Lakecaster Online

The Anatomy of an Icon
By Ed Snyder

8-12-2000, Mid-Lake area, Lake Toledo Bend, TX.

"I grew up in Texas City TX, down in the Galveston Bay area of the Texas Gulf Coast, informed the father, husband, and BASS/Pro, "And hung out with some of the older boys in my neighborhood to learn fishing for the saltwater species. "As I grew up, graduating from Texas City High School, I went to work for the Southwestern Investment Company, and after 3 to 4 years, they transferred me to Lufkin TX. "I was "aghast" at the move and wasn't really enthused about leaving my saltwater fishing where I was used to catching Tarpon up to 150 lbs and huge 800 to 900 lb sharks, "I mean, I lived, breathed and enjoyed saltwater fishing as that was what I did back then, and wasn't exactly thrilled about moving to the East Texas area where I'd be catching "itty-bitty" 3 to 4 lb freshwater bass. "But, the move provided a major career change for me as I moved up to East Texas in 1965, which was also about the same time that Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn were filling up with water.

Snowy Egrets flying over boat ramp waters awash in Lily Pad blooms provided my early morning vista while waiting for my scheduled 7:am meet-up with one of America's bass fishing "icons". And as the final Egret winged from its roost, and upon sipping my last drop of "wake-up", Tommy Martin, and family, arrived at the launch site...... "Perfect timing!

"My sons are very active in sports right now, advised Tommy Martin as he idles his Nitro/Mariner bass-rig out from Carrice Creek's public boat ramp, But between all of their baseball, basketball, and football games we try to spend some "quality" family time together by fishing for "what-ever" is biting.

Their "quality" family fishing time on this trip involved an early morning venture out into the mid-lake area of Toledo Bend, "Where, after a vigorous "Nitro-Run" from the Texas side of the Pendleton Bridge causeway, we throttle down to ease over a deepwater ridge along the Louisiana side of "The Sportsman's Paradise".

After troll-motoring to the edges of the deepwater ridge, Tommy explained the fishing plan to his sons, Blake & Brian, for catching some "camera bass" then turned to filling my notes with some input about his amazing professional fishing career. Spanning some thirty years, from his saltwater shark fishing days to his migration to East Texas to fish for "itty-bitty" bass on Lake Sam Rayburn and Lake Toledo Bend. As Tommy began to unravel his rise to fame, becoming one of America's top Professional bass tournament anglers, as well as an "Icon" for the Bass fishing industry, I would learn some interesting facts about a very interesting individual.

"Well, back in the early days, he began, "When Rayburn was still new, green, and just full of fish, it was nothing to catch 75 to 100 fish a day. This was back when the trees were still green and healthy as it was still difficult to get back into some of the creeks because they were so thick and close together. But we'd just go out of Hanks Creek Marina on the upper end of Rayburn and fish a purple Devil's Horse and just catch fish all day long. "This was when the trees were still thick and green which provided a canopy of shade just about anywhere you wanted to go so we'd catch them all day long on top-water's.
But when winter came along and the water started cooling off into the 50's and they'd stop hitting top-waters, no one knew what to do to catch the bass so we'd just quit fishing.

"About this time, a bunch of fishing guides from Arkansas, one in particular, Ralph Giessow, who later became a real close friend, knew from his experiences on those Arkansas lakes, how to catch deepwater bass. So he began to introduce us to structure fishing for bass as he taught us how to fish the old ponds, creek-channels, and deepwater drop-offs to 25' with jig-n-eels, or jigging spoons and plastic worms. "So, I went over to Broaddus TX, on Rayburn, to meet with Ralph who started teaching me a lot about structure and deepwater fishing. Ralph also began putting pressure on me to start guiding fishing trips, "Then finally in January of 1968, I started my guide service on Rayburn by sculling a little aluminum boat with an 18 horse outboard. "I was really knocked out when Giessow helped me to get a bass boat rigged up with an electric troll-motor and electronic depth sounder, because, back in those days, we here in East Texas, just didn't know anything about those newfangled fishing gadgets. But after training with Ralph, and another well-known Rayburn guide, Marvin Baker, they both helped me to learn and understand the basics to structure fishing for black bass. "I started catching fish, "a lot of fish" and as the word got out we had customers booking with us from all over the country.

It was also in 1968 that I started hearing about bass tournaments which were coming into our area, "and boy" that really began to intrigue and excite me as I had always wanted to compete in a bass tournament ever since the B.A.S.S. -(Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society)- had started up back in August of '67. So I paid my $100 entry fee for fishing a Lake Livingston event where I finished in 30th place and was really excited about getting my entry fee back. Although I was happy to be getting my hundred dollars back I was just really excited about getting a chance to learn a little bit about tournament fishing, such as fighting the time elements and being out there competing against other anglers who were trying to beat you. But it really lit a fire within me and really got me wanting to fish more and more tournaments.

"I remember one guy, Glenn Andrews, catching the most incredible stringer of bass that I had ever seen, at least 50 bass, with most going over 4 lbs, and that was in December! And all of the local anglers, including me, were just in awe as how these guys were catching all of these bass because we had never seen anything like it. Then there were some Lufkin TX, guys, one by the name of "Stinky" Davis, that used to own an insurance company, and another by the name of Ronald Smith, who was the vice-president of Lufkin's 1st National Bank, and I was managing the finance office for Southwestern Investment's, and we all knew and fished together at that time. Meanwhile, in 1967, Toledo Bend was beginning to provide some outstanding fishing, and I remember my first trip to Toledo, which was in November of that year, as we launched at the Pendleton Bridge area out of White's Fish Camp, (which became Bridge Harbor)- and it was so foggy that we couldn't see very far so we just ventured out about 200 yards into the timber and started fishing with chrome red-fins and by noon we'd caught 88 bass, as we had one heck of a time. Such a good time in fact that I bought a little place called Housen Bay Marina and started a guide service on Lake Toledo Bend in 1972. An outdoor writer from back then, Al Eason, used to guide for me, also wrote several articles on the "how to's of structure fishing and was very instrumental in getting the fishing public to notice what Toledo Bend had to offer. As I already knew how to catch deepwater bass from my Rayburn days and was fairly upbeat on my shallow water fishing techniques, which is really more complicated then deepwater angling; my next venture was to learn the sport of tournament fishing. These were the days that Rayburn and Toledo were strictly timber and brush fisheries as the Hydrilla beds didn't start infiltrating the lakes till the late 70's.

Then the combination of hydrilla and flooded timber began to set off a series of lake changes, which really enhanced the sport of bass fishing. This is when the tournaments started coming in as they began to find out about Toledo's superb bass fishing. And the Tournaments really began to help the status of Toledo Bend as a National fishery as the tournaments told what was actually happening on the lake, "I mean, when you have to put your fish in a bag and carry them up to the weigh-in stage, that tournament scale "will" tell the "truth" about what you've been catching -(no hear-says)-. I keep all of the LakeCaster magazines, for example, as I study, and keep records on those old LakeCaster reports and can tell you what area of the lake will produce the winning weight at any given month of the year. In February of 2001 we have a Bassmaster Top-150 circuit coming to Toledo Bend, and I strongly advise that the incoming anglers who've never fished this lake should pick up a LakeCaster to get some idea about what area of the lake to concentrate their fishing techniques on, as this lake is so huge and intimidating that they'll need to pick one area to study and plan their fishing on.

"I decided in 1972 to quit my job at Southwestern Investments and moved to Toledo Bend, where I started guiding and fishing tournaments on a full time basis. In 1973, I won two tournaments, one at Ross Barnett in Mississippi, where I caught 85 to 90 lbs, a huge catch for a three-day event, then went to a night fishing tournament at Sidney Lanier in Georgia and won it too! "So now, in my own mind I'm figuring that I'm getting pretty good and now is the time for me to step up and start fishing against the big boys, such as Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Bobby Murray, Tom Mann, Stan Sloan, and Billy Westmoreland, "Ya-know, all of the fishing hero's that we read about back in those days. "So I registered to fish the BassMaster's circuit, which was considered to be the big league of bass fishing tournaments, "As I signed up to fish all of the 1974 Invitational's.

"My first event was on the St. John's River in Florida, and to say the least, I was pretty intimidated as I have never fished Florida waters and had a terrible practice, but I ended up in 3rd place and said, "WOW", "I can compete against these guys after-all, so I continued on to the next event which was held on one of my home lakes, Lake Sam Rayburn. "Now, I figured that that was going to be an easy win, but instead of winning I finished in 20th place, which may have knocked my confidence down just a hair but it really didn't phase me all that much as I then went up to Beaver Lake in AR, for the next event. "Still very excited about being able to fish & compete against those guys I went up there and fished 3 practice days and never got a bite, not one fish, NADA! "I became "sooo" depressed by that, that if they had given back my entry money I would've just packed up and headed back home to Toledo Bend and gone back to guiding for a living. "But, as luck would have it, they didn't refund entry fees back then and I HAD to fish the event regardless of my depressive attitude. "I remember 1972 Classic Winner, Don Butler, of Okie-Bug tackle, was staying right next door to me, and he told me to bring one of my Super-R's over to see if he couldn't do something to help me out. "So I did and he did, as he took my bait, turned it over and finger nail polished a red strip down the bottom of my bait. "Now, Butler stated to me, this is just what I did back in '73 when I won this event on Beaver Lake. "So, the next day I took my "Butler'd Bait" and went back to fishing, but by 1:pm I still hadn't caught my first bite, but I didn't get frustrated and lose my confidence as I just kept looking for bass like I was still guiding on Toledo by continuing to search for likely places that the bass would be hanging out. "Spotting a cove, I moved to the back of it and started fishing a little bushy rock bar that ran about halfway out into the creek channel. Casting and working that modified Super-R put ten bass in my creel that weighed-in at 23 lbs for a 2nd place lead, and managed to win that event the very next day with 48.5 lbs. "That was a good year for me, Tommy grinned, "as I went on to fish against my fishing hero's at Wheeler Reservoir in Alabama to win the 1974 BASSMaster's Classic.

"This was also the time of my career when fishing tackle company's decided to start paying the professional tournament anglers a fee for representing their products at these major tournament events, "So Tri-lene fishing line offered me a position to start up a Tri-lene fishing team, and I, along with Jimmy Houston, Rickey Green, Roger Moore, and Jack Haines, started the very first "paid" professional bass fishing team back in 1975. "After that, I sold my interests of Housen Bay and moved to the Pendleton Harbor Marina to start guiding as well as to pursue a fulltime career as a touring Bass/Pro on the National B.A.S.S. tour.

"It was while I was at Pendleton Harbor that I met a bunch of guys who later became known as the "Hemphill Gang". As back in those days we probably had the most amazing assembly of fishing guides that included such anglers as Larry Nixon, who later became the all time money winner for Bassmasters, John Torian, John Hall, John Dean, "Bo" Dowden SR, Harold Allen, and a few others who lived and worked their guiding trade here on Lake Toledo Bend. "So, I guess you can say that Toledo Bend became the jumping off place for a whole lot of our National Pro's, informed Tommy, "with what I did back in the 60's is as much like what is happening now with today's rising top Pro's such as Todd Faircloth of Bassmaster Fame, and Carl Svebek III of FLW fame who have used both Toledo Bend, and Sam Rayburn, as their "training lakes" for getting out on the professional trail and making better money then they would've made at a regular job.

"You know, Tommy pointed out, Professional fishing is still not a lucrative sport when compared to the moneys brought in by professional football, golf, or basketball athletes who make between 6 to 8 million a year, "But, a lot of the top professional anglers today are now making anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 a year, which, in most cases, is more money than most industry workers can make in their jobs right now. "Making a living in the outdoors can also keep you in great physical shape, Tommy advised, "as tournament fishing today is a very demanding sport, where physical and mental strength, as well as stamina are a must for being able to be a consistent money-winner on the professional bass tour. "I'm almost 60 years old now, Tommy enlightened, "and I'm still in better shape than most other people of my age group. "But, Tommy pointed out, "even if I kick-over tomorrow I still can say that I did exactly what I wanted to do in life as I did it "my way".

"As a fisherman who wants to become a professional bass angler, I strongly advise that you must be physically fit and mentally "tuff" and confident to be able to do this as it takes tremendous concentration with a highly disciplined and motivated attitude to be able to push yourself as you must never give up on your goals. "Just being able to catch a limit of fish now just isn't good enough anymore as these guys, who fish professional tournaments today, are "tuff" competitors who know how to finesse the weights necessary to win the events that put the "big-money" checks into their pockets. "I know that at my age that I may be coming to the end of my career, Tommy admitted, "But I'm still in good shape and I still plan on winning a few more tournaments before my sun sets....."And just "Maybe", Tommy advised, "my next win may happen for me when the BASSMaster's bring their Top-150 Pro/Am event here to Lake Toledo Bend in February. There has not been a B.A.S.S. event here on Toledo since 1980/1981 season, "And, if my memory serves me correctly, in February of '80 it took 84 lbs to win that tournament as Roland Martin won it from the north end back then, and I finished in 4th place. "Then in November of 1981- I set a new B.A.S.S. record that first day with 35.12 lbs, and I ended up winning that event with over 83 lbs of bass, "which was an outstanding catch of fish for a November tournament. But in February of 2001, there will be some "really good" bass-anglers coming to compete in the BASSMaster Top-150 event, and I don't think a local angler will have any kind of an edge on that event as, those anglers who will be coming from all over the nation, are really tuff competitors and I fully expect that this event will become one of the best tournaments for the BASSMaster's.

Toledo Bend is 180,000 acres of water which has over 1200 miles of structured shoreline to deal with, and the anglers, who'll be coming in to catch a 5 bass per day limit during this four day long tournament, will have to use strategy and good fish management for being able to maintain a good daily weigh-in average. "I mean, you just can't go fishing and clean your holes out on the first day of the tournament to weigh-in a 20 lb sack, Tommy emphasized, "as you'll have to learn to catch and cull just enough weight to keep you at the top of the leader-board for the first two days, then hopefully have enough left in your holes to help you make the top10 cut for the 3rd day, and then have enough left for the final day when you have to go for broke to win it. "That final fourth day of competition is when the top Pro/Angler, who was able to use superior fish management and strategy controls, will go home $100, 000 richer. This is an accumulative weight tournament, Tommy explained, "Where, after the first three days, the top 10 weights will qualify their anglers to fish the 4th and final day of the tournament where the top weight from all four days will then win the tournament. So you really have to be careful on how you manage your fish.

"I'm under the opinion that those who fish from the mid-lake area to the dam will have a good chance to win this Feb/2001 event, Tommy predicted, simply because there's more fish numbers in these areas at that time of year. "The northern areas will have less fish at that time but they will be of better quality with heavier weights. "There may be some controversy about that, but I know there are going to be a bunch of us old hands, who really know this lake, who will be coming back to compete in the Top-150 and hopefully win it. "Pro/Anglers, such as myself, Larry Nixon, "Bo" Dowden SR, Roland Martin, George Cochran, Rick Clunn, Denny Brauer, David Wharton, Lendell Martin JR., and quite a few others, as well as some of the new guns such as Kevin Van Dam, Timmy Horton, Jay Yelas, Gary Klein, and Todd Faircloth, will be "downright" dangerous on Toledo at that time of year, due to the fact that Toledo will be full of spawn laden bass, which will provide some "HUGE" tournament sacks at the BASSMaster top150 event.

"Even though Toledo Bend is now pushing thirty -plus- years of age, Tommy explains, "It really hasn't aged and gone down-hill like most other lakes in it's class, as even though it may never be as good as it was back in its hay-day, it's still a tremendous fishery. "For instance, Tommy pointed out, "The massive Florida restocking program which has just produced Toledo's newest Bass record of 15.32 lbs back in July, or the neatly cut and marked boating lanes that make it much easier for angler navigation. "I think that Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Dept, and the Sabine River Authorities of Louisiana and Texas, who manage this lake, have done an outstanding job in keeping this lake an active and vibrant fishery which will be around for a long, long time.

My recommendation to the up and comers who want to become national tour bass anglers would be to start out fishing the semi-pro circuits such as Anglers Choice, Red Man, EverStart, and such, learn to compete with those on your level first before moving up to the more professional levels. "I mean, when you need to have some surgery done you don't go to someone who has only two or three years experience do you, No, of course not, so my advice would be for those wannabe anglers to get as much experience as possible before moving up to the major leagues to compete against the major leaguers.

"I started my sons fishing when they were still pretty young, advised, Tommy, "but I never pushed, or forced them, but mostly just encouraged them to go. Such as taking them in the spring of the year when the rattle trap bite was on and you can catch a lot of fish. "I'm probably NOT the best teacher for them though, Tommy advised, as I'm a strong competitor and probably expect too much of their attention when it comes to teaching. So some friends of mine like Larry Pucket, and Jimmy Kemp who've fished with them some. But we enjoy fishing together, and we enjoy hunting together as well as we all like to spend some quality time in the great outdoors. Both Blake, my oldest, and Brian already excel in sports as they enjoy baseball, basketball, and football and they really love it and will become tremendous athletes who will probably get some sports related college scholarships as well.

"Blake, 15 years old now, really enjoys attending Hemphill High School where he plays football, baseball, basketball, and runs track. "I really enjoy being with my dad, Blake grins, "As his a professional fisherman status has everyone at school always talking about him, and I think that's really "cool". "I also have a chance to meet and fish with the other professional anglers, and that's really cool too. Such as when we went up to Lake St. Clair in Michigan and fished for small-mouth bass. "Man, that was fun, Blake excited, as he explained that they must've caught over 100 fish per day. And not long after that trip we went up to the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri, where we went on a float-fishing trip down the Kings River with National Pro, Stacey King, to catch some Kentucky spotted bass, small-mouth bass, and large-mouth bass.

"Brian, 13 years old, presently attends Hemphill High Middle School. "I love to fish with my dad as we have some ponds and stuff to fish on, Brian explains, "And I really love living on Toledo Bend Lake as it's a really cool place to be, "But I also like my school very much as I really get into the sports. "I'm also a straight "A" student, Brian informs with broad grin, "Further explaining that he also enjoyed hunting with his dad where he bagged a nine point buck.

In the backlight of my interview with Blake and Brian was the ever present smile of their proud father and Bass Fishing "Icon" -Tommy Martin. For your personal interview contact "Tommy Martin's Guide Service" at (409)-625-4792- for a bass-fishing trip on either Lake Sam Rayburn or Toledo Bend Lake "-when available-' $300 for two people for a 10 hour fishing-trip.

Tommy Martin's Sponsors: Tracker Marine, Nitro Boats, Bass Pro Shop Rod & Reels, Bill Lewis Rattle Trap Lures, Lonnie Stanley of Stanley Jigs & Spinner Baits, Berkley Tri-lene Fishing Lines, Mustad Hooks, Zoom Soft Plastics, Big Foot Products, and Chevrolet, "and" Sheilah, Blake, & Brian Martin.

Tommy Martin Bio: (Tommy Martin belongs to a very select group of anglers who have won the Bassmaster World Classic on their very first try such as what Tommy did in 1974)-
(Married with two children)-Hobbies-(Hunting)-Favorite Tech: (Deepwater Jigging)-Career Winnings: -($556,926)- Average Winnings Per-Tournament Event-($2,263)- Cash Winnings-($374,726)- Total Tournaments Entered-(253)- Total Weights Caught-(6,069 -lbs)-Bassmaster Classic Qualifications-(18)-Bassmaster Classic Wins-(1974-Wheeler Lake, Alabama)-Number of Times in the Money-(133)-Percentage-(53 %)-Number of First Place Finishes-(5)-Number of 2nd Place Finishes-(6)-Number of 3rd Place Finishes-(7)-Number of Finishes in the Top-10-(42)-Number of Finishes in the Top-20-(71)-Prize Bonus Winnings-($184,000)-Cash Bonus Winnings-($8,200)-First BASSMaster Tournament fished-(1974-Florida Invitaional)-Last BASSMaster event fished-(Still Going Strong)-

Tommy Martin & Sons enjoying some "Quality" family time

Blake Martin learned his lesson well on landing Dads bass
< photos by Ed Snyder >

and early morning image of Father & Son heading out on Big "T"

from left to right- Brian, Blake, Tommy Martin

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