing in the nation and Southern hospitality. Despite a cold front, Jay Gunn and the author caught 93 bass in one day, including this 5-pounder Gunn caught on a finesse worm. The spacious lodge on Presidents Lake provides ample space for Scott's storytelling around the fireplace amid his memorabilia, not to mention the great dining provided by his amateur chef son, Wilson Scott.