Ever wonder how a top B.A.S.S. pro would fish your home lake, that obscure body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? And suppose that same pro knew absolutely nothing about the lake until he drove up to the launch ramp. How would he go about locating and catching bass?
That's the premise for BASSMASTER's "Day on the Lake with a Pro" series. Here, we put the biggest names in competitive bass fishing on a "mystery" lake and give them seven hours to unlock its secrets, while we log everything they do to catch bass in timeline fashion.This month, it's Roland Martin's turn at bat. The legendary Florida pro and TV show host has fished competitively since the formative years of B.A.S.S. He has qualified for a remarkable 23 Classics, been Angler of the Year nine times, and won 19 B.A.S.S. events. Here's what happened Aug. 14, 2001, when we put him on Lake X, a 1,000-acre Tennessee reservoir.
» 6 a.m. I meet Martin at a market near the lake, where he buys a fishing license. He's pulling his Triton Tr-21 bass boat with a motor home and is on his way to a B.A.S.S. tournament at Lake St. Clair, Mich.
» 6:25 a.m. Martin follows me to the launch ramp at Lake X. He parks and climbs in his boat to arrange his tackle. What procedure does he normally use when fishing a strange lake? "Ordinarily, I try to pick up information about lake patterns from local anglers, especially B.A.S.S. Federation fishermen who've competed in tournaments on the lake, and I get a comprehensive map. I'm a topo map freak. Of course, not knowing exactly where I'd be fishing today made this impossible. Once I hit the water, I'm going to throw a surface prop bait for a while." His rods and reels are a hodgepodge of models, "mainly old favorites I feel comfortable with." His boat is equipped with a 74-pound-thrust Minn Kota trolling motor, 225-horse Mercury OptiMax, SiTex videograph and Lowrance LCRs.
» 6:45 a.m. Martin launches his boat and immediately starts casting a white Hi-Roller prop bait across a nearby rocky point. It's considerably cooler today than it has been in this area: The air temperature is 74 degrees; the water, 82. There's a 15 mph wind blowing out of the north.» 6:48 a.m. He picks up a rod rigged with a chrome/blue back Rat-L-Trap and burns it across the point. "Man, that feels great!" he exclaims as he pulls it through a brushpile.
» 6:50 a.m. Martin swings farther out on the point, explaining, "With the wind blowing straight onto the point, bass ought to be stationed on the leading edge." He switches to the prop bait for two casts, then back to the 'Trap. "My front depthfinder's not working," he grumbles.» 6:55 a.m. The pro switches to a watermelon Gary Yamamoto Senko, a soft stickbait rigged on a Gamakatsu Superline hook. He makes a cast to the point and notices that his line is not running through the reel's levelwind guide. "Just one of those days!" he says with a laugh.» 6:58 a.m. Martin casts the Rat-L-Trap to a retaining wall near the ramp. 7 a.m. He cranks the Merc and runs a short distance to the east side of the reservoir's earthen dam, where he casts the Rat-L-Trap to riprap lining the levee. 7:02 a.m. Martin tries the prop bait around the rocks. A small bass hits the bait on his second cast, but shakes off. 7:09 a.m. Working down the dam, Martin tries a white Zoom Fluke soft jerkbait around the riprap. The lure is rigged on a short leader with a swivel "to reduce line twist and get it down a little deeper." On his first cast, a bass grabs the lure two-thirds of the way back to the boat. Martin sets the hook, swings it aboard and lays it on a measuring stick. "Yes!" he grins as its tail hits the 12-inch mark. The keeper bass weighs an even 1 pound on digital scales» 7:15 a.m. Martin catches an 8-inch bass on the Fluke. 7:16 a.m. A fish nips the Fluke and drops it. 7:18 a.m. He's getting bites on the Fluke on nearly every cast. "I think there's a bunch of bluegill down there," he surmises. 7:20 a.m. Martin pauses to rig a Fluke on another rod, an old Mitchell Purebred stick equipped with a Mitchell New Generation 300 spinning reel. "This reel is a wonderful update of an old classic; it's got a really smooth drag," he says. He rummages through the boat's storage lockers to find his soft jerkbaits, but he can't come up with the right tacklebox. 7:25 a.m. He finally locates his Fluke box and rigs a fresh bait. He fishes it down to the end of the riprap, without a tap. 7:32 a.m. "We're out of here," Martin announces as he stows his trolling motor, cranks the Merc and runs uplake. 7:35 a.m. Martin stops to fish a shallow hump cordoned off by buoys. He turns his SiTex videograph around so he can see it from the front deck. "This unit really shows rocks and grass on the bottom," he says. He begins casting a bone-colored Norman Little N to the hump» 7:39 a.m. He switches to the blue/chrome Rat-L-Trap. "Clay bottom," he announces as it knocks the top of the structure. 7:45 a.m. He makes a run farther uplake, watching the graph as he goes.» 7:54 a.m. Martin runs into the eastern fork of the lake's upper end. Here, the water is shallow, murky and partially covered by lily pads. He casts a white McGuinness Leverage buzzbait around pads and submerged logs, hitting the best-looking pieces of cover from every possible angle. "This time of year you need to go for a reaction strike with a surface bait; you can aggravate a bass into hitting a buzzer when it's holding tight to cover."» 7:59 a.m. Martin continues casting the buzzer. The area has been roiled up considerably by carp. "I once caught 10 bass weighing 87 pounds at Santee Cooper, S.C., where I used to guide, by targeting carp boils," he says. 8:08 a.m. He puts the Minn Kota on high and breezes out of the shallow fork, casting the buzzer to isolated cover as he goes.» 8:09 a.m. Martin notices a blue heron perched on a log, and he eases the boat toward it. The bird squawks in protest as we draw within casting range. "Herons are baitfish sentinels," he says, casting the Senko to a tree in the water. He switches to the buzzbait. "There's a little channel or ditch that runs along here; it's 6 feet deep where I'm throwing." 8:16 a.m. Martin rigs a black/chartreuse Yamamoto Craw Worm on a flipping stick and works the bait around some submerged brushpiles. The bait is pegged with a Gambler screw-in worm weight. 8:30 a.m. He fishes the Fluke around brush and logs as he continues working his way out of the tributary fork. The water in the upper end is 81 degrees.» 8:32 a.m. Martin is searching for the channel. "Sure wish I had a topo map of this lake," he says. He combs the shallows with the Rat-L-Trap without a strike. 8:40 a.m. He moves downlake to a retaining wall near a residential development, where he casts a purple shad Norman Little N. 8:54 a.m. Moving to the end of a nearby point, Martin gets a strike on the crankbait. His rod bows, but the fish comes unbuttoned. "Son!" he exclaims. "That felt like a good fish. He whacked it as soon as I reeled it down!" 9 a.m. Martin tries the Senko on the point, then reverts to the Little N. He hangs the lure in a brushpile, moves over the cover and shakes it free. A good bass breaks the surface in open water off the point.» 9:06 a.m. He downs a caffeine-free Coke and some cheese crackers as he idles the boat straight across to the opposite shore.» 9:10 a.m. Martin ties on a parrot-colored Rat-L-Trap and begins combing a large flat peppered with stumps. He's using a high-speed reel.» 9:20 a.m. He smokes the 'Trap through a huge ball of shad near the surface.» 9:29 a.m. "I'm about to give up on shallow water," he announces as he runs the lipless crankbait over a mud point. 9:30 a.m. Martin pauses to re-evaluate his game plan. He stows several of his rods, straightens up the Triton's front deck and runs the line through the reel's levelwind guide. He ties on a Carolina rig consisting of a 3/4-ounce bullet sinker, a 2 1/2-foot leader and a green pumpkin Zoom French Fry.» 9:50 a.m. The pro spots a channel depression on the SiTex and tracks it toward open water with his trolling motor. "This is more of a ditch than a channel, but I haven't seen any fish on it," he says. He pulls the Carolina rig across the ditch, to no avail.» 9:56 a.m. Martin cranks up and runs downlake, looking for some deeper cover.» 10:02 a.m. He stops to fish a long point projecting from an island."There's a beautiful little ledge dropping from 12 to 19 feet out here with some brush and stumps," he says, putting out two marker buoys on the drop-off. He fishes the structure slowly with the Carolina rig.
10:30 a.m. "When the bite is this slow, you've really got to be patient with your presentation," Martin notes, still Carolina-rigging the ledge. "There's a lot of snaggy stuff down there, and there really ought to be some bass on it."
10:35 a.m. Martin switches to a chartreuse PRADCO Suspending Fat Free Shad and cranks the ledge. He lays down the rod and reverts to the Carolina rig.» 10:48 a.m. He replaces the French fry on the Carolina rig with a 5-inch Zoom lizard, watermelon with chartreuse tail. "I didn't bring any bigger soft plastics with me 'cause I'm headed up north for that tournament and will be keying on smallmouth. I wish I had some 9- or 10-inch worms, something to shake up a big fish."» 10:59 a.m. "This is the best-looking spot I've fished all day, and there's nothing on it," the pro says as he stows the trolling motor. "Let's try something else."» 11:01 a.m. He races to a main lake point and drags the Carolina-rigged lizard. "Man, these fish are tight-jawed; I wonder if that north wind's got 'em messed up," he says. The boat sits in 11 feet of water. Martin tries the Fat Free Shad, with no takers. 11:15 a.m. He zips across the lake to another point. This one has a big submerged tree on it. He bounces the Fat Free Shad off the tree several times, but nobody's home.» 11:20 a.m. Martin roars a short distance downlake to another point on the opposite shore and breaks off his lizard in a brushpile. He pauses to down a Coke and some cheese crackers.» 11:28 a.m. "Look at all the shad!" he exclaims, pointing to a giant wad of bait swimming across the point. "And there's absolutely nothing chasing 'em." He drags the Carolina rig with a fresh lizard down the point, working the boat out to 19 feet. 11:40 a.m. Martin tags an 8-inch bass on the Senko worm. "The fish hit when I was reeling in to make another cast," he said. 11:55 a.m. He moves closer to shore to flip a june bug Yamamoto Craw Worm around some laydown timber, saturating every inch of the logs. The water temp has risen to 85 degrees.» Noon: He switches to the Fluke around the trees and immediately gets bit by a 10-inch bass» 12:08 p.m. Martin pauses to tighten the loose handle on his casting reel, then rigs a fresh Fluke and continues working the sunken trees.» 12:10 p.m. He switches to the purple shad Little N and cranks the trees. Nothing.» 12:20 p.m. Martin moves a short distance downlake, eyeballing the SiTex as he goes. He circles back around when he spots a ridge rising from 15 to 8 feet, and throws a marker on it.12:25 p.m. He drags the lizard across the high spot. A bass grabs the lure and drops it. "That fish was in 11 feet of water," Martin announces as he straightens the bait on the hook and chunks it out again. "I'm starting to feel that a real slow pull is the key to getting these fish to bite today, but I don't know exactly where any concentrations of fish are, and my time is running out. I wish I'd gotten on to that presentation this morning.» 12:35 p.m. Martin races to the dam and tries the Fluke again around the riprap. "I've definitely had more action on this bait than anything else I've tried; I'm gonna see if I can't squeeze out a couple more keepers with it in the time I have remaining."» 12:40 p.m. Cloud cover is moving in. The air temp is around 82 degrees, much cooler than it has been lately. Martin works the Fluke down the dam. This time the fish aren't interested.
12:55 p.m. He makes a high-speed run halfway up the lake to a long point he'd spotted, but didn't fish, earlier. He drags the lizard off the end of the point 12:57 p.m. A keeper bass follows the lizard all the way to the boat.» 12:59 p.m. Martin swings and misses. He reels in to find a fish has bitten the tail off his lizard. He rerigs with a fresh one.
1:07 p.m. Abandoning the point, Martin runs back to the ledge jutting from the island. After tossing a marker around a large brushpile in 12 feet of water, he drags the Carolina-rigged lizard down the drop.
1:13 p.m. He busts off his lizard in the brushpile, goes to rig another lizard, but switches to the Fat Free Shad instead.
1:25 p.m. "These fish definitely don't want a crankbait, which is strange because I'll bet a lot of them are suspending," he says. He rigs a lizard and goes back to slow-dragging the Carolina rig around the structure.
1:38 p.m. He casts the Senko to the drop several times, then announces, "That's it!"
1:45 p.m. Back to the ramp. Martin finishes out his day with one keeper bass weighing 1 pound.
The day in perspective
"I feel the bass are on those ledges and long points, but I obviously didn't come up with the right combination to trigger some bites," Martin told BASSMASTER. "I might have done better if I'd brought some bigger soft plastic baits with me. There's all kinds of baitfish in the lake, but there was zero bass activity on 'em. I can't blame the cold front because it's only 5 or 6 degrees cooler than it has been; that really shouldn't make much of a difference in the bass bite this time of year. I guess it boils down to the fact that there are probably a half-dozen really choice summertime spots on this lake, and I didn't find any of 'em. I spent a lot of time on that island point with the ledge; it really looked good, but I just couldn't shake anything loose there."If I had it to do all over, I would have started out slow-dragging the Carolina rig and stayed with it all day. I was fishing pretty fast the first two-thirds of the day. I never had the confidence in any place I found to really work it as well as I should have. If a spot looks good and you fish it a half-hour without any feedback, you start to wonder if there are any bass there. It's one thing to fish a spot; it's another to fish it correctly. But that's why we have three day practice periods in tournaments."If this were the first practice day in a tournament, I'd go back to those points and high spots tomorrow and really slow down, keying into the structure mentally. I've had some lousy practice days in tournaments, only to go back out in competition and win the event. If I fished this lake tomorrow, I might anchor down on those ledges and points and pull out some really good fish — I know they're in here. In other 'Day on the Lake' stories based here that I've read, (Tim) Horton caught a 9-2, and (Jay) Yelas had five bass weighing almost 25 pounds. The point is, you can either have a day like today and be discouraged, or you can use it as a learning experience."