Gerald Crawford: Hall of Fame

Gerald Crawford, a featured artist on Caleb and Linda Pirtle, has reached the zenith in his profession. In February, amidst the bright neon of the casinos in Shreveport, Louisiana, he will be honored as the newest member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. It’s been a long, circuitous, and precarious, journey for a barefoot country boy from Webb, Alabama.

Gerald Crawford creating with a lensCrawford began tinkering with cameras during his time in the Air Force and honed his craft as the first chief photographer for Southern Living Magazine. He shot a big majority of the publication’s travel articles and photographed more than a hundred covers. His name became synonymous with the South, even though his assignments took him to Europe and throughout the Caribbean.

He was freelancing and working on developing his artistic images when Southern Outdoors Magazine hired him to illustrate a series of articles about hunting and fishing. A critical part of the series involved the recent phenomenon of bass tournament, invented, then developed into a major industry by the vision and ingenuity of Ray Scott. Crawford worked so well on the lakes that he eventually became the chief photographer for all of the magazines produced by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society.

When professional fishermen wheeled into any tournament in the United States, they knew that generally the first face they saw would belong to Gerald Crawford.

Outdoor Sports Columnist Don Wilson once wrote: “Dress him in a battered Stetson, scuffed western boots, and a Colt Walker cap-and-ball pistol, and Gerald Crawford would be a natural character from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.

“With his soft, understated drawl, punctuated by long periods of silence, and his weathered, bearded face animated by his continuously shifting gaze, Crawford gives the impression of someone used to spending long periods alone in often hostile environments.

Crawford documenting a B.A.S.S. Tournament

“He does this armed with a digital Nikon camera while wearing state-of-the-art foul weather gear and mounted on the bow of a 70-mile-an-hour bass boat.” It would be his fortune or misfortune to work in the face of rainstorms, windstorms, snow, sleet, and unmerciful heat. He waded chest deep in the Atchafalaya Swamp of Louisiana beneath tree limbs dangling with snakes to photograph a bird sanctuary. He’s gone a lot of places where he didn’t want to go but is glad he made the trip.

When Crawford began working on those early tournaments, it was long before anyone had even thought about photographers moving into a digital world. It was all 35mm film, and during the world championship of bass fishing – the Bass Masters Classic – he would shoot as many as 400 rolls of film and come home with 14,400 individual frames of tournament action. He began documenting tournaments in 1980. Always on the road, moving from one tournament to the next, Crawford figures he would go through 2,000 cans of film a year. His eyes saw a lot that the rest of the world missed.

As Don Wilson wrote: “To those who fish, work for, or cover the pro bass tournament trails, Crawford is a living legend.

“Veteran pro Larry Nixon, winner of the prestigious Bassmasters Classic with more than $1.5 million in career earning, said Crawford was his lucky charm. ‘Every time he comes around, I catch a big fish, so I love him,’ Nixon said laughingly. ‘He knows exactly where you’re going and never gets in your way.’

“TV fishing legend Roland Martin said, ‘I love working with Gerald. I can direct him around and he’s always courteous. I have nothing but praise for him. He helped bring a new dimension to our sport.’”

During his first tournament, when the sport was barely a dream in the making, Wilson wrote, “B.A.S.S. arranged to have a boat and driver to allow Crawford to follow the fishermen. The site was the St. Lawrence River in New York.

“The anglers were using needle-nosed bass boats with 150-horsepower outboards. When Crawford saw his ‘chase boat,’ his jaw dropped. ‘It was a 20-foot john boat with a 40-horsepower motor and a 6-gallon gas can,’ he said. ‘I thought what have I gotten myself into? I was at my wit’s end, trying to pick where to start.’

“During the trip, Crawford kept asking his driver if he was sure they had enough fuel. The driver kept telling him yes.

“’Sure enough, we were headed back to the weigh-in and ran out of gas, just floating down river,’ Crawford said. ‘He got us to the bank and went up to people’s houses, knocking on doors until he had enough lawnmower gas to get us back.’”

Crawford endured and prevailed. Ray Scott once said of him: “He is the most understated human being I’ve ever met – gentle dynamite. I don’t know of anybody who is better at his job. He is intensely efficient, and he does it in such a quiet manner.”

So the journey from Webb, Alabama, was long. It took thirty years to travel. But it ended where Gerald Crawford belongs – shoulder to shoulder with the other greats in the Hall of Fame.


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