I was fortunate in that I got to sit with Ray Scott for 2 hours during a media event prior to the Bassmaster Classic held on the Red River. Mr. Scott is a very humble man when it comes to being the founder of what we call tournament bass fishing today. While he excepts credit for an idea, he firmly believes it’s the fisherman wanting a format to gather and enjoy with a little competition on the side that got the ball rolling. Ray Scott spoke about many things ranging from the start of ‘Catch and Release’ to the invention of the kill switch, and several things in between. With so much information available all in one person, I was a little overwhelmed when talking with Ray, it was truly amazing to speak with the man that was there when every piece of our sport was created.
Many years ago, Mr. Scott was invited to speak at a trout fishing convention. The coordinator of the convention heard Ray speak on pollution in our lakes and streams and wanted him to give the same speech at his Trout Fishing Convention. Figuring it was a very important issue and his attendees would greatly appreciate Mr. Scott’s views and ideas on what we as anglers can do. After this convention, the coordinator invited Ray out on a trout fishing excursion. As Ray tells the story, he wasn’t paid for the speech, had to fly his own way to Colorado to give the speech, was not provided room or board except for the night of the Convention, “the least they could do is take me fishing, so I went.”
Fishing in a small stream with fly rods, Ray said there were anglers every few yards casting at each other’s feet. Finally, an angler hooked a trout. “It was amazing, all the other anglers put their rods down and watched intently. Some coaching this lucky angler while he fought with his trout. The battle took several minutes because of the light line; you know trout are finicky”, Ray said with a wink. Mr. Scott talked about the battle between this trout and the angler, walking up and down the stream until finally he was able to coax it into the net. “This guy reaches gently into the net and cradles this trout in the palm of his hand, like it was a long lost friend in need of help, and gently works the hook free. He holds the trout up so all the other anglers can see it, then reaches in the water, and lets it swim free. To my amazement everyone started cheering and clapping as if he had just caught a super bowl pass.” Ray talked about how he just couldn’t understand how, first everyone got so excited over such a little fish “It wasn’t any bigger than a pickle”; second, how everyone was so excited that he released it to be caught again.
“This got me to thinking, what about a 5 pound bass. If a trout angler can flip over an eight inch fish, bass anglers would be ecstatic to let a large bass go to fight again another day.” Ray continued, “It turned out to be a very rewarding experience for the anglers”.
“On the plane ride home, I tried to figure out how to implement a program that would enable our tournament caught bass to be released after being weighed. I wasn’t sure how the anglers would take to such an idea. On one hand, I felt as they would appreciate the concept; however, on the other hand, livewells weren’t invented yet so how would we do it. We kept all the bass on stringers.” Ray also talked about how he didn’t feel that they were hurting the bass population; however, the amount of bass that were destroyed at each tournament was setting a bad example. “We tried to make sure they were used but in some cases that just wasn’t and option there were not enough people or places to take them.”
Ray said, “To implement this concept I felt I had to trick, or teach if you will, the anglers into accepting Catch and Release. The first tournament that involved Catch and Release was simply and effort. We asked the anglers to try and keep their catch alive so that we could release them. After that, instead of a penalty for dead fish like we have today, I gave them a bonus for live fish. Each live fish was worth and extra ounce. This really got them to thinking, and make shift livewells were born.” Ray chuckled and continued, “You and I both know a bass angler isn’t going to give up an advantage he can use to win a tournament.”
My recount of Ray Scott’s story on how Catch and Release got started does not do justice to being able to hear him personally tell the story. If you ever catch Mr. Scott where he has a minute, ask him to tell you where the idea for ‘Catch and Release’ came from and be prepared to enjoy the next thirty minutes of your life. Ray Scott is amazing to talk too. Story after story of phenomenal bass fishing history came to an end; the hotel management where the event was held was kicking us out, and the bus to take Ray Scott back to his hotel was waiting on him. Ray leans over and says, “I’m Ray Scott, I could ask them to stay open a little bit longer; but it wouldn’t help.” With a chuckle, he gets up, and we walk to the door. Ray handed me a limited edition belt buckle and thanked me for our conversation. Thanked me? I’m thinking I was the one that got the most out of this. Very humble and enjoyable man!
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