On January 29, 1970, Roland Martin fished his first BASS tournament, the Toledo Bend Invitational. It was the start of one of the greatest bass fishing careers in history.
Ironically, the Toledo Bend event was not the first that Martin attended. He was at the weigh-in for the first day of the Eufaula National on Alabama's Lake Eufaula nearly two years before. That was the day that Rip Nunnery set the BASS single day record with 15 bass weighing 98 pounds, 15 ounces!
It was also the day that three different anglers had catches that weighed more than 80 pounds each. When Martin saw them, he began to doubt his own abilities.
Martin told Ray Scott, "I've got no business here." He was ready to go home and give up on his dream of becoming a professional tournament angler.
"When I saw the record string come in, I didn't think I was capable of competing," Martin said. "I thought, 'I need to leave. I don't need to be here because that's more than I can catch.'"
Martin was a fishing guide on South Carolina's Santee Cooper lakes at the time and had brought in more than his fair share of giant stringers. But the BASS tournament trail seemed intimidating once he saw the catches up close. Luckily for Martin and fishing history, 80- and 90-pound catches were the exception, not the rule.
He finished second at his Toledo Bend debut, proving to himself and anyone else watching that he was definitely ready for the big time. At his next tournament, the Seminole Lunker on Lake Seminole, he came away with a win — the first of a record-setting 19 in his career.
In his first 25 BASS events, Martin won 7 times, finished second 8 times, placed in the top ten 22 times and never finished worse than 16th. No other angler has ever started a professional bass fishing career so auspiciously.
Between 1970 and 1985, Martin won the prestigious Bassmaster Angler of the Year title a record nine times; the AOY trophy now bears his name. In 1980 and 1981, Martin became the first angler in BASS history to win three events in a row. (Kevin VanDam accomplished the same feat in 2005.)
Martin retired following the 2005 season. The only jewel not in his crown of accomplishments is a Bassmaster Classic title; in 25 tries he was never better than second. In 2005, he was the runner-up to Rick Clunn in ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate.