‘Biggest, Most Important Happening In Bass Fishing’ Marks 50th Anniversary

A half-century ago, when Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala., wanted to entice outdoor media to cover his upcoming press conference, he didn’t soft-sell the event.

He invited the journalists to meet him in Springdale, Ark., and learn about “The Biggest, Most Important Happening In Bass Fishing History.”

The “happening” was the All-American Bass Tournament on Beaver Lake, Arkansas, an event many mark as the beginning of the modern era of bass fishing. The tournament was held June 5-7, 1967 — 50 years ago next week. The tournament was successful enough to launch the professional fishing careers of Bill Dance, Stan Sloan, Don Butler and others, and it inspired Scott, an insurance salesman turned promoter, to conduct a “tournament trail” of events across the country.

And it spawned the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society — B.A.S.S. for short — which would grow into the world’s largest fishing organization with more than 500,000 members and a magazine, Bassmaster, currently read by 4.5 million people each month.

Bassmaster’s June issue marks the milestone of tournament fishing with a cover story written by Bob Cobb, who contributed greatly to the All-American’s success.

“This article is special because it pulls back the curtains and offers never-before-released details of how Scott was able to pull off a bass tournament that probably should not have happened,” said Bassmaster Editor James Hall. “Secondly, it is written by Bob Cobb, the first editor of Bassmaster Magazine, who was standing in the crowd during the weigh-in of the All-American event. Cobb was there, and he is one of only a few people on this earth able to tell the story in vivid detail from firsthand experience.”

Cobb is quick to note in his article that other tournaments, including Earl Golding’s Texas State Bass Tournament and Hy Peskin’s World Series of Sport Fishing, predated Scott’s event by a decade or more. But it wasn’t until the All-American Bass Tournament was held that competitive fishing caught on and outgrew its regional roots.

Thanks to tournaments organized by Scott and, later, by others, the black bass has become America’s most popular sportfish, helping drive a freshwater fishing industry that generates $73 billion for the nation’s economy and provides employment for more than 500,000 people nationwide.

“The celebration of Ray Scott’s first tournament is vital to our sport,” Hall said. “Ray and his small band of supporters legitimized bass fishing competitions and spawned an industry. That’s a big, big deal. Almost every tournament organization today still uses the basic rules developed for the All-American event held 50 years ago. That effort became the constitution for bass tournaments.”

Cobb, who was outdoors editor of the Tulsa Tribune newspaper at the time, said he was initially skeptical of Scott, but he bought into his vision for bass fishing after the two met in person.

“Scott looked me in the eye and told me about his dream to make bass fishing more popular, to create bass angling heroes, to get the sport on TV and have fishing fans watch and learn how-to techniques — the secrets of bass angling pros — and how he wanted to create a ‘Take A Kid Fishing’ movement and youth angling program, to ensure the future of the bass fishing sport,” Cobb wrote.

He said those goals became the founding principles of B.A.S.S., which was officially organized in early 1968, when Butler became the first member of the organization and when the first issue of Bassmaster was published. B.A.S.S. will mark the 50th anniversary of those milestones with a yearlong celebration of the history of bass fishing, beginning in January 2018.

For more information, visit Bassmaster.com.