BRANSON, Mo. — Between them are 522 collective B.A.S.S. tournaments fished over 41 years. Make that 524 with more years to come.
One is a cancer survivor and the other has come full circle as a professional bass guide. When guiding clients he stands all day long, as he did the first time in 1967.
Speak of legends and the names Stacey King and Tommy Martin make the short list. Both pros are here the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate.
The longtime close acquaintances aren’t just here for a senior outing. King, 66, and Martin, 74, want to compete in the 2016 Central Open series.
“If I’m healthy enough I plan to fish all three of the Central Opens,” said King, of Reeds Springs, Mo. “I’ll evaluate it when all of the schedules come out and make sure there aren’t any conflicts.”
King recently celebrated his first healthy year after undergoing what he hopes is a final round of radiation and chemotherapy. In 2014 King’s tonsils were removed with biopsies made of his tongue and throat tissues. A form of lymphoma cancer was the diagnosis. Weeks of intense chemo and radiation treatments took a toll on him.
At the time King was competing full time on the FLW Tour and the news was a shock. He put tournaments on hold to regain his health.
“I can fish eight hours a day now with no problem,” he said. “I was just determined not to let cancer take away my enjoyment of life, and that includes fishing and tournaments.”
Both sports are lifelong pursuits. King joined the B.A.S.S. tour in 1985 and qualified for world championships in 2006 and 2007. He counts his win at the 1996 South Carolina Bassmaster Top 100 as a career highlight, where he caught 33 pounds, 2 ounces in a day.
Between the FLW and B.A.S.S. tours both pros have earned a collective $1 million. Making that amount took their entire collective careers and King finds that evidence of just how much the sport has grown.
“Back when we started you had another job,” he recalled. “It wasn’t enough to make a living from sponsorships or winnings.”
Guiding was that other job for both anglers. King guided clientele full time on Table Rock Lake, while Martin started years before in his native Texas.
He began guiding in 1967 on Sam Rayburn Reservoir and then moved to Toledo Bend in 1974. Back then it was the nation’s premier sport fishery where 100 bass days were common. Hundreds of guides worked from the dozens of marinas dotting the new lake. Guiding was a lucrative job with daily rates and tips.
Martin took up home in Hemphill and the tiny lakeshore town became known for its guides-turned-pros. Among those were Martin, Larry Nixon and Harold Allen, all of them legends in their own right.
Back then and through the 1980s that lineup won Bassmaster Classic trophies, Angler of the Year titles and numerous invitational events. The group earned the name “Hemphill Gang” for its dominance in tournaments.
Martin joined B.A.S.S. in 1968 and for the next five years intensely studied the fledgling sport and the anglers evolving with the times. He guided 300 days per year before entering the first B.A.S.S. event in 1974. He calls that year the highlight of his four decades career, and rightfully so.
“I was pretty intimidated by those guys, Bill Dance, Tom Mann, Bobby Murray and Stan Sloan,” he recalled of the sport’s pioneers. “It just didn’t think I had what it took to measure up against them.”
Martin calls his rookie season in 1974 a highlight of his four decades career, and rightfully so. He won the 1974 Arkansas Invitational on Beaver Lake. He then qualified for the Classic and won it.
“That year was just a miracle and I had no intention of winning that Classic until the second day, when I led it,” he said. “Only then did I believe that I had what it took to fish against all my peers.”
Martin last fished B.A.S.S. full time during the 2013 Central Open season. He’s guiding again, spending a week each year on Falcon Lake and the remainder on Toledo Bend. And believe it or not, he still stands up all day long.
“I enjoy guiding as much as always because I like teaching others how to fish,” he said.
Both anglers still enjoy competing, too. During this interview both were greeted by Rick Clunn, another legend and longtime acquaintance.
“You live longer when becoming engaged and immersed at what you love,” he said to them.
If so then look for more of King and Martin.