Exclusive Interview with Roland Martin

Bass fishing great Roland Martin - Photo courtesy of Roland Martin
Bass fishing great Roland Martin - Photo courtesy of Roland Martin

For the past three decades, legendary angler Roland Martin has given viewers the scoop on how to outsmart a variety of gamefish. Martin continues to pull in the big ones with Fishing with Roland Martin, a half hour series on OLN: The Outdoor Life Network.

Martin has 25 appearances in the BASS Master Classic; he is a 9 time winner of the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title with 19 first-place finishes (a B.A.S.S. record), 19 second-place finishes (a B.A.S.S. record), and 92 top ten finishes (also a B.A.S.S. record); and is a member of the Elite Million Dollar Anglers.

Martin is credited with defining “pattern fishing” as a technique in 1969 and made this technique available to millions of readers in his book, 101 Bass Catching Secrets with Tim Tucker. He retired from the Bassmaster Tour in 2005 to spend more time with his successful television series and making appearances.

In 1976 Martin was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, WI. In 2001 he was inducted into the Professional Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in Hot Springs, AR. In 2003 he was inducted into the International Game Fish Association in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

Martin resides in Naples, Florida with his wife Judy. He has a daughter, Laura Ann, son and daughter-in-law Scott and Suzanne, and grandsons Jacob and Reed.

Roland Martin talked with Our Prattville publisher on the telephone on May 7:

How did you begin your interest in bass fishing? Was your father a fisherman?

No, actually my father was not a fisherman. He was a hydraulic engineer. Now, he did take me out when I was just three or four years old out to the woods because his job was surveying, in particular, for the U. S. Geological Survey. And he would take me out to the woods to a stream and say okay Buddy (he called me Buddy, that was my nickname). He’d say okay Buddy, there is going to be a big lake here and this all will be covered up – that house will be covered up, and then that bridge there will be covered up…and in my little imagination, I said well what are they going to do about the chickens and what about the marsh down there? And he’d say, well we’re going to move all of that.

When I was just a teenager I could read these contour maps…my father had all of these topographical government maps, you know, and they would show the elevation and the streams and you know all of that stuff you know that good maps do. And so anyway at a very early age I could read those maps. And then, of course, when I went into the military I was just a whiz at maps and am still just a tremendous whiz at maps and of course, I’m on the computer now with all sorts of mapping services and all of that allowed me to fish a lot better.

My dad was an avid bass fisherman and he always swore by the plastic worm. I think he used purple or blue. Does the color really make a difference?

No, you know the darker colors probably seem to be awfully good but I remember early on years ago, thirty or forty years ago, the black plastic worm was a big deal and then it got to be that the dark red or the purple was for years the popular color as well. The newest hot color like in the Yamamoto line (I work with the Senko worms and stuff like that) their color is the 194 and is called…it’s like a watermelon and it has a little bit of green to it…anyway, that’s their most popular color. I mean they sell more watermelon now than ever. Watermelon may be the nation’s number one color right now. See it changes because ten years ago it wasn’t watermelon.

It probably depends on the certain way you move it in the water. Is that correct?

Well, I don’t know, there are a hundred different ways of rigging a worm and working a worm and plastic worm fishing is an art. I mean there are dozens and dozens of different techniques…everything from a Carolina rig to a finesse worm to flipping a worm with a big weight…you know, all of these things are so contrastingly different and they pretty much work from Connecticut to California. Worm fishing is a universal thing.

You created the term “pattern fishing,” correct?

Yes, I expounded on that a lot and I’ve written books on it.

How did you come up with that technique – was it just a lot of experiments?

Well, when I was guiding in the late 60s on the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, a guy came to me and said, look, why don’t you do this map…we’ll publish this map and you can make some money off of this map. So, I said, okay, and I published a map on Santee-Cooper, how to pattern fish. On that map, for example, there would be some rocks around the dam so I’d have that colored light red and I’d say this is the rift raft pattern…what you do when the water temperature is like x number of degrees when there is a certain clarity and you go there and the wind is blowing in a certain way. So, I would explain how to catch the fish off of rift raft on the map.

And then the next pattern I would mark the cypress trees with these little black x’s – then for the cypress pattern you’d have a certain clarity and certain water temperature, the lake level has to be a certain way…and then, so, I had like ten different symbols on the map, ten different colored things with little circles, little boxes, whatever…and that would tell you that’s the willow tree pattern, that’s the moss bed pattern, etc. And so, in each pattern I would explain what the conditions had to be. In other words, is it a spring-time deal, is it a summer deal, what’s the water temperature, what’s the water clarity…you know, all of those things.

So, I was explaining on that map and then I went one step farther, I gave the definition. I said pattern fishing is that exact set of water conditions that attract fish to that particular spot and to other similar spots simultaneously over the lake. And then I’d expand that by saying that the exact set of water conditions such as water temperature, water clarity, water depth, water structure…I would just expound and explain the definition of a pattern. It was on a map that I published in 1968 and that was the first comprehensive pattern stuff. It’s still the same definition – it’s just that exact set of water conditions.

Since then I’ve gone to college and learned how to read a PH meter and learned how to read a water temperature meter and learned how to read a depth finder so there are a lot of sophisticated equipment now to help us, much like a scientist, in determining the oxygen content, the PH content, the temperatures of the water, the clarities of the water…you know, all of these things are technical breakthroughs that are available to us now.

Do fish finders actually work?

The fish finders are sonar – that’s generally what they are. What sonar does is show a tree on the bottom and it shows a grass bed, it’ll show a rock, it’ll show little fish swimming around…now, you don’t know what kind of fish they are and unless you’re really good with sonar which I am…lot of people don’t even know how to adjust it. There might be bass there or there might be minnows. It shows the fish swimming around but you have no clue as to what it is. And it shows things like wheat beds, but what kind of wheat is it…you know. It shows things like rocks, but what kind of rocks are they. So you have to be able to interpret it with the signals.

A fish finder per se…we don’t really call them fish finders so much, we call them depth finders. The main thing a fish finder or depth finder does is tell you what depth it is and it shows you that there is stuff on the bottom…there is grass, there are drop-offs, there are rocks, there are minnows or fish, there are wheat beds. So, all of that shows up on the screen in addition to the depth. So people just kind of fondly call it a fish finder because if a fish swims underneath the fish finder, it makes a blip on the screen and you can see that it’s something there. You just don’t know what it is. But, if you’re really good with it you can kind of interpret an awful lot. You can figure out an awful lot of what is underneath the boat.

I’m only about a hundred miles from Lake Eufaula.

Are you really? Okay.

I know you’ve probably fished there several times.

I have. I’ve won a couple of tournaments there, yeah.

Why is it known as one of the fishing hotspots in the country?

Well, it was and still is a great great lake. Now it went prime for the first time and the Walter F. George dam was first built in 1964 or 65. When 1968 came along and then in 69 the fish were about five or six years old. I tell you when it was built – I was in the Army, I was going through OCS at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and that thing was a brand new lake and that was 1964. I fished it first in 64 and it was just brand new.

Yes, I remember going there with my dad when I was little so yeah that was in the 60s.

It was probably the best lake in the southeast to ever be built. At one point it had so many schools of big bass in it, it was just absolutely unbelievable. All lakes go through cycles. The first six or seven years of the lake is the building years and all of these bass grow up and there is a bass boom – there is actually an explosion of fish and the lake peaks out…its finest moment is probably at six or seven years old. This would have been 68, 69, 70…those years right there were peak, peak years. And so now, it’s much older, of course, you know 50 years old or something, I don’t know, and it holds its own. It’s a good stable fishery, but it’s not like it was in the late 60s.

Well, you know Ray Scott is from Montgomery. I’m just about eight miles outside of Montgomery in Prattville. When did you first meet Ray?

Well, I was a guide at Santee-Cooper in South Carolina and Ray had heard of me because I used to guarantee big fish. I used to advertise in newspaper articles because I was a pretty famous little guide at Santee-Cooper. I’d invite all of these writers down constantly from all over the whole country to fish with me and I’d take them out and show them how good fishing was at Santee. And they’d write articles for sports magazines and for all of the big newspapers. So, Ray had heard of me through my notoriety and I was a photographer, too, and I’d do a little writing on the side like lake reports and I’d have them in a couple of the newspapers for several years. This was before I had ever fished in any tournaments. And so Ray had kind of heard about me so he kept calling me up…he called me up in 68 and said how about fishing in one of my tournaments and I said what’s a tournament? I don’t know what that is…I’m not too interested in that. And so I really didn’t know what it was.

He called me a couple of more times in 69 and said why don’t you come on to a tournament? You would enjoy that. I really wasn’t into that so I didn’t go to my first tournament and actually meet Ray until 1970….no, I’m sorry, 1969. It was one of the tournaments in Eufaula. I think John Powell won that one. No, no, it wasn’t…it was Blake Honeycutt. That was that real big stringer where that guy Nunnery and Gerald Blanchard had that world record string of fish. I saw that string and was really impressed with it. Anyway, I became a life member right then. I saw my first tournament, I met Bill Dance for the first time, and all of these other big guys…Jimmy Houston, and I don’t know who all. And then I wasn’t fishing in any tournaments, you know, I was just meeting these guys and I was really impressed. I was so impressed that I dug down deep into my pocket and got a hundred dollars up, which was a lot of money for me back then and I gave it to Ray Scott and I was like the third life member he ever had.

He’s had quite an impact on the fishing industry, hasn’t he?

Absolutely, I named my son Scott after Ray Scott. He’s the most impressionable person I’ve ever met and he’s just wonderful. He’s fantastic and I just love Ray to death. He calls me quite often. I talk to him half a dozen times a year actually so we’re still in contact with one another. He’s always full of ideas and projects. He wants to do more seminars and he’s always involved in big conservation efforts…he just does a lot.

You’ve fished with both of the Bushes, right?

I’ve fished with both father and son. That was really the biggest honor I guess I’ve had. That was really a big deal.

Which one is the better fisherman would you say?

You know, I had a feeling that George, Sr. was more knowledgeable. George, Sr. in the couple of days that I was around him was just full of questions. He was always asking questions. This was back before he was anything, before he was even elected…he was just like running for office at the time when I first met him. Then he was Vice-President for a couple of terms and I met him then and again when he was President he was just so full of questions. You know, what do you think about this fish and so on…he was just very inquisitive.

Very curious, huh?

Very curious. George, Jr., of course…well, I just think the world of him. Now he enjoys his fishing, he really does. He built that little pond down in Texas on his ranch and he stocked it a special way, put all of these little fish attraction devices made out of plastic and he went through all of this detail about how he and his ranch manager, Robert, had built all of these little PVC deals they put in the pond just to attract fish. He’s pretty neat.

Do you think the sagging economy has had an impact on the fishing industry?

Oh it certainly has. Everybody is kind of suffering in the fact that they aren’t taking these big expensive trips anymore. I’m also doing a little bit of guide work. I haven’t really started yet, but I got my license back again. I’m ready to start guiding this summer particularly salt water with my big boats and stuff, but really I’ve been advertising a little bit on the internet and there are a lot of people that are interested but they just can’t afford it. What I’m offering is not only from the celebrity end of it (which is part of it) but from the educational end of it. I’m trying to promote the fact that I am an expert and I can either conduct a seminar for them or at least give them a lot of good instruction and that kind of thing. So, I’m not cheap…my rates would probably be a little higher than most people, but that’s what I’m planning on doing.

What is the difference between fresh water and salt water fishing?

Fresh water is what I grew up on. It’s the bread and butter of my career and my livelihood because all of the bass lures and boats and these trolling motors are created for that. I have a rod line right now, the Roland Martin series rod line, so bass is still the bread and butter because it’s so universal. You can find bass all over the world and there are so many bass fishermen. That’s the number one thing as far as making money.

Now, tarpon are so much more fun to catch. They jump about six foot in the air and they weigh about a hundred and something pounds and they are great. Snook are not only good fighters, but they are the best eating fish you’ve ever had. And I do a lot of grouper fishing with these new spectra lines and then there is the snapper and then if I go really far offshore we get into the tuna fish, the marlin, and the sailfish. And so I do a lot of real spectacular fishing – those kind of fish are spectacular! I have a rod and reel I just rigged up for sword fishing, just rigged one up the other day, and it’s about a three thousand dollar rod and reel and it’s just for catching swordfish out of twelve hundred feet of water. Of course, it’s got a big electric assist reel on it for dropping down twelve hundred feet deep. I mean, some of these things are pretty exciting.

And then the last time I was out, I was out with Bill Dance and with Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and we were way back in the gulf which is not supposed to be an area for anything but groupers and cobias and that’s what we were catching, cobias and groupers and even some king mackerel. And these were like twenty or thirty pound fish. It was pretty cool. And then, Johnny, he’s up in my tower…I rigged up this little observation tower, about a twenty-eight footer and he’s about ten foot up and he says hey there’s a sailfish over to the left, there’s a sailfish over to the left and I’m saying there are no sailfish out there…sailfish don’t live here! Sure enough, I looked over to where Johnny was pointing and there was a sailfish! We got it on camera…it’s really cool, a sixty pounder.

There are a lot of exciting things that happen when you are fishing in salt water. But, I recognize the fact that not everyone can afford to fish in salt water. I love to catch the tarpon in the Florida Keys…I have a place in the Florida Keys, so I’ll spend pretty much the whole month of June catching tarpon. But, a lot of people cannot afford that and tarpon per se aren’t the most popular fish because people don’t know much about them.

We ran a survey years ago on TNN when I was with the Nashville Network and what we wanted to determine was what kind of fishing shows people wanted to watch. And they said well, would a show for great black marlin down off the Great Barrier Reef be a more popular show than say blue gill fishing in an Ohio farm pond? Well, the blue gill fishing in the Ohio farm pond was about ten times more popular because people can identify with that and they can afford to do that. They don’t have ten thousand dollars to go running down to Australia to fish for the black marlin, you know? So, they don’t like to get all involved in something like that. It’s just kind of out of their budget and they can’t identify with that.

I did have a question about Bass Pto Shops. I was wondering if you thought that Bass Pro Shops brought a new generation into the fishing world.

Oh absolutely. Bass Pro Shops is my number one advertiser. Johnny Morris who is the founder is such a great friend of mine. We get together three or four times a year for either turkey hunting or something. He’s a visionary guy and feels very deeply about conservation. He tries to get the young people involved and he thinks about it all of the time. He’s a great great fisherman – he even fished the bass tournament trail for seven years qualifying for classics and all of that so Johnny is really a good fisherman. He still does bass fishing now but he does a whole lot more salt water fishing. His big secret deal is blue fin tuna and he’ll chase them all over the world. If he hears there is a big bunch of blue fin hitting down in the Bahamas he’ll just jump on his private jet and run over there to catch them.

What do you do when you’re not traveling and fishing?

Hunting turkeys like I’m doing now.

No inside hobbies…all outside, right?

Well, pretty much…I’m actually up here in Virginia for another reason. This good friend of mine who I hunt turkeys with has a machine lathe…a very high precision lathe, you know a metal machine lathe and I like to build stuff…I’ve built reels…I tinker with building stuff.

Are you on hiatus right now with your TV show?

No we’re filming. I just got back from Curacao…that’s off down around Aruba, off of Caracas, Venezuela. We were just down there last week doing some fishing.

Well, what was the biggest one that ever got away from you?

I got a beautiful story that’s so good. The biggest bass that I ever lost weighed fifteen pounds and fourteen ounces. I lost it though, that was the biggest one I lost. You can say well, if you lost it how in the heck do you know exactly how much it weighed? Well, I was fishing in Oahu Reservoir in Hawaii and I had this special hook, a weedless hook. I hooked this monster, monster bass and it fought all over the place and finally at the last minute it kind of wrapped up around a log and he was right underneath the boat. I started to take my clothes off, at least some of my clothes so I could dive down a little bit but in the process he finally broke my line.

So, anyway, the next day I told Dennis, this professional guide from Baltimore…I said Dennis, that monster, monster bass that I hooked yesterday was on that log over there. I said, go ahead and try it and see what happens. He starts yelling and screaming and he has this monster, monster bass and he says, is this the one? I said I don’t know. He said is this your hook? And sure enough, he had a hook in his mouth that he had broken off. And so it was the biggest one he had ever caught and probably the biggest one ever caught that year in Florida. It was fifteen pounds and fourteen ounces.

What have you got going on now…you said you were going to be a guide and you still have your television show…what else?

I have the television show and I do a lot of work with boat shows and do a lot of personal public appearances. My son and I in a couple of weeks are going to host a big fishing clinic for my church in Naples…New Hope Ministries. And we’re going to have a whole weekend of seminars on how to throw a cast net, how to keep bait alive, how to tie knots, how to do a lot of things. We’re going to have a whole big weekend for hopefully about a thousand people. My pastor, Grant, is not doing this for money, he just wants to get the fishermen involved. I fish with him all of the time. I’ve done a couple of films with my pastor and he’s just a great sportsman.

Mr. Martin, I sure do appreciate your taking the time to talk to me today. I know this will be a very interesting interview especially for our local folks since they know you and they know Ray Scott.

Well, Ray Scott has been a huge part of my life.

Well, thank you and take care.

Yes, thank you.

Interview by Melissa Parker

© 2009 Our Prattville. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.