I want to start by telling you that this has been one of the greatest weeks of my life, and as the Photo Manager for BASS for the last three decades, that's saying something very special.
I've had a great career with BASS, and retiring to spend time with my wife and family is both one of the easiest and hardest decisions I've ever had to make. But the time is right, and today is my last day. I can't let this opportunity go by without telling you all what the experience has meant to me.
Retirement is something I've been thinking about for quite some time, but it really started to hit home for me in the past couple of weeks. It started with the Kissimmee Chain event. I told my colleagues here at BASS that I was leaving, and the word spread from there.
Tournament Director Trip Weldon made an announcement about my retirement on the weigh-in stage, and I got a standing ovation from the anglers. BASS announcer Keith Alan was kind enough to mention it on stage every day.
On Friday, Pete Ponds came across the stage to weigh his catch and was very kind in his comments about me. I couldn't believe how many fans in the audience stopped to wish me well, shake my hand or get my autograph on one of our magazine covers, calendars or books. It was wonderful and unexpected.
But the most unexpected thing happened on Sunday when Kevin VanDam was on the stage. He remembered the time we met — at the Sam Rayburn tournament in 1992. In typical KVD fashion, he had caught a big limit, and I was photographing him. I have no idea how many thousands of images I've taken of Kevin over the years.
Kevin is just as good to work with in front of a camera as he is at catching bass. You can't imagine the feelings that I experienced when he held up the champion's trophy and said, "Crawford, this one's for you!"
The list of people I want to thank is a long one. It starts with my colleagues at BASS. They are my friends and my family away from home. I will cherish them always.
Thank you to the tournament boat drivers who have escorted me up and down the best bass fisheries in the country as I photographed the world's greatest fishermen. We started those days as strangers, but by the end of the day I usually felt like I had made a friend.
Thanks to the fishermen who patiently worked with me so we could make them look good in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, Junior Bassmaster and Bassmaster.com. I marveled at your skills every day and appreciate your friendship always.
The biggest thanks goes to my wife, Faye. She's been with me since before there was a BASS and has always been my biggest fan and supporter. She likes to joke that we've been married 46 years but that we've only lived together for 23 of them because I'm on the road so much. I could never leave a job and career I love so much if it weren't to spend my days with her and the family we've built together.
So long my friends, and thank you all for the best boat ride of my life.