A sentinel steps aside

There have only been three. That’s a pretty amazing statistic considering the five-decade time span being considered. Still, there have only been three tournament directors in the long, storied history of B.A.S.S. Harold Sharp was the first. He held the role from 1970 to 1986. Dewey Kendrick was the overseer of Bassmaster derbies from ’86 to 2002. Trip Weldon, of course, is the current sentinel of bass fishing morality at our sport’s highest level. At least, he will hold that position until Feb. 1, when he will officially step away from the Elite Series stage for the joys of retirement. And this is a retirement that has been well-earned. Standing at 5-foot nothing and weighing 100 pounds soaking wet, Weldon has carried the integrity of our sport on his shoulders for almost 20 years. That said, his dedication to B.A.S.S. started well before then.

“I volunteered as a boat driver for the Classic in 1981 in Montgomery. Dewey Kendrick just so happened to be my tow vehicle driver. We became fast friends,” Weldon remembers. “At the time, I was working for the railroad. Eventually, that com­pany wanted me to move to Florida. Well, I didn’t want to go. They offered me a buyout and I took it. That was enough money to pay off my house, so I went to work at a local Ranger dealer and fished tournaments. Not long after, Dewey called me up and offered me an assistant tournament director position, and I accepted.”

Weldon started on July 1, 1991. He remained Kendrick’s second-in-command through 1998, when his desire to fish tournaments became too overwhelming to ignore. “I don’t know how to explain the feeling I had, other than it was an itch I simply had to scratch. Dewey let me work part-time while I fished the B.A.S.S. Invitationals, the Everstarts and a few other tournaments.” And he did well. Very well. Weldon placed second at the 1999 Eastern Invitational on Lake Martin, winning a fully rigged boat. He won another boat that year (plus $10,000) at an Everstart event on Lake Martin and cashed several other checks. His roommate was a guy you’ve probably heard of: Gerald Swindle. “Man, we had a lot of fun. But after a couple years, I realized that tournament fishing wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. So in 2001, I asked Dewey if I could return to full-time, and he was gracious enough to let me come back.”

A year later, B.A.S.S. went through a reorganization and named Weldon tournament director. The following two decades have been a wild ride. His most difficult call? “Well, that may be a three-way tie. When I had to disqualify KVD at Santee Cooper … that was supertough. When I DQ’d Hackney at Cayuga, which likely cost him an AOY … that was gut-wrenching. And when I had to disqualify Swindle’s catch at the Birmingham Classic … it tore me up. That one actually inspired B.A.S.S. to change rules moving forward.”

Although Weldon has had the most difficult job at B.A.S.S. during times of tournament duress, there are moments of joy he will never forget. “I was there when Bryan Kerchal won the ’94 Classic. That’s a feat that may never happen again. I’ll never forget the final moment of the Pittsburgh Classic when VanDam leapt 5 feet in the air with the victory, while Aaron Martens sunk into the stage with a visceral agony of defeat.”

And yes, there are moments Weldon would like to forget. “To this day, I am still embarrassed about how Edwin Evers’ fish slipped out of my grasp and flopped across the Classic stage in front of a packed house in Tulsa. I actually wrote a column apologizing to that bass.”

But Weldon has nothing to apologize for. He has soundly held the B.A.S.S. shield in a steadfast manner to protect the foundation of integrity on which our sport depends. I pray No. 4 has shoulders of similar strength.