Lakeland, Fla. — Martin Bozeman admits he has never fished in a bass tournament, yet he has been a mentor for many young anglers in Florida for more than a decade.
When his son Dustin was 12 years old, Bozeman was his baseball coach for a travelling team that even played at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. However Bozeman’s coaching interests changed when Dustin surprised his dad by telling him he would rather fish bass tournaments than play baseball. Bozeman asked Dustin to play out the rest of the baseball season, and if he still wanted to fish tournaments Bozeman would support him.
“I told him I would buy him a boat and the whole nine yards,” Bozeman said. When Dustin still wanted to fish after the baseball season, Bozeman turned over the baseball team to his assistant coach and bought Bassmaster Elite Series pro Chris Lane’s boat for his son.
The pressure cleaning company owner spent a year watching his son compete in Lakeland Junior Bassmasters club tournaments, which averaged 10 to 15 anglers per tournament. Always one who gets bored easily, Bozeman decided to take over the club when its advisor stepped down. “I knew I could make (the club) better so I had to do something,” he said.
Under his leadership, the club now claims it is the largest B.A.S.S. Nation youth club in the southeast featuring eight qualifying events for the Bassmaster High School National Championship. The club’s regular tournaments draw about 40 to 50 youths while the high school qualifiers draw around 250 contestants per tournament.
Throughout the years Bozeman always made sure the juniors had a weigh-in trailer for their tournaments. “When I first took over the program they were weighing in with produce scales on a picnic table, and then I got a utility trailer and got with a steel company that fabricated it into a pop-up weigh in station deal,” Bozeman said. “Then we went from that to a smaller enclosed trailer just to put our stuff in and then I went to a 16-foot trailer.”
Two years ago Bozeman added a catch-and-release pontoon boat to his tournament equipment and upgraded the trailer to a 9-foot-high, 28-foot-long model complete with scales hooked up to a computer system worth $2,000. “When we lock in the weights, it goes to one computer then it goes to the bump computer,” Bozeman said. “It’s a very sophisticated system. It’s just like at an Elite Series event just on a smaller scale.”
His weigh-in station includes eight fish holding tubs and four 20 feet by 20 feet tents that provide shade for the young anglers while they wait in the weigh-in line. Bozeman has also added large cool mist fans for cooling down the kids during hot summer tournaments.
Bozeman’s tournament setup also includes a sound system with a microphone and piped-in music. “Last year I acquired a 70-inch TV that we use as a leaderboard and put in a separate tent for the parents to look at,” he said. “I even hire a camera guy to come out and film certain events. I try to put on a show for the kids just like the Elite Series does.”
The 45-year-old Bozeman estimates he has about $30,000 in equipment for the club’s tournaments. Sponsorships have paid for some of the equipment, and Bozeman has paid the rest. “I am not trying to toot my own horn, but I have put a lot into it,” he said.
Florida B.A.S.S. Nation President David Driggers marvels at Bozeman’s efforts with his junior club. “Martin has a great heart,” Driggers said. “He has just little by little built up his program. He has a tremendous setup. Martin has set the bar so high the adults are now trying to find a big trailer to compete with our junior program. He has done a jam up job.”
The Florida Nation is now counting on Bozeman to continue the growing youth program initiated by Jeff Brooks. Job commitments caused Brooks to resign from the Florida Nation youth director post and Bozeman accepted the position as the new youth director for the state.