The golden boy of bass fishing

10roland.jpg

B.A.S.S.

“If Roland stopped to comb his blond hair before heading to the weigh-in, he knew he was about to get his picture taken.”

Especially in its infancy, every sport needs at least one charismatic, larger-than-life superstar — someone whose personality cult grows with every victory. Think Dale Earnhardt in stock car racing, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in golf, Hulk Hogan in professional wrestling ... you get the idea.

Bass fishing had its superstar almost from the very first tournament, Ray Scott’s All-American Bass Tournament at Beaver Lake, Ark., in 1967. Bill Dance placed second in that one and then won three out of the next five B.A.S.S. tournaments held.

Dance was dominant those first three years, and his string of successes proved there was a lot more than luck involved in winning a bass tournament. He helped legitimize the B.A.S.S Tournament Trail and the profession of competitive fishing.

But it wasn’t until Roland Martin joined the circuit in 1970 that bass fishing got its “golden boy.” In fact, that’s what Martin was called in the 1976 Bassmaster Classic Press Guide.

“Blond, handsome Roland Martin, a former schoolteacher and Santee Cooper fishing guide is another such golden boy. Martin, 36, started later but has climbed to the top of the pro bass fishing ladder,” it said.

By that time, he had collected eight tournament trophies and four Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles.

On the occasion of his first win (and his second tournament), the 1970 Seminole Lunker event, a Bassmaster writer called him “this 30-year-old, big, stout blond boy from Cross, S.C.”

The big, stout blond boy was a godsend when B.A.S.S. and bass fishing needed another star. And Martin played the role well.

Bassmaster Editor Bob Cobb detected a “tell” that let him know how well Martin’s fishing had gone.

“If Roland stopped to comb his blond hair before heading to the weigh-in, you could guess he knew he was about to get his picture taken,” Cobb said.

Martin’s comb saw a lot of duty from the early 1970s through the ’80s.

In his first four years on the B.A.S.S. circuit — 24 tournaments — Martin won seven times, placed second seven times, finished in the Top 5 another six times, and never finished lower than 16th.

Dance and Martin took turns winning the Angler of the Year title, with Dance edging out Martin for the first-ever AOY title in 1970 and Martin winning the next three before Dance out-dueled him again in 1974.

Altogether, Martin was Angler of the Year nine times, won 19 tournaments and qualified for 25 Bassmaster Classics.

The fact that he never won the Classic obviously grated on Martin, and it apparently hurt him in the voting for ESPN’s Greatest Angler title in 2005. That claim to fame went to Rick Clunn, who won four world championships.

Known as the father of pattern fishing, Martin just couldn’t unlock the fishing secrets with little or no practice time allotted in the Classic.

I’m in awe of the fact that both are still fishing competitively. Clunn is 71 and Martin turns 78 this month.

Martin was offered a chance to return to the Bassmaster Elite Series with a Legends exemption a year ago, and he agonized over the decision.

I think it would have been good for the sport if he hadn’t turned it down.