Editor's note: 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of B.A.S.S. As part of our celebration we’re publishing stories, videos and photos about the history of the sport, including the one below.
NAPLES, Fla. – Roland Martin, one of bass fishing’s first super stars, engineered a top resume in the sport, and at 78 he continues to leave a huge wake in the industry.
Martin, who still holds the record with nine Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, is among the pioneers who built the foundation of B.A.S.S., which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
He invited the Daily Limit into his Naples, Fla., home (see photos of his Man Cave) and discussed different aspects of his career. Well-known are his successes in B.A.S.S. and his 40-plus years on TV, where he received his show tagline “The Great American Fisherman.” Much of his life in the spotlight has been documented, like Bassmaster Magazine editor Dave Precht relating how he filled an early role as the sports’ golden boy.
Lesser known is how a kid from Laurel, Md., learned to bass fish in the first place, and how he began competing in Ray Scott’s fledging circuit. Martin, who came from a line of engineers, caught his first fish when he was 6 years old.
“I had an interesting start to my fishing. Me and all the old neighbors would walk down to the river and we started catching little bluegill,” Martin said, adding his first bass came when he was 8. “Then they built a water retention reservoir for Baltimore, and I could ride my bike up there and actually sneak in and fish it.”
When he was 11, he landed his first big bass among the lily pads of Laurel Lake. To fish more, Martin would make deals with folks, like a barber who would take him out in exchange for cutting his grass. Another friendship allowed Martin to have access to private ponds.
“He was an older guy – Floyd Parson. He’s now a retired judge,” Martin said. “He had a car. His father was a three-star general at Fort Mead, big military base that had a lot of ponds. He could get into all these places.”
Martin’s fishing world continued to expand. Searching everywhere in the region, he plied many of the tidal rivers in Maryland and became a part of the growing bass scene. A monster catch on a topwater plug clued him in that there could be fringe benefits, as it won him a trolling motor in local tackle store’s contest.
All about the big bass
“I entered 6-12, bass, which was really a big bass in Maryland,” he said. “I won this contest when I was 17. Everybody started coming up to me, ‘You must be a really good fisherman.’ It kind of went to my head. And I went back the next year and I caught another big bass.”