Classic retro: 1978 with Martin and Martin

RIDGELAND, Miss. — Thirty-five years ago this week Roland Martin and Tommy Martin competed on Ross Barnett Reservoir for the first time. They were back this week for the Bass Pro Shops Central Open #3. Both anglers agree one constant remains on the lake locally known as "the Rez."

The plastic frog still catches largemouth just as it did in 1978. That’s when the two legendary bass fishermen came here for the Bassmaster Classic. That year Bobby Murray won Classic VIII with a three-day total of 37 pounds, 9 ounces. Tommy Martin was fifth and Roland Martin took 10th place.

This week both anglers threw plastic frogs. They weren’t the same Plummer SuperFrogs packed on the first trip. Both anglers were plagued by short strikes with the notorious bait known for swings and misses with big bass.

What they agreed has changed, beyond their age and physical stamina, is the ingenuity used by the anglers to modify lures. They were rudimentary by today's standards. Subtle tricks and adjustments paid off big.

"What Bobby did to win that Classic is what we all resorted to on many occasions," recalled Roland Martin. "Lures were much simpler and you could modify them."

"It was a neat deal back then because you’d do something clever to a lure and try and hide it from the other guys," he continued. "It was all about being sneaky because then everybody else wanted what you were using."

That's what Murray did to earn a second Classic crown. He modified a simple topwater spoon to impart more action and flash without becoming overly obtrusive to the lethargic fish.

Murray modified a black TimberKing spoon by adding a chartreuse skirt to the back. To the front he added a shiny, silver Hildebrand spinner. Bites improved but he kept coming up short on hookups. So did everyone else who by the heat of the competition had discovered Murray's invention. Out of desperation he added a trailer hook. Problem solved. Classic won.

Tommy Martin was the Classic winner four years earlier. Back then the anglers learned about the site aboard a chartered jetliner destined for the Classic site. The mystery flights ended by 1978 but packing tackle was a crapshoot.

That's because tackle was limited to what would fit inside the stylish Plano 777 tackleboxes of the day. There was a 10-pound limit and the boxes got weighed on the Classic weigh-in scales. B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott took great delight in choosing lures from overweight boxes.

"It was a trick because you had no idea where you were headed," said Tommy Martin. "At least by 1978 the mystery lake concept was over and we had a full week to plan."

Word spread quickly that Ross Barnett was filled with lily pads. It would be a spoon- and frog-fishing paradise. Everyone packed for the occasion. It was Murray who came up with the one minor adjustment that everyone else overlooked.