Habitat Man

Habitat Man

On the Lake with Ray Scott


Ray Scott

Ray Scott, right with Jerry Dean, Dr. Larry McKinney, and Harold Sharp at the Lake Bastrop mechanical harvesting demonstration in June of 1998

Of the many things he's been called from outlandish, outrageous, to outspoken, most of it is true. Ray Scott has been called the bass god, a charismatic promoter, and an idealist. Descriptions of him as a rugged cowboy with bright eyes and the air of an Old Testament prophet hold a lot of water. He's all of those things, and more. It's the more I want to tell you about because he's also one other thing. He's a friend of ours. That's Jerry's and mine, and all fishermen.
   I like an up-front kind of person. Say what you mean, mean what you say and you and me partner, why we'll get along just fine. You can depend on people who speak their mind because they don't hide their feelings or hold things back. I suppose that's one of the reasons Ray and I get along so well. He doesn't mind when I speak my mind and he's more likely than most to speak his to anyone, on any subject you choose.
   The most provocative subject he speaks his mind about these days is use of poison to eradicate aquatic vegetation, which for some of us equates as valuable bass habitat. It's a subject he and I agree on completely. It's also a subject that has caught him some fire from a few not-so-friendly advocates of the use of chemicals. We won't talk about old friends that give every appearance of being on the wrong side of the fence right now, more on that subject later.

"Chemical poison herbicides should not be used to control and manage aquatic vegetation in public waters until, or unless, every non-toxic mechanical or manual method has been completely exhausted, period!" - Ray Scott

   Ray and I recently discussed the continuing battle to preserve fresh water and fish habitat in Texas. You've been reading about this subject in Honey Hole magazine for a couple of years now. His opinion, and that of the longest running, hardest fighting advocate of clean water and habitat preservation, Harold Sharp of Chattanooga, Tennessee, is that use of any chemicals is often unnecessary and most likely unhealthy - even though touted as perfectly harmless by the companies that brew them up.
   "Chemical poison herbicides should not be used to control and manage aquatic vegetation in public waters until, or unless, every non- toxic mechanical or manual method has been completely exhausted, period! " says Scott.
   Hallelujah brother Ray! I'm with you. Where do I get my fringed jacket and white cowboy hat?
   This man is well read, and educated, on the subject of clean water and fish habitat and defines the acceptance of unnecessary chemical use as a typical bureaucratic deployment.
   "Most of the people pulling the strings have connections and receive rewards for promoting these products. It's a very scary proposition among politicians, scientists and fishery managers. Until the ties that lock them together are broken, chemical use will continue. There are classic examples of this all over the country.
   "I've been working to help in Texas because, much like my home state of Alabama and many other states, the laws that govern poisons are pretty lax. If you or I wanted to buy the stuff and go dump it in the lake, that's just what we could do. Someone else could dump the same, or another brand, of poison. Before you know it, you've got a very unhealthy soup. The sad part is, nobody is breaking the law. EPA approved is supposed to mean it's okay, but the container labels state 'use only as directed'. Without laws, no one is overseeing use by others and over- dose occurs. In Florida, two or more different agencies poisoned the Harris Chain of lakes, not knowing what the others had done. The fish, quality of the water and the fishing were negatively effected.
   "It's easy to understand. If I were going to go get a haircut, I wouldn't sit down in the barber's chair and tell him to pour acid on my head to remove all the hair. I'd tell him to just give me a trim now, and I'll be back in a month for another. You wouldn't pull your hair out by the roots or remove it completely just because it had gotten too long."
   While the controversy rages because hydrilla is a non-native species that can become bothersome if it over grows, Scott says, "It's here. You're not going to make it go away. No one will ever kill all the hydrilla or any other, aquatic plants. The best plans are for management and controls that provide healthy conditions for the lakes, the fish and other animals that rely on the habitat, and the humans. I don't believe that poisons are healthy. They kill, that's why they have danger warnings all over the packaging."
   Too much the gentleman to discuss, or cuss, the continuing poor behavior of his old compadres' at Bassmaster®;, Ray says he holds no ill will. But I sure hope he "tells all" in his autobiography, BASS BOSS, which is due out any time now. Personally, I think they've been trying their best to give him that acid haircut he mentioned. Comments printed recently by the editor left no doubt in my mind that they'd like to have anglers think the tradition has continued at B.A.S.S. I say that's impossible. Without Ray, it's just not the same. Ray Scott was the tradition at that organization and none of those who were left behind can ever hope to be what he is to bass fishing and conservation.
   A classic example of this can be found in their claims of a full-time conservation director on staff. The implication is pretty hollow if you ask me. The guy's a chemical advocate. He swears by the use of poisons to control overgrown aquatic vegetation. Now, how conservation-minded is that? I sure feel safe knowing that the guy in charge of environmental issues for B.A.S.S.®; is in favor of nuking everything, don't you?

I heard a rumor that some anglers have asked him to start a whole new organization similar to the old B.A.S.S.

   I believe Ray is disappointed in what has happened to the organization he built from an idea and the thread of basic principles for sportsmen. He has every right to be. The environmental differences between he and the folks running B.A.S.S. is what has really caused the rift and the left-handed pseudo-praise comments coming from them these days. But I also know he's a man of conviction and believes that what we're all doing to stop the use of poisons is good and right. Just like those of us who are battling here in Texas for clean water and the preservation of bass habitat, he just ain't gonna' quit.
   I like his recipe for clean water and healthy habitat. In answer to those who say harvesters can't be used in shallow water, he says landowners can hire the same kid that mows their lawn. "Twenty bucks, a garden rake, and the kid next door can solve that problem easily. Vegetation growing in areas where there are stumps and experts say you can't get a harvester in there, well leave them alone! Water users such as sail-boaters can't get in there anyway, but the fish use that habitat as a smorgasbord. If vegetation is growing under your dock, mow the outside sure, but leave it underneath - it's the best fish-holding stuff in the world.
   "Get someone to tell me why the only way to control and manage aquatic vegetation is through the use of chemical poisons. For every excuse they come up with, it all still goes back to who is making the money. Many scientists studying aquatic vegetation in this country have received money directly, or indirectly, from chemical companies. Can they be unbiased when chemical companies are a major source of funding?"
   He bet me his cowboy hat against my oldest pair of bedroom slippers that we couldn't find one that hadn't in some way or other been influenced by chemical money or gratis gifts. I won't take that bet. I'm fond of my old slippers and have no intention of shipping them off to Alabama. "Anything that starts with the word too is bad. Too much sugar in your coffee, too much grass in the lake. What's the solution? I can tell you it isn't an acid haircut. That's too much, too."
   Like all the great fighters I know from Jerry Dean to Terry Oldham to Robin Richardson, I'd follow this man into any battle. When the bullets fly, he can expect to find me wherever he needs me to be.
   I heard a rumor there's a ground-swell of folks in Texas and elsewhere asking him about starting a whole new organization for bass anglers similar to the old B.A.S.S. While he's heard the remarks, he isn't commenting. It would be wise though, for the folks at his old fraternity to think twice about their conservation ideals and poison advocacy.
   Starting a new career is just what's in line with his thinking these days anyway. Writing his autobiography and working on conservation efforts - from the right side of the fence - are keeping him pretty busy. The people in this state may never know how important his influence has been here. Without his power, reaching the governor would have been a whole lot harder. He's using his power for the good of all anglers. His contacts are vast and the influence he can bring to bear on issues such as chemical use is likely to be one of the most valuable assets the anglers in this country have. It has already been so in this little corner of the woods.

"New laws governing the use of poisons will only help if you don't give away the farm trying to compromise over one pig" - Ray Scott

   Ray Scott is still a man of vision, eyes wide open and looking at the world, knowing that it is the only one we have. "All the folks that have come together to fight this thing in Texas have to stay strong and remain committed to the ideals and principles that induced the unification in the first place. When that many people are against the use of poisons to kill aquatic vegetation, you have the strength to follow through and accomplish what's needed. New laws governing the use of poisons will only help if you don't give away the farm trying to compromise over one pig."
   If they tell me that they really want to poison 35 acres in a lake, but they're only going to do 15, I say what the hell are you doing any for then? It doesn't make sense when other ways are better, healthier, and less expensive in the long run for all concerned."
   Harold Sharp, the second ever, BASS member and founder of the first affiliated BASS chapter (1968), is another of the insightful men in this country. He has fought for clean water and habitat many years and taught Ray well about the effects and politics of poisons.
   "Get Harold to tell you about his little war with the government over poisons and fresh water. Money and influence on the other side of the fence are making it a long and bloody battle that we may never see the end of. Surely we won't if we give up."
   I've already reserved a copy of his autobiography for our library. We even told him we'd be proud to pay for our copy. I hope with the strongest wish of my heart that when people read it, they know the Ray Scott that Jerry and I know - the man we consider a good friend. For all his wild and extraordinary ways, he's a plain man with plain and simple ideas about how we ought to treat this planet, the people and creatures that live here, and he knows what the word respect means. He gives it every day of his life to everyone he meets.

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