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It’s a perspiration popping afternoon in Clewiston, Fla., 90 degrees in the shade and the wetness in the atmosphere over Lake Okeechobee hangs on the fishermen milling in front of Roland Martin’s marina, looking for their next day’s fishing B.A.S.S. partners. Martin, a sun bleached blonde with high cheekbones in a tanned face as well as a bowel starting to push his waistline out, is nervously twisting a beer can into tattered remnants of aluminum. ”Nah, I am not nervous,” he says. ”Well, perhaps in my own personal manner.” He tosses away the beer can, what is left of it, and scrapes amounts on a sheet of paper. Anyhow he figures, he is in second place.
The competition is for cash and pride. Martin, at 45, is the undisputed king of American bass fishing. He now brings in more than $500,000 a year from the bass company. His name can sell a fishing lure, a tract house or an $8,000 outboard motor. Now, two days are gone with one to go in this May’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society $122,000 Bassmaster Florida Invitational fishing tournament, the last of six competitions leading to the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year award. Martin has won it eight times and considers it his ”heritage.” There is also the issue of $28,000, the worth of first place in the tournament at hand. Tomorrow, according to his figures, Martin must get bass weighing a total of 7 pounds 6 oz more than those Rick Clunn brings in, or he’ll lose the tournament to Clunn, a Texas opponent. He should gain 3 pounds 6 oz on Larry Nixon, another Texan, to edge him out for 1985’s Angler of the Year.
As he considers his job, Martin takes a marking pen, as well as on the visor he wears as much to expose his blonde hair to sunlight as to shade his eyes, composes words of inspiration: ”War.” ”Got to Win.” ”Battle.” SINCE 1967, When an alabama insurance salesman named Ray Scott given $2,000 and a trip to Acapulco to the victor of his first All American Bass Invitational tournament, fishing for bass for cash has become not only a company but a growth industry. Now, half a dozen professional tournament circuits run by membership organizations like B.A.S.S. and United States BASS and commercial patrons such as Red Man chewing tobacco and Yamaha offer big money to victor.
Prizes of $50,000 and $100,000 are common. B.A.S.S. alone will give prizes totaling $2.5 million this year. For the consistent victor the Roland Martins, Rick Clunns and Larry Nixons the prize money is secondary to a abundance of sponsorship and endorsement deals from boat, motor and fishing gear makers keen to reach a $2 billion plus market of 20 million bass fishermen. Syndicated television shows have given the very best fishermen prevalent acknowledgement, along with six figure incomes. Izaak Walton’s ”composed, quiet, innocent diversion” is no longer ”a benefit to itself.”
Nor is it generally composed or quiet. A big money bass tournament is a mixture boat race and scavenger hunt. Fishermen in high powered boats gather at daybreak to directions bellowed from an electrical bullhorn. They circle like ducks on a pond, outboard motors coughing and spewing smoke. After checking out one by one, they gun their 150 hp engines and roar on the other side of the water at 60 miles an hour toward their fishing holes, clasping their billed covers to their windswept heads, frequently chased by pursuit boats or helicopters taking photographers. At the close of the day they return to possess their fish weighed before a gallery of viewers, who see the results flash on a tremendous digital scale display board.
This is a sport that ”is not contemplative,” says Rick Clunn, who makes more than $150,000 a year from bass fishing. ”It is a competitive sport, and also the American human being is a really competitive creature.”
Up to now, the hullabaloo of its own professional contest has not enticed a mass audience. But B.A.S.S. is working hard to give bass fishing extensive television attractiveness. Next spring, the organization is hoping to stage a tournament with a record $845,000 prize pool. Fishermen will pay $5,000 to compete for a greatest ever top prize of $136,000. To support network coverage, B.A.S.S. is looking for a website that would provide opportunities for television cameras to cover each fishing hole.
So much for serene and quiet. Forget innocence, also. While the big league tours, like B.A.S.S.’s, are normally well run and manage to avert scandal, others are so loosely ran that cheaters have won without wetting a hook. In a tournament at Lake O’ The Pines, Tex., that brought 7,025 entrances, a guy named Gary Wayne Parkerson never even bothered to put his boat in the water before presenting judges with a Florida bass, got from an accomplice, to win the $105,000 first prize. To overcome the lie detector test, comparatively common at some tournaments where dependable tracking isn’t possible, Parkerson had consumed some Valium.
His exploits were shown in an United States Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of an eight guy cheating ring that won $244,500 in four locally sponsored Texas tournaments during 1983. Had the ring members been successful in every one of the tournaments they entered, they’d have won close to $1 million in cash and prizes. After pleading guilty, Parkerson and five others were sentenced to periods from 4 months to 5 years in a Federal penitentiary; the seventh guy is upwards for sentencing next month; the eighth committed suicide the day before he was to give grand jury testimony.
There aren’t any lie detectors on the big league professional circuit, where the rules normally inhibit cheating. In B.A.S.S. tournaments, for example, results are based not on the single largest fish, but on the effects of three days’ fishing. Tournament waters are off limits for two weeks prior to a pre competition training interval. Fishermen never fish alone, but with computer delegated partners or, in a few competitions, with official observers. Two guys from the exact same area are never matched, and pairings are changed daily.
Fishing, like every professional sport, needs fanatical qualities in people who’d shine. ”Itis a mental game,” says Rick Clunn, who listens to recorded readings from Richard Bach’s ”Jonathan Livingston Seagull” to prepare himself for tournaments.
It is likewise a costly sport. An equipped bass rig boat, outboard motor, electronic detection equipment prices from $15,000 to $20,000, to say nothing of the prices of long haul journey to broadly dispersed tournaments whose entry fees typically range from $250 to $1,250. Attrition is high among fishermen attempting to break in without patrons to help bear the costs. Before he won the 1976 B.A.S.S. Masters Classic, a sort of world series of bass fishing, Clunn says, ”There were lots of tournaments that Gerri and Brooke” his wife and oldest daughter ”and I ‘d enough cash to get to, but if I did not set, we did not have enough cash to get back.” for this particular core sample of american, Roland Martin is about as close to a hero as you can get.
He looks like a California surfer using a preference for beer and pizza. His grin is out of the toothpaste advertisements. He lives in a large, banyan shaded house in Clewiston with his wife of 13 years, Mary Ann, as well as their two kids, Scott, 9, and Laura Ann, 2. His marina, the website of this last May’s BASSmaster tournament, is nearby. His wife runs the marina because Martin is away half the time, fishing in tournaments and recording his syndicated television show.
Martin is rich in everyday terms; if not a millionaire, then he is close to it. His parents wanted him to be an engineer. When they were killed in an automobile accident in 1965, Martin fled to South Carolina, where he was stationed in the Army, and went fishing.
”Well, I fished that entire year. As well as the substantial part of that span of my career was that I created myself.” As Martin leans over a round topped table in his lair, he’s surrounded by decorations first place just; the room would not hold the remainder of them and mementoes, like the covers of the outside magazines, such as Field and Stream and Outdoor Life, which he is graced.
”Your show’s on, Roland,” Mary Ann calls through the doorway. Martin flips the switch on a games console television set to reveal himself bonefishing in the Florida Keys. ”Fishing With Roland Martin” was until lately syndicated in 62 markets along with some of small cable systems. It was seen, normally, in 850,000 American houses. This year, seeking a bigger audience, Martin signed with the Atlanta superstation, WTBS, that’ll start airing his shows in January.
Martin helped to ”create” himself by working the different side of the camera while directing bass fishermen on South Carolina’s Santee Cooper reservoirs. Each time someone got a ”lunker” bass a big, trophy size fish Martin shot a picture, and made sure it got to the angler’s hometown newspaper. He also sent shots to outside sportswriters. Word of Martin’s fishing art propagate. ”I began to make a profession out of it,” he says. ”All of a sudden I was making $12,000, $13,000 a year back in the late 60’s.”
At about that time, Ray Scott was selling insurance down South and fishing between sales calls. One wet Sunday in March 1967, as he idly watched a televised golf tournament, Scott suddenly jumped to his feet, struck by a belief: he’d hold a fishing tournament.
That in itself was nothing new. Local fishing derbies were a dime a dozen. But Scott had in mind one with a group of rules that will highlight skill over luck. He believed if the rules were clearly reasonable, the temptations and opportunities to cheat would be reduced.
Scott started scouring the nation for entrants, soliciting names from sportsmen he understood, and calling bait shops and marinas. He pyramided his list until it included the names of 525 fishermen, 106 of whom paid $100 each to enter his three day tournament at Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas. Stan Sloan of Nashville won the $2,000 first prize and a trip to Acapulco to fish for sailfish.
By then, Scott, finding the fishermen swap secrets, seen a fraternity of anglers. He started coordinating another tournament. Shortly later, he quit his job. By his third tournament, in February 1968, Scott managed to increase the entry fee to $150 and still bring 150 competitions for $10,000 in prizes. By the fourth tournament, that April, he’d turned his burgeoning card file into the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, membership fee $10, and required that tournament contestants be B.A.S.S. members. Like every great fisherman, Scott understood when to place the hook.
When Roland Martin learned about Scott’s tournaments, he viewed them as a great way to help establish his standing. So in 1969 he traveled to Alabama’s Lake Eufaula, where he saw two fishermen walk from their boat with sequences of fish so heavy they wanted help in taking them. ”This is too much competition for me,” Martin said to himself, and went back home.
However he returned the following year, and was an instant success, putting second, first and second in his first three tournaments. ”I never put out of the top 20 during those first three or four years,” Martin remembers. In the 16 years since his first tournament, Martin has won 16 B.A.S.S. titles. Throughout the exact same span, B.A.S.S. has grown from 17,500 members to 440,000, with chapters in Canada, Europe, Africa and Japan. Now it’s a $17 million business that releases two consumer and two trade magazines and produces a fishing show that appears on cable.
As professional bass fishing won approval, fishing tackle and marine manufacturing companies came to see the tournaments as a means of marketing their products. Now there’s stiff competition for tournament publicity. At the fundamental degree of sponsorship, the experts get free poles, reels, line and lures. Some businesses pay tournament entry fees, or monthly cash retainers. ”Memo charging” for boats and motors, an arrangement whereby the master basically is loaned the gear for a year, is common. In exchange for all this, the experts deck themselves out in tops, caps and coats bearing the maker’s’ insignia, tout their products at boat shows and appear at seminars they sponsor.
The cash, the sanctions as well as the television deals away, Ray Scott sums up the B.A.S.S. contribution to bass fishing only: ”We created heroes.”
The Last Morning of the Clewis ton B.A.S.S. tournament dawns great and blue over Lake Okeechobee. The 260 fishermen, matched in 130 level decked boats, move during the necessary security and gear test. They need to wear life vests and present that their boats’ aerated holding wells, at which fish they get are kept living, are in working order. They need to examine the ”kill” switch, a device to cut the engine in the event the motorist is somehow tossed from a boat.
The boats that slip past the officials are 16 to 20 foot open speedsters with names like Ranger, Cheetah, Starfire and Storm. They sport lifted seats for cast, and bow mounted, foot controlled electric trolling motors for quietly probing the nooks and crannies of a fishing hole. They bristle with electronic tools: depth recorders that suggest concealing fish on paper graphs or liquid crystal displays such as the screen on a digital watch; gauges to gauge the pH, or acid base balance, of the water, its surface temperature and its own clearness. Seen for the very first time, one of these fisher racers could be unsettling. Forget the leaky skiff, the shaded riverbank, the cane post as well as the Dixie Cup of night crawlers. Here is a weapon, a fishing machine with a high tech arsenal arrayed against the bass’s instinct.
Subsequent to the test, the boats go one by one through a lock in the hurricane management levee and onto the lake, slowly in the beginning, then quicker as they reach open water, increasing at the bow and then flattening to planing speed at full crescendo. Martin is one of the last to leave. He along with his partner, Ron Peter of Cardiff, N.J., vanish onto the lake’s level sweep. Martin will determine where they’ll fish.
His record gives him the pull to call the shots. A thousand variants order his pick of fishing holes: sunshade; ”constructions” stone or fallen trees where fish might conceal; the profile of the lake bottom; submerged plant life. Tournament rules order a selection of man-made baits, like glowing metal ”spinner entices,” minnow shaped lures or ”crank entices,” plastic worms in a rainbow of colours. The fishermen will work many places during the nine hour competition day. Unsettled, a gambler, Martin may determine after only three castings the fish are not biting, and move on. Or he can make one more form. You never understand.
At mid afternoon, spectators gather in the weigh in website as the first of the three flights of contestants start to return. Baths of water mark a line from the pier to the raised weighing stand with its digital scales; the fishermen take the fish in Dacron bags to be counted and quantified; the baths of water help the fish, which must be living, to live for release after weighing. Ray Scott, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, drawls a midway barker’s practiced patter into the mic as the flapping fish are weighed. Rick Clunn adds 11 pounds and 15 ounces to his tournament lead. Larry Nixon raises his lead over Martin for Angler of the Year by 14 pounds.
But where’s Martin? Eyes peek at watches and hunt for his azure and silver boat, his flash of gold hair. Will he be late? The fee 1 pound deducted for every single minute past his deadline would be disastrous.
There! Martin seems, stagnating his glossy, low boat up the hyacinth rimmed canal, with only minutes to save. But wait. Martin continues to be wearing his visor. ”He must be in trouble,” mutters a seasoned observer. ”He is not combing his hair.” Waiting for Martin to get to the considering stand, Nixon says the pressure is ”like having a rattlesnake in your rear pocket and running as quick as possible to stay ahead of it.” For Clunn, the difference between first and second is $22,000.
Martin noses his sharp prowed craft into the pier. He faces for waiting cameras, takes off his visor, combs his hair with his fingers. He removes his fish from their well into a wetted tote and takes them from the boat to the weighing stand. He wants 17 pounds 6 oz to connect Nixon; 19 pounds 5 oz to fit Clunn. He is got seven great fish, but is it enough?
Ray Scott is adoring the suspense. He’s the host of the ”Great American Fishing Game Show.” He tells the crowd Martin could get fish in a wet wagon track. Scott shakes the last drop of water from the basket used for weighing. The crowd presses forward in the heat. Eyes on the scales. The digits flash over Scott’s head: ”19 – 5.” Murmurs a fish off, sudden death; it is happened before. But Martin does a little turn away. Scott tells what Martin already understands. One of Martin’s fish is dead. The punishment, 2 special oz. He’s defeated Nixon for Angler of the Year, but the tournament is Clunn’s.
By morning, Martin has regained his equilibrium. He is happy he won Angler of the Year. He is disappointed he did not win the tournament.
”But listen,” he says, ”I lost a 10 1/2 or 11 pounder yesterday. He was coming right at me, and that is the worst thing which could occur. He shook the lure and there was nothing I could do.”
If anything stays in tournament bass fishing of the sport that Walton idealized, it’s the one that got awa
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