Bass fishing develops

Bass fishing develops into big business – So a bass tournament with a million-dollar first prize is coming late in 2006. Chances are that few people are surprised. Scarcely anyone raised an eyebrow years back when golf issued its first paycheck for a million.

There are strong Arkansas connections with professional bass fishing – from the start in its modern concept in 1967 to the inaugural Ranger Owners Championship announced for late 2006. The site is to be revealed later.

This announcement was made in Hot Springs during the FLW Championship a few days ago.

Bass fishing is big business now. Looking around at the trappings and associated activities at Hot Springs last week reinforces the concept quite a few years back that Ray Scott honed well. Get the corporate world and the mass media on board and don’t overlook the kids.

Bassing’s growth brings immediately to mind Scott, who put on that first modern tournament at Beaver Lake nearly four decades ago, and Forrest Wood, whose development of Ranger Boats and close ties with Scott were key factors.

Now a third name has to be added – Irwin L. Jacobs. He’s the catalyst in the expansion of bass top prizes from six to seven figures in a decade.

Jacobs lives at Minneapolis and doesn’t drop “y’all” into conversations. He doesn’t wear cowboy hats. But his entrepreneurial skills are responsible for this latest development in bass fishing.

Jacobs had experience with a pro sports franchise then ventured into bass tournaments along with acquiring a conglomerate of boat-building companies. One of these was Ranger.

This bass thing nearly didn’t get off the ground. Two anecdotes directly from Scott years ago are indicators.

His story of scrambling and scratching, hustling and cajoling and putting together that All-America tournament in 1967 has been told well. Not so well known is Scott seemingly ready to call it quits not long before the scheduled tournament.

His money had run out. He had some fishermen signed up at $100 apiece to compete, but not enough of them. Expenses were piling up. Scott told of his plight to the late Joe Robinson of Springdale, who had finished a term on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Robinson replied something like, “Let me see what we can do,” and connected Scott with Dr. Stanley Applegate. The Springdale physician loaned Scott $5,000 on a handshake but with one condition. Applegate told Scott, “If you can’t pay me back, just don’t tell my wife.”

That’s the gospel, according to Ray Scott.

During the tournament, the late John Fleming, outdoor editor of the Arkansas Gazette, at the time the leading newspaper and media outlet in the state, drove from Little Rock to Beaver Lake more out of curiosity than for news coverage.

A state trooper stopped Fleming from approaching the weigh-in site. Fleming identified himself, the trooper checked with Scott and shook his head again at Fleming. The newsman turned his car around and drove back to Little Rock, and that first tournament was uncovered by the Gazette.

That’s the gospel, according to Ray Scott and John Fleming.

Four years later in the Gazette’s sports department in November 1971, a sports copy editor picked an Associated Press news item off the wire. It was two paragraphs. He turned to longtime sports editor Orville Henry and said, “Orville, here’s an AP piece on a guy from Hot Springs who won $10,000 in a bass tournament.” Bobby Murray had won the first BASS Masters Classic at Las Vegas.

Henry replied, “You know something about fishing, don’t you? Go down to Hot Springs and do us a feature on this fellow.”

The just-ended FLW Championship had more media people on hand than competing fishermen. Satellite dishes sprouted from large trucks, generators fed power through mazes of cables.

And sponsors’ representatives worked until weariness passing out samples, distributing brochures and talking to potential customers, some of whom fished, and to the curious – young and old.

Four decades of professional bass fishing are impressive
By Joe Mosby

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