In the last few weeks here on the Bass Fishing Archives we’ve talked a lot about Jason Lucas and his contributions to the sport of bass fishing. Lucas didn’t coin the phrase structure fishing – again that was Buck Perry – but he was one of, if not the, first anglers to preach fishing in deep water. Then came Perry in the mid-60s with his spoonplugging technique and the actual advent of the phrase, structure fishing.
Then in the early ‘70s a young blond kid joined the ranks of the Bassmaster tournament circuit and turned it on its ear. He touted fishing patterns and structure and won six of the first 10 Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophies. That angler was none other than Roland Martin.
Roland Martin is sometimes wrongly credited with pattern and structure fishing – again both of those were being done by Lucas and Perry long before Martin came on the scene – but one thing is for sure, Martin took it to a different level than ever before and actually put both on the map. I don’t know why people in the earlier years didn’t pick up on the writings of Lucas and Perry but suffice it to say I’m sure the popularity of bass fishing and Bassmaster Magazine had a lot to do with Roland Martin getting a lot of the credit. For the first time in the history of the sport we had a periodical that came out every two months that was dedicated to catching bass and editor Bob Cobb made sure that we all knew what the hot topic(s) of the professional tournament circuit were.
Recently I was reading the 1973 Bassmaster Fishing Annual and came across an article penned by Roland Martin titled, “New Methods for Structure Bass.” By now no one worth his (or her) weight in Fliptail worms hadn’t heard of structure fishing. But the method that Martin talked about in this piece was groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. First off it talked about placing a depthfinder on the front of the boat – transducer affixed to the shaft of the trolling motor – and keeping it on all day. Martin’s reasoning for this was he could pinpoint subtle changes in the bottom structure, something we’d today call, the spot within the spot.
The second important aspect of the article was his theory of “big bass dispursed on a pattern.” His logic here, and who could argue with him, was that as more and more anglers turned to fishing deep structure, more big bass were caught and their populations were decreasing. No longer could you find hoards of big fish spread over big areas of the lake. Instead these big fish still existed but in smaller schools and much smaller areas. It was his thought that if the angler could locate a dozen or more spots as mentioned he would have the best chance of doing well in competition. The problem with this is that standard fishing methods weren’t efficient enough to allow the angler to find that many areas to last in a 3-day tournament. Therefore he adapted and used techniques that could be fished fast in deep water effectively. This may seem logical today but back then this was a totally new train of thought.
In order to do this Martin had to first find out what depth the fish were holding at. He did this either by asking a reputable source or finding them on his own. Once he’d confirmed the best depth, he utilized two different baits presented in the same manner. First was the 3-inch grub rigged on a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce ball head and second was the spoon. Both of these baits he fished vertically over structure – fast. His theory was there was always one fish in the school that was more than willing to eat the fast moving bait and tip the school off.
By covering enough water and with the aid of marker buoys, a topo map and his bow-mounted depthfinder, he felt he could locate enough of these small areas in three to five days of practice to last an entire tournament. From his results on The Trail, I would say he was right.
Along with his deep water, vertical-jigging technique he also elaborated on his daily fishing rituals and the importance of having more than one pattern. He’d fish shallow from sun up to about 9:00 in the morning and then switch to deeper areas near the shallow morning feeding grounds. He’d concentrate on this until around 11:00 am and then he’d go out to his deep-water structure, where he’d do most of his damage. He always had patterns to fish depending on the time of day and conditions – something that seems so blasé today we barely talk about it anymore. Back in the early 70s and even into the 80s, this was the way to succeed on the water.
As I said before, Roland Martin may not have invented deep water fishing or patterning bass but he sure was the guy to firmly place it on the map and explain it in more depth than any other figure before him.