SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. -- The guest list at the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame banquet was the type that would make a bass historian – or any bass fan for that matter – go weak in the knees (click to view photos).
To try and start naming the list of who’s who would certainly do a disservice to a bass fishing legend who would get overlooked. They had all gathered for the 42nd Bassmaster Classic and to honor four new men to their exclusive club.
On Friday night of the Classic, the legends gathered to enshrine Bassmaster photographer Gerald Crawford, professional bass fisherman Paul Elias, videographer Glen Lau and the man who is credited with designing the first bass boat, Holmes Thurmond.
Guest speaker and fellow Hall of Fame member Jerry McKinnis started the proceedings by asking everyone in the room to devote themselves to getting youth started in fishing. He told the story about the first time a bass tugged on his line.
“It only took about 4 or 5 seconds to see that jig and suck it up, and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life,” McKinnis said. “If we could give that experience to kids, we could completely change the fishing business.”
Crawford started his professional photography career with Southern Living Magazine, but his life was changed when he shot his first B.A.S.S. tournament in 1980 -- the Bassmaster Classic in Thousand Island, N.Y.
By the late '80s Crawford had come on full-time with B.A.S.S. and started covering the full Bassmaster Tournament Trail. By the time he retired a few years ago, Crawford photographed more than 200 B.A.S.S. tournaments, including every Classic since 1980.
“A lot of people ask me how many photos I think I’ve taken,” Crawford said in his speech on Friday. “Honestly, I don’t know, but I wish I had a penny for each one.”
After retiring, Crawford settled down near his family and grandkids in Waxahatchee, Texas, where he’s still taking photos. You can see his work at VentureGalleries.com.
“I don’t know how I got here in the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, but I certainly appreciate it,” he said. "And I’ll certainly accept it.”
When Elias started fishing with B.A.S.S., Gerald Ford had recently taken over for an impeached Richard Nixon. In his 34-year career (and counting), Elias has won six tournaments, including the 1982 Bassmaster Classic on the Alabama River in Montgomery.
It was in that tournament that he introduced the world to his “kneel and reel” technique for deep cranking. But in his 10-minute speech at the Hall of Fame, Elias said he was as proud of the rules that were created because of his pushing the limit as he was the techniques that had been copied.
Elias said he once paid two kids $100 to move a loose barge off his hole because the rule said anglers could not get help “locating bass.” Now the rule says “catching bass.”
“I’d be real surprised if there was an angler out there that had more rules made for him than me,” Elias said grinning. “Well, maybe Roland Martin.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Elias’ career was his long-term relationship with his sponsors. He was (or has been) with Mann’s Bait Company 26 years, Mercury 32 years, Berkley 33 years, and Triton Boats 13 years.
“I’m proud to have been with these companies so long,” Elias said. “And it’s an honor to be beside these guys in the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.”
Lau is best known for Bigmouth, an underwater documentary that gave anglers a whole new look at the fish they were chasing. As an example of how much his work has meant to anglers, he was introduced by Shaw Grigsby at nearly 10 p.m., even though Shaw was fishing Day Two of the Classic the next morning.
But Lau’s work has gone well beyond Bigmouth, as he has hosted 300 television shows and is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. His body of work is as impressive as it is long, but on a night that was getting late, Lau decided to focus his 10 minutes on something other than his career.
“I’d love to tell you all about my trials and tribulations, but I want to focus on something Jerry McKinnis said,” Lau said. “I don’t know how we get youth started in fishing, but I know we’re not doing a good job right now.”
His and McKinnis’ plea to all the personalities and some of the most powerful men in the fishing industry became a theme of the night. Lau is the founder of a program that’s still running called “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs.”
“When you go home, start an organization that gets kids involved,” he said. “It’s not going to all happen this year, but it could certainly get started this year.”
In a time of war and the Great Depression, Thurmond came up with a design for a boat that wouldn’t get pushed around by the wind, could win races and was just about impossible to turn over. Low, sleek and narrow, Thurmond’s boat ended up looking like a sharp-nosed bug zipping around the water and picked up the nickname “Mosquito” or “Skeeter,” for short.
In 1948, he brought to market what many believe was the world’s first bass boat known as Skeeter. He eventually sold the rights of the name and design to Skeeter Products Inc.
Thurmond, who passed away in 1970, was inducted by his grandson Butch Thurmond. Butch and Holmes used to spend the summers together fishing out of one of the original Mosquitoes.
“I just wanted to tell you guys tonight that my grandfather was more than a man who designed a boat,” Butch Thurmond said. “He was a fisherman. I really think that if Ray Scott would have had his tournament idea a littler earlier, my grandfather would have won a few of those.”