Ray Scott helped make bass fishing big business. Now, he's created a business out of his personal playground.
The founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and well-known fishing impresario has launched his own BB&B: bed, breakfast and bass.
Ray Scott's Trophy Bass Retreat opened in January, offering use of the three lakes on his suburban Montgomery property that have hosted presidential fishing excursions, as well as stays in the guesthouse where former President George H.W. Bush bunked down on several visits. Of course, the fish are big and so are the prices.
A group of six from Birmingham happily plunked down $550 apiece recently to fish from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a couple of meals and use of Scott's boats thrown in.
Sporting a huge fish and a big grin, Chris Thompson figured he got plenty of bass for his buck.
"This is worth everything out here," Thompson said, posing for pictures with his 10-pound, 12-ounce bass. It's catch and release, so he had to toss it back in The Presidents Lake. (For a price, Scott has a taxidermist who will make a replica based on weight and size).
If visitors want to stay in the two-bedroom guesthouse used by the first President Bush, it's $1,950 per person for three nights and two days. A day and a half of fishing and a one-night stay is $860 each.
The reward: Typically plenty of good-sized bass in a tranquil, tree-lined setting just south of Montgomery that's about five miles from but seemingly on a different planet than Interstate 85. You have to travel 1.5 miles on a one-lane road just to reach his sprawling house.
Scott makes no apologies for the high prices. The trips are not for the casual angler.
Scott built Red Eagle Lake, which is stocked with only females to avoid overpopulation, and the 55-acre Presidents Lake, which "Outdoor Life" named the second-best place to fish in the world behind Japan's Lake Biwa in May. The magazine called it "arguably the best little bass pond on the planet."
There's also Tabernacle Lake, which he drained and rebuilt to make it more fishing-friendly.
"We're just real proud of it," said Scott, who has published several outdoor and fishing magazines. "It's not cheap. It's not designed to be a bargain. I didn't try to build something around a cheap price. It was quality and meant to be memorable.
"It is the best I could make it. I have not spared a nickel trying to make it naturally good. It's an all-natural setting."
And one that appears to have no problem luring takers for the pricey packages. Scott said one Birmingham foursome has made four trips already.
Visitors don't just come from Alabama, either. A trial run last November included a federal judge from Washington, D.C., and his friend from Birmingham.
Judge William Roberts of the Copyright Royalty Board said he caught his three biggest fish on the three-night excursion, all around 10 pounds.
"It was fantastic. I've been fishing for 35 years," said Roberts, reached while spending a Friday morning out on the water. "On the first day, I caught two bass over 10 pounds. After 30-something years of fishing, I finally put 10 pounds of fish in a bucket. I broke my personal best twice in the same day."
Roberts, who has replicas of the fish hanging in his office, hopes to return in November with seven others. Scott only allows groups of eight or fewer and won't let more than four boats go out at the same time.
Groups can come in for one-day visits on Fridays and longer stays Monday through Thursday. The six from Birmingham listened to Scott's fishing tales over a lunch of sandwiches, potato salad and homemade desserts.
Weekends are the only time the affable, folksy Scott and his wife are assured of having the place to themselves.
Loss of privacy doesn't seem to bother Scott. What does?
"I regret that I waited so long and have been in some respects selfish," Scott said. "They're not hurting my lake. They don't kill fish."
Visitors also get to see numerous pictures of Scott with the elder Bush, a longtime friend, and George W. Bush. Plus they get to crash in the presidential bed.
"I tease people, 'You can sleep in George Bush's bed and we haven't changed the linens since he was here,'" Scott said.
Thompson and his group made the one-day visit courtesy of boss Kent Upton, who treated his employees, son and nephew to the outing.
"We will come back," said Upton, who co-owns with his brother a company that manufactures and supplies threaded steel products. "The quality of the fishing and the way they treat us here ... you're just well taken care of."
Nevermind that Upton and his brother have a 45-acre lake of their own a couple of hours away.
Billy Hinton, who works for Upton, called the setup "a fisherman's dream."
"This is some kind of lake here," he said. "Fishermen look for structure and place. There's no doubt a fisherman set this lake up. It's amazing. It's got some fishing.
"A working man can't come every week, but it's certainly worth coming once a year."