BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Ray Scott, a consummate promoter who helped launch professional bass angling and became a fishing buddy to presidents while popularizing the conservation practice of catching and releasing fish, has died, a longtime aide said Monday.

Scott died of natural causes late Sunday at a rehabilitation center near Montgomery, said Jim Kientz, who worked for Scott for more than two decades. He was 88.

A member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Scott founded the first professional bass fishing tournament in the late 1960s. Anglers could win money based on the weight of the fish they caught over several days on a lake or river, and they were penalized if a fish died.

Pro fishing caught on and Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, or BASS, grew into what it describes as the world’s largest fishing organization. Its signature tournament, the Bassmaster Classic, includes equipment shows that draw thousands of spectators.

BASS founder Ray Scott works a line on the lake next to his Alabama home in 1998.

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For years, Scott – with an ever-present cowboy hat and a wide grin – emceed the tournament weigh-in shows where anglers pull live, flapping fish out of holding tanks as thousands watched.

“He was one of the few who could just walk on and light up a stage like no one’s business,” Kientz said. “He was the ultimate showman.”

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