By Mike Giles
The Meridian Star
Ray Scott strode into the room and instantly commanded the attention of friends, fans and anglers from all walks of life at his retreat near Pintlala, Alabama recently. This larger than life modern day P. T. Barnum is recognized by anglers, outdoorsmen and business leaders alike as being one of the most influential leaders in not only our time but in the history of this country. Scott was here for a low key celebration by friends and family for yet another milestone; his 80th birthday, quite an accomplishment for any man. And it gives me pause to reflect on his life and influence.
Scott’s entry into the world of tournament fishing and the advent of his revolutionary idea of catch and release tournaments ignited an explosion of growth in the angling world. Almost nothing in the freshwater fishing world was left untouched as basic lures, tackle, equipment, bass boats and anything connected with bass fishing skyrocketed as his Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) took the country by storm.
Scott has an uncanny ability to say just the right thing while making everybody feel like they’ve been best friends with him forever. He’s never met a stranger and he’ll make you a friend and believer in short order. It seemed fitting that I was able to meet Ray Scott a few short years ago, a man whose passion had so much of an influence on my life and my bass fishing passion.
For you see, it was in a hotel room in Jackson, Mississippi that Scott developed a dream that became the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society. That dream was born just a few minutes from my fishing mentor and grandfather J. P. Nolen’s home near Jackson. While I was a member at a young age, I became a Life Member as an adult and soaked up every bit of knowledge that I could get from Bassmaster magazine and fishing trips with Pawpaw Pat Nolen.
Scott and Nolen would never meet, but both were tall, distinguished, larger than life gentlemen who were leaders and loved the outdoors and bass fishing in particular. While I cut my bass fishing teeth as a young lad fishing on the waters of Ross Barnett reservoir with my grandfather, Scott also held some of his first tournaments there and I was an observer at one of the weigh-ins.
It was at one of those tournaments that Scott held one of his first catch and release tournaments following the protests of some local anglers. In regards to catch and release, Scott had some ideas that he related to us recently. “I couldn’t help but wonder what that young kid was thinking when he saw all the fish we were bringing in and icing down,” said Scott. “You know, he was probably thinking ‘I’ll never be able to catch those fish’ and that really bothered me and I knew something had to be done.”
I was one of those kids, and hearing his story some 40 years after the fact hammered home to me just what a visionary he was. He was able to look into the future and realize it was much more than just finding ways to catch and kill fish. In order for the tournaments and the industry to survive and thrive, it was imperative to leave fish for others to catch again and again.
Needless to say, the birth and subsequent success of catch and release bass fishing, was probably the biggest contribution that Scott could have ever made to the sport of fishing and the lives of many young boys who grew into men. My grandfather, James Patrick Nolen, was my bass angling mentor and Ray Scott and his passion for bass fishing and catch and release furthered my passion also.
Because of Scott and his dream, youngsters and adults alike will be able to feel the thrill again and again as that largemouth bass explodes through the water and wallows across the surface and is released back into the water to live and bite and fight another day.
And for that alone, I am thankful for Ray Scott and his dream of B.A.S.S. and the advent of Catch and Release.
Contact Mike Giles at 601-917-3898 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org