Sitting on the lakeside veranda, sipping iced-tea, listening to Ray Scott spin yarns about his friends Bill Dance, Johnny Morris, Rick Clunn, Tom Mann and the early days of professional bass fishing, it was one of those moments you dream of as a fisherman.
My uncle Tom had a Bass Anglers Sportsman Society sticker in the back window of his work van. You likely know the one I’m talking about. It’s blue, and says B.A.S.S. in big, yellow letters above a largemouth jumping. It’s become an iconic emblem in the fishing world. It’s the first marketing piece I recall related to fishing, and I remember how proud I was when I joined and received my own sticker.
Ray Scott founded the organization, and elevated bass fishing to a whole new level.
I used to study each issue of Bassmaster magazine. Underlining tips and tactics in the articles, I’d cut out ads of rods, reels, boats, baits and places I dreamed of fishing someday. Through those pages and episodes of The Bassmasters television show, Ray Scott’s vibrant personality endeared him to fishing fans from across the country.
Ray is now in his early 80s. He lives on a large acreage designed as his personal outdoor paradise just south of Montgomery, Alabama. An elaborate lodge, the President’s Cabin, Ray’s private residence and an office complex, surround the 55-acre Presidents Lake that has been privately engineered into what Outdoor Life called “the best fishing lake in America.”
Charlie Holder, owner of Sure-Shot Game Calls, and outdoor writers Richard Simms and Ken Perrotte and I were recently invited as Ray’s personal guests for an overnight stay and fishing experience at his Trophy Bass Retreat. When I set my bag on the bed, I picked up a plaque from next to the pillow that read, “President George Bush Slept Here — March 5, 1993.”
Both Bush presidents have stayed in the Presidents Cabin, which offers a cozy living area, and two bedroom suites. It’s just walking distance from the main house, which now serves as the lodge where meals are served in the family dining room. The accommodations and food are absolutely first-rate in every way, and with Ray Scott holding court before, during and after meals, the conversation and camaraderie is unparalleled.
Holder and I backed our bass boat out of the boathouse and began motoring to the far end of Presidents Lake, where a moderate chop was sending waves into a wooded pocket of cover. The lake is stocked with behemoth largemouth bass. Rick Clunn holds the lake record with a 13-pound, 15-ounce giant. Ray believes bigger fish are swimming in the lake today.
Shad are the dominant forage in the lake, so I started throwing a white spinnerbait with two oversized blades. It didn’t take long to land my first fish. As I rolled the spinnerbait over a downed log, a nice 3-pounder thumped it, and I brought my first Presidents Lake bass to hand. Holder followed suit quickly thereafter, and for the rest of the day, we enjoyed fishing a lake that could be called the Pebble Beach of bass lakes.
People often warn you not to mix business with pleasure. They say don’t make your hobby your job or you won’t enjoy it anymore. Ray Scott proved that’s not always true. He turned his love of bass fishing into an empire, and he’s had a lot of fun along the way. The gregarious Bass Boss you’ve seen on television and read about in magazines is just as down to earth as the rich, black topsoil of the Alabama Blackbelt region he so deeply loves.
Ray Scott built more than a membership club. He built an industry. And you can go fish with him. To learn more, visit rayscottbassretreat.com.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears occasionally in The Tribune. Send comments to email@example.com.