- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When the international Bass Anglers Sportsman Society sent word two weeks ago that one of the professional bass fishing tour’s true superstars, Roland Martin, would retire, I took notice with some sadness.

It was Martin, now in his 60s, who helped put BASS on the map. Don’t believe it? Ask the founder of the world’s biggest fishing club, Ray Scott, and he will agree immediately that to a business promoter, Martin was the stuff dreams are made of.

With a shock of bright blond hair, good looks, the ability to speak in complete sentences that actually contained words with more than two syllables, plus a natural talent for finding fish ever since he was a teenager in Maryland, he answered Scott’s prayers. When professional bass fishing began to take hold some 35 years ago, it wasn’t long before Martin got into it. He quickly found an adoring fan base of mostly youngsters who yearned to become fishing stars. But he also was the darling of fishing tournament groupies, women of all ages who simply adored him.

Martin, whose youth was spent in nearby Laurel, attended the University of Maryland, but left in his early 20s and soon made a name for himself as a fishing guide in the massive Santee Cooper lakes in South Carolina. The tournament scene followed and, as it stands today, Martin has won 19 national BASS-sanctioned events — more than anyone else. He also won Bass Angler of the Year honors nine times, again more than any other touring pro.

But that’s not what I remember about my fellow Marylander’s career. In the 1980s, when BASS conducted a fishing tournament on the Illinois River in Peoria that consisted only of former BASS Tour winners, I shared a boat as Martin’s press observer.

We left the starting area and he quickly ran downriver ahead of the other contestants, turned sharply right into a feeder creek of the then-muddy river, slowed the boat and said, “See that little oxbow across this levee? For some reason, it holds clear water. I’m going in there.”

There were no entrances that I could see, and I soon realized Martin intended to jump across the dew-moistened, grassy levee.

With a boat. With us in it.

He told me to stash my cameras and gear, fastened his rods with a strap, turned the boat around to get a running start and aimed toward the 3- to 4-foot-high grass bank. The boat’s bow touched land, the engine screamed as Martin “trimmed” it up until the prop nearly came out of the water and before I knew it, the bass boat slithered across the levee and slid over to the other side, the outboard motor loudly objecting.

Next, things were quiet again and Martin stood at the bow, trolling motor in the water, casting a spinnerbait toward a waterlogged willow bush. Bang! He had a bass on after the first three casts.

What worried me was the fact that sooner or later we’d have to go back, and the only way that could be accomplished was to “climb” back across the levee.

With the boat. With me in it.

He did just that, and on that day I aged 10 years.

My hair got even grayer when I was in the boat with Martin as he competed during a BASS Champs event in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin.

Martin, concerned only about finding bass, didn’t much care if the boat brushed against a cypress stump or a buttonwood shrub here and there. During one such scrape, a cottonmouthed moccasin snake that had been soaking up rays atop the greenery fell into our boat.

I just about climbed atop the rear seat, shouting at Martin that we had a big cottonmouth in the bottom of the boat. He laughed and said, “Well, don’t give her any of our sodas or sandwiches. We need those for ourselves.”

Eventually, Martin used a sculling paddle to flip the snake back into the Atchafalaya where it belonged.

Now he is retired from competitive fishing, but he can still be seen on his cable TV fishing show.

I’ll miss him — sort of.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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