Pattern Fishing Basics
Roland Martin’s Tournament-Winning Tactics
Roland Martin is one lean, never mean, always keen fishing machine. With a record 19 B.A.S.S. wins, the average angler might think that Martin, a true fishing legend, has a secret tournament winning formula he keeps under lock and key. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Martin, named B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year a record nine times during his fishing career. “Nothing I do is really that complicated,” says the tournament veteran. “The reality of my tournament fishing is that I try to keep things as simple as I can and strive to keep some basic things in mind – things any tournament fisherman already knows, but may not remember during the excitement of a fishing tournament.” “The Great American Fisherman,” as he is often called, is also the winningest angler on the professional bass fishing circuits, having won more professional tournaments than any other angler in the history of professional bass fishing, a competitive edge he’s eager to share with others.
At 60, Martin hasn’t slowed one bit. In fact, he’s as competitive as ever and fishes every tournament on two professional circuits that his fast-paced schedule will allow. When it comes to tournament fishing, Martin says the keys to his success are his ability to establish fish-catching patterns, fish efficiently and be versatile on the water. And, he says, any angler can use those same three ingredients to cook up a winning tournament formula.
Establishing a Pattern
Martin is known as the “Father of Pattern Fishing,” a method he defined and refined more than 25 years ago. “A pattern in bass fishing is the exact set of water and cover conditions that attract fish to an exact spot on the lake,” he says. “I try to take a scientific approach to establishing a pattern. I try to analyze every aspect of a lake, including water depth and clarity, water temperature, air temperature, wind direction, cover, structure … every aspect I can put into an equation. “It sounds complicated,” he says, “But really, it’s not.” Martin says he tries a variety of methods to catch his first fish of a tournament as he works to establish a pattern. “I usually start shallow on points early in the day and move to structure later in the day. I try to never pass up a stump or weed bed, because they always seem to hold a fish or two.
“And once I establish a pattern, I immediately look for a second and third pattern because no one pattern seems to work for an entire tournament. So having a second, and ideally, a third pattern is like having insurance,” he says. With three good patterns, Martin says, it’s very hard to lose a tournament. “For example,” he says, “I might spend time working a spinnerbait pattern if there’s a good chance I’ll be fishing some shallow points. And, if I know there are good fish to be caught in, say, the 5- to 10-foot range around docks, trees and brush piles, I’ll work on a pattern there with worms and jigs.
If the tournament is on a lake with deep drop-offs in the 10- to 15- to 20-foot range, I’ll find a pattern using crankbaits or Carolina rigs. “The important thing here is not to rely on any single pattern, says Martin, a member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. “Changes in weather patterns, water levels in lakes and pressure from other anglers can all make any pattern ineffective once the tournament begins. Have a backup plan.”
Learn to fish Efficiently
Most anglers would benefit from working with something they can improve upon during a tournament, says Martin. “You have to fish efficiently to win tournaments,” he says, “You have to build on one technique, then another, then another to win tournaments. “In 1971, I caught 30 bass on 30 bites in a big tournament and won the tournament because I was able to fish more efficiently than any of the other anglers.” What are some ways an angler can be more efficient during a tournament? “Be ready for a strike on every cast,” he says. “Anglers should keep their rods and bodies in a strike position on every cast. If they don’t, they’ll miss fish that do strike. And, missing a fish can mean the difference in cashing a check or going home empty-handed from the tournament.
“You have to put fish in the boat to win a tournament,” he says. “I’m not trying to be funny. That’s just the truth. To win any tournament you have to boat as close to 100% of your bites as possible.” While that may sound elementary, Martin insists it is a much over-looked fact. “You have to do everything possible to get a fish in the boat once it strikes. I try to make sure I boat every fish that bites by sharpening or changing hooks as often as possible. I change my line regularly, sometimes every evening of a tournament. And, I re-tie my knots several times each day, and every time I find a frayed or weak spot in my line.
“Utilize multiple drag settings,” he says. “I use a hard drag when I set the hook and then I loosen the drag when I get the fish near the boat, so if it makes a run it won’t break off because I have the drag set too tightly.”
When Martin travels to tournaments, he takes twelve rods with him. The rods range from ultralight spinning rods to heavy bait casting outfits. “When I’m on the water, I let the conditions dictate what I’m going to do – which rod and reel combination I’m going to fish,” he says. “If I make up my mind to fish only one way and don’t adapt to the conditions, my chances of catching fish, let alone winning a tournament, drop drastically.”
Versatility is an important key to any angler’s success, and the ability to utilize different lures, rods, reels and other gear can make a big difference in how an angler fairs in a tournament, he says. Martin likes to employ several different techniques in each tournament to ensure he has the right ones to catch fish in the most effective manner.
That’s what he means by being versatile. “I might be able to catch several fish on a worm rig during a tournament, but I might find it is much more efficient to fish a spinnerbait because I can catch more fish. You have to be versatile and not be afraid to change your tactics to match whatever conditions you find,” he says.
“The tactics it takes to win a tournament are basic,” Martin says. “And, anglers who try to make things too complicated only find themselves so confused, they end up thinking about everything but catching fish. And that’s not how you win tournaments,” he says. “There’s no secret formula to winning tournaments,” he says. “Establish a pattern, have a backup pattern or two, be ready when a fish strikes, be versatile and be willing to change your tactics as needed, and you’ll win your share of tournaments.”
When OpportunityKnocks….. Open The Door
“When opportunity knocks during a fishing tournament, open the door and invite it in,” says legendary angler Roland Martin. “Many anglers have the ability to read lake contour maps, understand oxygen meter readings and know what a barometer is telling them,” says Martin, who has stood in the B.A.S.S. winner’s circle a record 19 times. “But the angler who doesn’t take advantage of an opportunity isn’t using all of the tools offered to him.” Anglers have to be able to recognize a lucky deal when they see it, he says. “You just can’t pass up luck,” says Martin. “Luck will present itself to an angler in a tournament every day. The angler just has to learn to recognize it and take advantage of it.” Martin says many times he’s been focused on a certain pattern only to see a fish breaking near him that would indicate something different was taking place. “I jump on those opportunities, cast to that fish and many, many times that’s meant the difference in winning and placing in a tournament and finishing out of the money.
“Folks ask me, ‘How did you know those fish were there?'” he says. “I have to tell them I didn’t know they were there, but I just happened to be there when they began breaking the surface and got lucky and caught them. When opportunity presents itself, you can’t say no to it …not if you want to win tournaments.”