Larry Woody: BASS celebrates half century for anglers

Larry Woody • Updated Jul 7, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Fifty years ago this week marks one of the most significant developments in the history of sport fishing – the founding of the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society.

Most anglers know that BASS was the brain-child of Ray Scott of Alabama, the Godfather of bass fishing.

But what many don’t know is who came up with the catchy acronym.

It was Bob Steber, at the time the outdoors editor for The Nashville Tennessean and my mentor when I joined the paper in 1966 while in college.

Scott and Steber were close friends. Scott ran his idea by Steber: a nationally organized bass-fishing program, complete with big-money tournaments. Steber supported it. But what to call it?

Scott asked Steber to come up with a name, and after some thought he suggested BASS.

It was perfect.

Today hundreds of thousands of anglers wear BASS logos on their shirts and jackets – BASS has more than 500,000 members and its Bassmaster Magazine is read by 4.5 million people each month.

Scott’s debut BASS tournament was held on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. The media-savvy Scott invited outdoor writers from around the country to cover it, and the publicity hasn’t slowed down since.

Many of today’s tournaments are televised, and the tournaments and various BASS spinoff benefits – from boat and tackle sales to tournament-site tourism – have grown into a billion-dollar industry.

The early BASS tournaments produced such notable anglers as Tennessee’s Bill Dance, who over the years has built his own personal fishing empire.

An interesting, detailed history of BASS and its charismatic founder is posted on Richard Simms’ Rhea County Outdoors website.

BASS didn’t hold the first professional fishing tournament; back in those pre-BASS days there were already a number of smaller, mostly local events. But, like early stock car racing, the tournaments tended to be amateurish and poorly-organized.

Cheating was fairly common. Fish were sometimes stuffed with lead sinkers before weigh-in, or caught prior to the tournament and held in live-wells until tournament time.

Scott did for tournament fishing what Bill France Sr. did for stock car racing when he formed NASCAR: he organized it, supervised it, and turned it into a true professional sport.

Critics of pro fishing tournaments claim numerous fish don’t survive after their weigh-in, but Scott and his tournament officials from the outset stressed keeping the fish alive and healthy. Numbers of dead bass floating around a weigh-in dock is bad publicity, and Scott wanted neither.

Under Scott’s stewardship BASS has become not just a lucrative tournament fishing enterprise, but also a leader in various conservation, environmental and water-quality causes.

Scott, 83, is retired from day-to-day duties but remains passionate about promoting bass fishing and related outdoors activities.

No fishermen ever built a greater legacy.

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