20 Questions with Martin

Now, at age 69, the longtime television host and "Great American Fisherman" tackles our 20 Questions.

Roland Martin racked up an amazing 19 wins during his career with BASS and enough Angler of the Year titles (nine) to make him the trophy's namesake. In 2005 he finished second to Rick Clunn in the ESPN Greatest Angler Debate. Now, at age 69, the longtime television host and "Great American Fisherman" tackles our 20 Questions.

1. Where are you from, originally?
My dad was a government engineer, so we traveled a lot, but I was born in Albany, N.Y. I lived in Iowa City, Iowa, for a bit, then in Maryland from first grade through my college years. I lived in Oklahoma in the '70s and South Carolina for a bit, but moved to Florida in 1979. I traveled there a lot for filming and whatnot, and had a trailer at Angler's Marina, then thought that since we come here so much we might as well move.

2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
My dad was an engineer who built dams. He planned the Tombigbee Waterway and some others, and I'd go out with him when he surveyed for a project. I'd think about what would happen to all the houses, creeks, barns and other stuff that was around once the dam was built. He said they'd all be underwater. I got to thinking that those places would be pretty nice spots for fish to hang around once they were underwater. When I was about six, I caught my first bluegill. I got my first bass at eight. When I got into high school, some friends and I started really getting into it. We'd fish along the east shore of Maryland in those reservoirs like Liberty and Rocky Gorge, and we started catching lots of fish. I read a lot about Buck Perry and his spoon plugging, and we started catching even more fish. In 1957, we got a Lowrance depthfinder, and between that and the contour maps I got from my dad, we could pick apart a lake pretty well.

3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
Jason Lucas (Sports Afield fishing editor), Sam Walsh (writer and early advocate of the jig-and-pig) and Homer Circle.

4. How did you get started in tournament fishing?
I actually told my folks I wanted to do something with fishing and they scoffed at the idea because they were both professionals, you know. My dad was an engineer and my mom was a school teacher, so they couldn't see me fishing for a living. As far as tournaments go, I was guiding on Santee Cooper in 1968 when Ray Scott gave me a call and asked me to fish one of his new tournaments. But I wasn't interested; I really didn't care. All I cared about were big fish. I had a ton over 10 pounds and wanted more. But as things moved along, in 1969 he convinced me to come to an event as an observer.

When I saw that winning stringer of 138 pounds (Eufaula National), I turned right around to leave and thought there's no way I can compete with these guys. Ray stopped me and said, "Well, hold on now, just come on back and stay a little while longer." I did and saw (Bill) Dance's 81-pound stringer and thought maybe I could compete with these guys. So the first one I entered was on Toledo Bend in 1971. I wasn't too busy at the time guiding because it was February and cold up in South Carolina, so I went to Louisiana two weeks early and decided to practice.

Back then there was no off-limits period, so you could go out every day up until the tournament. I found some good fish and was fairly confident, and what do you know, I wound up in second. I was really happy with that, but thought, well, that was kind of a fluky thing, and went ahead and entered another one of Ray's tournaments. This time it was on Lake Seminole in Georgia. I got there early again, found a lot of fish and won the stinking thing! I thought, 'Hey, this is a good deal.' I won a few thousand dollars, which was a ton back then, and went on to the third event at Eufaula in Alabama.

I only got there one week early, but found enough to win, but some locals pulled a gun on me, and I got into it with them and had to leave, but that's a whole other story. I ended up second there and learned that if you can get enough practice in on a body of water, you can win it. You just need to learn the patterns that will work there.

I was at my peak then. I was a hot shot fisherman and guide. Enough so, I wrote a book and kind of broke the mold of the "hole sitting" approach to fishing. A lot of guys would go to one log or stump and cast there all day. At some point a school of fish would get in there and he'd catch a bunch, but not nearly as many as me or Dance. We were the run-and-gun types. We were the new breed of fisherman with fast boats.

When I started to get into the peripheral stuff associated with tournaments — things like TV and magazines — I thought that this was a good deal. I kept up the Tournament Trail so I could keep my credibility high with these folks. It's better to be able to say I've won all these BASS events rather than just being a guide. That's when I thought I had some sort of success in tournament fishing

5. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
I realized I had success as a guide before I thought I was successful in any other facet of bass fishing. I started in 1963 when I was in the military and stationed at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina. I used to orchestrate fishing trips with 10 or 15 of my Army buddies, and we'd wade out in the flats in the cypress trees and catch a ton of fish. Some of the officers started to take notice and they started encouraging me, and I'd get the mess cooks to get us lunches. I think that helped my career in the military. I eventually got promoted and became an officer.

About that time I was getting into photography. I got myself a nice camera and started to get into contact with a lot of outdoor writers like Charlie Searcy and Frank Sargent out of Florida. Anyhow, I got 10 or 15 of them to come to Santee Cooper — where I guided — and we started taking pictures of fish and techniques and they were writing. But before they got there, they wanted to know if we were going to catch any big fish.

I said, 'Yes, we may catch a big one,' but I kept a few 8- and 10-pounders in the tanks just in case we needed them for photos. They were against using them because they didn't catch them on the trip, but at the end we didn't have any that big, so they were asking about the fish and said, "Well, you caught those fish the other day, right? I guess we could use them for a few shots." That's kind of when I knew I had some sort of future in the fishing world, but I didn't know exactly what it was.

6. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
Fourteen and a quarter. But the biggest one I ever lost is a whole different story.

7. What do you love most about bass fishing?
Well, to me the bass are somewhat predictable, meaning I know they follow loose seasonal patterns, but this will always be different from lake to lake. There's a lot of elimination involved once you take into account things like water clarity, temperature, pH, season; it's almost scientific. You have to find them every day. No one day is the exact same as the last. That's what is the most fun.

I'll tell you the most bizarre pattern I've ever found, though. I was fishing a tournament some years ago, and it was pretty tough. A guy named Chet Douthit was there too, and I was trolling the bank and saw a dead beaver. Sure enough, I pitched to it and got a good fish. We got back and after he weighed in I saw Chet. We started talking and he said he was on a weird pattern. He saw a dead beaver and caught a fish by it. I said, 'Is that the beaver that was along such-and-such a cove?' and he said it sure was, and I told him I got one by that same beaver. Too bad that was the only dead beaver on that lake!

8. What is your greatest strength as a bass angler?
I'd have to say I'm a versatile angler. I can develop a pattern wherever I go. I always keep 12 rods and reels rigged up, from a light drop shot to a heavy flippin' stick. I may not use them all, but I have all my bases covered so I can capitalize from Connecticut to California.

9. What is your greatest weakness as a bass angler?
Concentration. I had the chance once to win a Redfish Cup event, and my partner and I knew we were in some big fish, and our tackle wasn't up to the task. We needed to change to heavier hooks, split rings and other things. We were going to do it the night before, but we went and ate dinner, then it was too late, then we said we'd do it in the morning and get up early, but we overslept and said we'd do it on the water quickly, but it never got done. We caught 45 fish that day, but we lost 18 and ended up in fourth. We could've won, but because we got lazy it didn't happen.

10. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
The most exciting was when Santee Cooper was at its height. There was a certain kind of grass that grew there that doesn't anymore, and I had this one technique that got so many huge bass — dozens over 10 and up to 12 pounds — that was so much fun. You'd take a Johnson's spoon and put a worm on the back of it with 35-pound-test line and once you got to dragging it over that grass, the way they'd hit it was explosive. That was back in 1967 to 1970.

Eufaula was good when it was at its height in 1970. I've seen lots of big smallmouth and largemouth come out of Champlain in New York, and more recently the California Delta and Clear Lake are hot. It changes with time. Like back in the day at Falcon before it had the Florida largemouth. You could catch so many 5- and 6-pound fish I thought it was incredible. Now it's even better than then, but I haven't been there in a while. Years ago Hank Parker and I did a show on Rodman Reservoir fishing with shiners and we caught a few 11s and 12s and dozens of 10s. It was a phenomenal lake.

11. What's question do you get asked most by fans and how do you answer it?
It's pretty mundane, but it's got to be "What's the best lure to use?" I get that a lot. I used to joke with them and say 'A worm." Then they'd ask "What color?" and I'd say 'Anything as long as it's black grape,' then they'd ask "How long?" and I'd say 'Any length as long as it's six-and-a-half inches.'

12. What's the biggest mistake you see from casual anglers?
A lot of guys get nostalgic for one lake, one bait or one place on the lake. This guides them back to the same thing that may have worked one day, but may not work the next. This is how you can get in a rut. You need to get outside of the box.

13. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
Not really, but I used to kid with my partners in tournaments. I'd say what bad luck it is if you catch a fish on the first cast. This one time, I just kept pounding it into his head.

After an hour run down the lake, we get to a cove, and I pull out a white spinnerbait I had to beg from my wife because she'd been killing them with it, and sure enough, I get a 2-pounder on my first cast. I get it in, and start saying how I'm not going to catch another fish the rest of the tournament; then on my second cast I get another one.

Man, that guy must've thought I flew off the handle with the scene I was making. 'Oh, this is double bad luck! I'm done!' He just sat there wondering. Sure enough, in four minutes and 20 seconds, I had a 13-pound limit, all on consecutive casts. It was unbelievable. That old boy stood up and seemed kind of upset when he said, "Now wait a minute! I thought you said it was bad luck to catch a fish on the first cast?"

14. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
The greatest honor I ever received in my career was back when George W. Bush was running for re-election. I got a call inviting me to his ranch in Crawford to fish and film a little. It was a lot of fun, and that guy can fish. He's very personable, too. I also fished with George Bush Sr.

15. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
Well, I never won a Classic. I came close a few times, but never got it done. I guess I always put more stock into Angler of the Year because I thought it was more definitive. Now I'm not at that level, so I guess that'll never happen. But now I'm in the Redfish Cup, so that has its own set of awards that I'd like to win.

16. What keeps you motivated to reach those goals?
Going to new destinations, meeting new people, learning new techniques and taking on new challenges.

17. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
Turkey hunting and offshore fishing. I've got a 28-foot Mako that I just shot some film on with Bill Dance and Johnny Morris catching cobia, king mackerel and sailfish.

18. What profession (other than your own) would you like to have tried?
Well, I've never been the best business man, so there's a lot of opportunities I felt I've missed out on over the years. Things like tackle deals and such.

19. When it's all over, how do you want people to remember you?
Well, I'm not sure I'll have any records left in the book, so that may be a moot point, but Angler of the Year-wise I was the most successful, so that's a legacy of sorts. Other things that have gone by the wayside are my career earnings record. I held it longer than anyone; I was at the top for 14 years. Then Clunn took it, then Larry Nixon, but no one has had it for 14 years. But that's all relative because today's tournaments are worth hundreds of thousands instead of thousands.

20. What's the biggest misconception that people have about you?
Well, I think that there was a time when I was stuck up and standoffish. I didn't communicate well with folks, whether it was the press or anyone, really. I let my vanity get in the way. I was going out and saying I was going to win a tournament, kind of like Iaconelli and the guys at the top of the game right now.

There's nothing wrong with being confident, but it can come off in a bad way. That's not to say Iaconelli is like that at all, it's just that he can relate his confidence better than I did. I may have been a little superficial, but I'm trying really hard now to improve my dealing with the public. Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston are really good at it. Whenever I'm struggling with it, I always look at them and think, man, they're good.