SA Bass - - Contents - COLIN MOORE

“Roland Still Rolling” As Roland Martin tells it, his first fish­ing trip with the Splen­did Splin­ter “wasn’t so hot” – Colin Moore

As Roland Martin tells it, his first fish­ing trip with the Splen­did Splin­ter “wasn’t so hot.” It was in the late ’60s at Is­lam­orada, Fla., and Martin was sub­sti­tut­ing for an­other guide. The lat­ter had asked Martin to take the fa­mous, and fa­mously can­tan­ker­ous, Ted Wil­liams fish­ing in his stead be­cause of an­other com­mit­ment.

Martin obliged, and did his best to see that the for­mer Bos­ton Red Sox great was kept en­ter­tained. In an at­tempt to pass the time while wait­ing on the clear flats for the tide to change and the fish to bite, Martin de­cided to while away the empty min­utes by mak­ing small talk with His Wor­ship­ful­ness.

“So, Mr. Wil­liams, who do you like for the World Se­ries this fall?” asked the tow­headed Martin, a bright-eyed 20some­thing at the time.

“Look, you blond-headed %$#@!, you don’t know a $#@% thing about base­ball, and I’m not *%$& go­ing to talk to you about base­ball. If you want to talk about fish­ing, that’s fine, but don’t %$@* talk to me about some­thing you don’t know any­thing about.”

Which suited Martin, be­cause he didn’t want to talk about base­ball any­way. There came a time, not too much later, when Wil­liams would fre­quently call Martin to talk about fish­ing, and to plead with him to go fish­ing. Though it puts thoughts into Wil­liams’ mind that we can only con­jec­ture, per­haps he rec­og­nized and re­spected the kin­dred, un­fil­tered tal­ent that Martin pos­sessed. The sports for which they be­came fa­mous were dif­fer­ent, but Martin had what Wil­liams had in equal mea­sure – a nat­u­ral abil­ity and a drive to be the very best at some­thing, or cer­tainly among the best.

Most peo­ple in­ter­ested in fish­ing know Roland Martin the bass fish­er­man, but few know that be­fore he be­came a fa­mous tour­na­ment an­gler, Martin was a salt­wa­ter fish­er­man. His ap­pren­tice­ship be­gan in 1958, dur­ing sum­mer break from the Univer­sity of Mary­land, when Martin and a buddy de­cided to go fish­ing in the Flor­ida Keys. Within a few years af­ter that first visit he was guid­ing there, though his tastes in fish­ing were al­ways ec­u­meni­cal. In the ’60s, when he was be­com­ing a well-re­spected guide on the flats around Is­lam­orada, he was also split­ting his time and guid­ing bass fish­er­men on San­tee Cooper in South Car­olina.

One of Martin’s San­tee Cooper cus­tomers was Homer Cir­cle, the em­i­nence

grise of fish­ing writ­ers who rec­og­nized Martin’s bass-fish­ing skill and po­ten­tial when he met him. Un­cle Homer wasn’t the only one to en­cour­age Martin to com­pete in bass tour­na­ments, though he took some warm­ing up to the no­tion. In 1969, when Martin at­tended his first tour­na­ment at Lake Eu­faula on the Alabama-Ge­or­gia bor­der and saw Bill Dance come in with a 15-fish stringer that weighed 83 pounds, Martin re­marked to no­body in par­tic­u­lar that, “I’ve got no busi­ness fish­ing against these guys.” Even so, sev­eral months later he was tak­ing part in his first tour­na­ment, an event on Toledo Bend. Martin placed se­cond there and then won the Seminole Lunker tour­na­ment on Lake Seminole. Mo­ti­vated by the cham­pi­onship purse of a whop­ping $2,219, Martin de­cided he was, in­deed, cut from com­pet­i­tive cloth.

Dur­ing the next 35 years, he fished in 279 events and placed in the top 50 in 191 of them. He won 19 tour­na­ments and was run­ner-up in 19, and was An­gler of the Year nine times. This, in an era when one was as likely as not to draw a Bill Dance, Hank Parker or Rick Clunn as a boat part­ner, and then have to fish against him. Even so, Martin won more than $1 mil­lion, much of it dur­ing the years when tour­na­ment purses were no­to­ri­ously mea­ger. About the only thing that he didn’t ac­com­plish, de­spite 25 chances, is win­ning a Bassmaster Clas­sic.

Martin has been rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful in FLW Tour com­pe­ti­tion, too. He scored six top-10 fin­ishes be­gin­ning in 1996 and was AOY run­ner-up in 1999. He’s still fight­ing the good fight; in the chal­leng­ing Costa FLW Se­ries Cham­pi­onship on Ken­tucky

Lake (for which he qual­i­fied through the South­east­ern Di­vi­sion) last Novem­ber, Martin couldn’t scratch out a check, but he made a re­spectable show­ing.

Af­ter the Costa event’s Fri­day evening weigh-in, af­ter fish­ing for six days in prac­tice and com­pe­ti­tion, Martin towed his boat to Old Hick­ory Lake near Nashville, where he and bud­dies Bill Dance and Jimmy Hous­ton par­tic­i­pated in a one-day tour­na­ment to raise funds for their Th3 Leg­ends “Cast for a Cure” can­cer re­search char­ity.

Hard work, but Martin still loves it, and it’s all in a typ­i­cal week’s rou­tine. He con­tin­ues to film his pop­u­lar TV pro­gram, in which he re­acts to ev­ery big fish that he hooks as if it is the best one ever. Nowa­days, too, he’s in­volved with Dance and Hous­ton in Th3 Leg­ends, a pro­mo­tional tri­umvi­rate that keeps them front and cen­ter in the fish­ing world. It’s en­ter­tain­ing to see and lis­ten to the three to­gether: Dance the wise­cracker who’s never at a loss for words, Hous­ton the clever-tongued jester and Roland, who usu­ally is the foil for his two co­horts.

“Roland is one of the most guile­less peo­ple ever,” says Dance of his long­time friend. “He is what you see on TV, and he hasn’t changed a bit over the years. One thing I have al­ways ad­mired about Roland Martin is that he will not tell you an out­right lie. He might be able to dodge telling you the truth, or avoid an­swer­ing you, but if you just go up to him, look him in the eye and ask him a flat-out-yes-or-no ques­tion, he will tell you the truth. That’s pretty un­com­mon in a fish­er­man.”

Dance is a prac­ti­cal joker of the first order, but early on he lost his ar­dor to pick on Roland; too easy a tar­get, too much like giv­ing a wedgie to an Ea­gle Scout. Even so, each man gets in his ver­bal licks when he can, though Martin is much more used to be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end. He de­liv­ered one of his best shots at Dance in 1980, when the lat­ter an­nounced that he was leav­ing the tour­na­ment scene to pur­sue his tele­vi­sion ca­reer. At a tour­na­ment press con­fer­ence, when asked for his re­ac­tion to Dance’s re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment, Martin dead­panned that “sooner or later age catches up with ev­ery­body, and a man has to know his lim­i­ta­tions. I guess Bill knew it was time to call it quits.”

That was 38 years ago, and though they’re each 77 years old now, nei­ther man is ready to call it quits.

At age 77, Roland Martin is still com­pet­ing at a high level in Costa FLW Se­ries events and main­tains a busy sched­ule of film­ing and pro­mo­tional ap­pear­ances.

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