Sports Illustrated Takes on Tournaments

From the beginning, Ray Scott, a carnival barker to the core, knew that in order to grow his fledgling B.A.S.S. organization he’d have to court traditional media. That meant inviting them to mystery lake Classics and finding other means of gaining their support.

Surprisingly, Sports Illustrated gave Scott’s crew a fair amount of support in the early years. In the pre-ESPN, pre-internet era, SI was everything, the final arbiter of what was legit and what was not. For the most part the magazine’s coverage of Ray’s brainchild was positive.

The first feature, entitled “A Big Bass Bash in Arkansas,” was published in 1969 and featured the following choice nuggets:

  • “People are hongry for information,” Scott says. “We don’t give you seven paragraphs about azure sunrises. We go for know-how.”
  • “Any member bound for unfamiliar territory could contact Scott to get not only the “names of the best nearby bass lakes, motels, marinas and guide services,” but also “ contact information for a local B.A.S.S. member.
  • Scott purposely placed the All-American Invitational on Lake Ouachita at a time of year when fishing was difficult. “We want a real test,” he told SI.
  • Bill Dance’s favorites lure was reported to be “a purple plastic floating Crème worm rigged behind a sliding slip sinker.” He left his job as a furniture salesman to work for Creme.
  • “Bill Dance hits close to 50 mph in his 16-foot Ranger powered by a 120-hp Chrysler. Ron Bobrow’s customized 13-foot Boston Whaler, equipped with 80 horses, all but flies.”

Here’s a brief bibliography of SI features about tournament fishing and big bass hunting after Ray created B.A.S.S.:

October 20, 1969

A Big Bass Bash In Arkansas by Robert H. Boyle

Ray Scott rides herd on the watery range of bass fishermen who are crawling out from behind every stump to join his organization


July 16, 1973

Off In A Hurry To Hook Those Hawgs by Hugh D. Whall


November  05, 1973

Hawg Hunt For The Bass Masters by Robert H. Boyle

The mystery lake Classic brought 26 pro fishermen to South Carolina to cast for largemouth bass—and a $15,000 purse


May 13, 1974

At Home Away From Home by Larry Green

Transplanted Florida largemouth bass thrive in California, where competitive anglers vie for a world record—plus fame and riches


April 26, 1976

5,760 Casts A Day: Now That’s Plugging by Roy Blount Jr.

Angling for contracts as well as prize money, tournament bass pros must work as fast as possible at “getting the meat in”


June 16, 1986

What’s All Wet And Modeled After Golf? Why, It’s Spectator Fishing by Nick Taylor


August  24, 1998

Reeling In Dough by Jack McCallum

Thanks to rival tours and big-bucks sponsorships, bass-fishing pros are becoming millionaires in a sport that could turn into the next NASCAR


December 05, 2005

Kickin’ Some Bass! by Chris Ballard

Mike Iaconelli has been accused of “thuggin’ up” bass fishing, but ESPN is betting (and praying) he can hook the Pimp My Ride crowd … if some mullet-headed good ol’ boy doesn’t gut him first.


Sports Illustrated has done a wide variety of fishing articles on non-tournament topics, such as a profile of Bill Plummer (November 13, 1978), designer of one of the early weedless frogs. For the record, the article noted that “Plummer detests tournaments.” One can only wonder what he would have thought if he’d known Dean Rojas at the time.

For the record, it appears that the famous SI cover curse has not yet impacted the fishing world.

  • Harold Sharp

    Thanks for the articles on how Professional Bass Fishing was started and the early tournaments conducted by B.A.S.S. You are telling it like it is and many now know that B.A.S.S. was organized to promote the sport of Professional Bass Fishing and more importantly to protect our fishing waters from industrial pollution.

  • As a complimentary addition that pushes back even further, and because I like to research the scientific side of bass fishing, I’ll share this great article from an August 19, 1963 Sports Illustrated magazine that sheds some insight into what biologists knew and believed concerning largemouth bass and angling for them. The article interviews Dr. George W. Bennett, chief of the Aquatic Biology Section of the Illinois Natural History Survey in Urbana at the time. The article is 3 pages long and entitled “This Is The Fish You Can’t Catch Too Many Of”. Some excerpts and the link to the full article follow:

    > Dr. Bennett rates the largemouth as the most intelligent of freshwater fish. “Smallmouths,” he says, “are not as smart.
    > Educated bass are sometimes the reason why fishermen complain that a pond has been fished out. “A fished-out pond usually contains bass,” Dr. Bennett says. “Nine-tenths of the time the fishermen just can’t catch them.
    > Even though bass soon become wary of lures and baits, there are three, according to the statistics compiled at Ridge Lake, that are generally effective. These are, in order, a blue jig, a yellow popper and a nightcrawler on a harness.
    > “Legal length? What’s the basis for legal length? So the bass can reach maturity and spawn. But what difference does it make, if one pair of bass is capable of repopulating a lake like this with its own spawn?
    > “I think the closed season is the silliest law ever concocted,” he says. “We presume that by closing the season we’re going to have a lot of bass, and that isn’t true at all.
    > “There’s only one reason for a creel limit on bass that I can think of, and that is because some fishermen are successful and others are not. Our studies show that 10% of the fishermen—and it’s consistently the same 10%—catch 80% of the bass, and the remaining 90% catch only 20%. A creel limit stops those 10% from making hogs of themselves.

  • Pete

    Thanks, Gentlemen.

    Harold, do you remember if Ray had any success courting other mainstream publications — Newsweek, Time, Life, etc.? Or was it mostly southeastern newspapers?

  • Harold Sharp

    In the early days of BASS, Ray concentrated on local newspapers as that was were you got fishing information up to date. TV was not covering fishing and the fishing magazines were not writing much about up to date stuff. Bob Cobb did a great job with the press, he was a good outdoor writer plus he knew how to bass fish and he made contact with the local editors and outdoor writers. The invitation to include the Outdoor Writer and put them in the boats and allow them to fish the BASS Classic really helped . Ray was after any PR coverage he could get, he relied on seasoned outdoor writers like Homer Circle, Bob Steber, Henry Reynolds, Bodie McDowell,Stan Fegerstrom who were a tremendous help. Bob Cobbs connection with the Outdoor writers was great, many times Bob would send them articles that they just added their name to and printed it, they knew Bob was telling it like it is and his article did not need editing. We tried for several years to involve TV in our programs and then when they got involved it turned into more hype than we were looking for.

  • fish_food

    Any chance of us seeing the 1978 Bill Plummer interview? That’d be such a great read. I still have two Super Frogs in the closet…

  • fish_food, here ya’ go…

    “A Million Frogs Later”
    Nov. 13, 1978

    • Hey Brian, great article! Thanks for the link!

    • fish_food

      Thanks for the link!