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The Great One

Thursday, December 01, 2005
by Ray Scott

Babe Ruth. Michael Jordan. Jim Brown. Wilt Chamberlain. Dale Earnhardt. These and other giants of the sports world dominated their game like none before or after them.

To that list I nominate the name Roland Martin.

Unless your cave doesn't have satellite or cable television, as a fishing fan it's likely that you know his career numbers:

  • 19 BASS victories (a record)
  • 19 runner-up finishes (a record)
  • Nine BASS Angler of the Year titles (a record)
  • 25 Bassmaster Classic appearances
  • More than $1 million earned in BASS bucks
  • A 1st- or 2nd-place finish in 15 of his first 23 BASS tournaments
  • And let's not forget his very popular fishing show.

Nobody has dominated professional fishing like Roland Martin. And I was fortunate enough to have a front-row seat to his accomplishments for over 35 amazing years.

Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Ray Scott sat front row for Martin's stellar career, which included nine Angler of the Year titles and 19 BASS victories.

The memories came flooding back recently when it was announced that Roland Martin had decided to retire from the BASS wars at the age of 65 an age belied by his looks, energy and vitality.

Actually, Roland's history is closely entwined with the history of both BASS and Ray Scott. I'll never forget how we met and how fishing's most illustrious career came close to never getting started.

It was one of my early tournaments at Lake Eufaula in 1969. I knew of Roland because he had joined BASS as a life member, and in those days I knew most of them if not personally, by name or reputation. He drove over from South Carolina that day and went fishing in his own boat.

The first time I laid eyes on him was just before the weigh-in when he introduced himself. We were talking when all of a sudden we saw a pair of contestants coming in. When we walked down to the water's edge, I saw a gosh-awful boatful of bass. Rip Nunnery and Gerald Blanchard had their catch on a rope stringer and everybody was ooohing and ahhing. They tried to pick up the huge stringers of fish and struggled to get out of the boat, but couldn't. Then they tied their stringers to a boat paddle but when they picked it up the paddle broke under the weight.

Nunnery's 15 bass weighed 98 pounds, 15 ounces, while Blanchard's catch totaled 89 pounds, 2 ounces. It was a tournament record never to broken to this day. And it left Roland wide-eyed and intimidated. He had fished the lake that day on his own and had caught about 45 pounds of bass.

After watching all this happen, Roland turned to me and said, "Ray, I'll see you. I've got no business here." I tried to calm him down and he hung around to watch the weigh-in.

Fortunately, those two tremendous stringers didn't scare him off. Frankly, I can't imagine the BASS world without Roland Martin's influence, which was and is considerable. In fact, Roland came back in January of 1970 at Toledo Bend and finished a close 2nd in his first tournament. After that he was off and running.

Roland has always been a unique person on and off of the water. He has that star quality that makes people take notice and an intensity that tells you this guy is someone to be reckoned with.

After losing his parents to a tragic automobile accident in Europe and completing his college degree in biological sciences, Roland headed for the big-bass factory known as Santee-Cooper Reservoir immediately after finishing his military obligation. It was there that he began the first intensive phase of his life as a bass angler and news of his exploits as a guide soon spread. Once he discovered BASS, he jumped in with both feet and joined for a lifetime.

Right away he got behind the philosophy of a fledgling Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and worked diligently to help it get off the ground. He was one of the pioneers (along with guys like Bill Dance, John Powell and Harold Sharp) who toured the country in our old Bluebird bus spreading the gospel of BASS and educating thousands of fishermen across the country. He was part of my own personal history and part of the very foundation of BASS and professional tournament fishing.

Those were critical days when the philosophy of BASS was being formulated and fomented and we were creating the traditions of a whole new sport. Thank God it was men of integrity and character like Roland Martin who left their indelible stamp on the sport. Roland went on about making a name for himself via the explosively growing BASS vehicle.

People always ask me what characteristics make a great angler. I'd have to say one of Roland's most extraordinary qualities was his curiosity. He was probably the most curious angler I ever met. He wasn't just interested in the bait you used but HOW it wiggled. He was intrigued by the intricate relationship the lure had with the bass, and the bass with the environment. And he loved to tinker.

Plus Roland has always been a good listener. He'd pick and pick bits and pieces of information from everybody information he would later put to good use. Bill Dance had that same trait. But Roland had a curiosity about things that was unmatched. He truly understood the bass. And his scientific background no doubt helped him.

Photo: ESPN Outdoors
Roland Martin's career nearly ended after his first event, but he came back with a vengeance.

But he was never satisfied with the status quo of knowledge. He was constantly trying to go beyond that. He studied the fish with a remarkable intensity. And then he had the ability to put all of the pieces together in logical fashion and change as often as necessary.

Roland was also one of the earliest anglers to really grasp deep-water structure fishing and how to locate and mark bass structure long before electronics. So of course when sonar technology came along he became an early advocate and expert. As a matter of fact, I would consider him one of the first really scientific anglers on the BASS tournament trail.

And Roland was original. In the early days, everybody was following somebody else around kind of like students or disciples or groupies. But Roland had his own personal and private agenda with the bass. That was a difference I saw right away. He took the questions and tried to figure out the answers by himself how, when, where, why. His whole intent was to harness the bass and that single-minded focus led him to the stardom he enjoyed and deserved.

I introduced Roland to his first wife, Mary Ann, the beautiful 22-year-old daughter (and awesome angler) of a fisherman named Paul Colbert from Pauls Valley, Okla. She showed up at a tournament at Table Rock Lake in Kimberling City, Mo., where I introduced them and the rest is history.

A few months after they were married, Roland called to tell me Mary Ann was pregnant. I told him it was going to be a boy and if he named the baby after me I'd give the child a life membership. We laughed and I forgot all about it. Later, Roland called and said, "Ray, you were right. It's a boy. You owe me a life membership." Scott Martin, who has followed in his father's tournament footsteps, is named after me. Roland is now happily married to Judy, another great gal who loves and understands the bass thing.

In my opinion there is no one in the history of BASS who has had a better overall record than Roland Martin. He was Angler of the Year time after time. Most amazing to me has been his ability to maintain an extraordinary level of performance even with the yoke of a television show on his shoulders. And he puts out a great show, which takes a lot of time and attention. Plus, sponsors demand much travel and personal appearances.

I have always marveled at his ability to perform at such a high lever for 35 years. But then Roland is no ordinary guy.

It won't seem right to have BASS tournaments next year without Roland's big smile, suntanned face and friendly words for the fans. It's nostalgic for me because Roland is one of the true pioneering heroes of BASS and pro bass fishing.

But I console myself with the boatload of wonderful memories provided by the most phenomenal angler to ever pick up a bass rod. And the knowledge that as a great friend, he is only a phone call away.

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