Tackling the Test of Time

Go-to lures that have produced for Tommy Martin since the 70's

Photo of Tommy Martin

Even at 71, Tommy Martin is full speed ahead.

Originally a saltwater angler, Martin was transferred away from the Texas coast, but fortunately to a bass fishing mecca. At 30, he took to freshwater fishing and learned, growing in the “stone ages” of bass fishing to become one of its icons.

From his home in Hemphill, Texas, he honed his skills on the renowned fisheries of Toledo Bend to the East and Sam Rayburn to the West, and became a fierce competitor.

Photo of Tommy Martin in 1974 with his Bassmaster Classic trophy

Although best-known from his 1974 Bassmaster Classic victory, Martin’s legendary status includes four other B.A.S.S. victories and 19 Classic appearances, including a run of 14 consecutive. Martin finished six Classics in the top 5 and was twice runner-up for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. The Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inducted him in 2003.

Anglers who have credited Martin for helping their careers include four-time Classic winners Rick Clunn and Kevin VanDam.

Photo of Tommy Martin holding up two bass at a Bassmaster weigh-in

Martin has had success on other tours like the FLW, but of late has been fishing the Bassmaster Opens, not so much for the Classic berth that comes with a victory, but because he likes to fish B.A.S.S. He recently just missed qualifying for his 20th Classic, taking second on Table Rock, but he finished fourth in the Central Open points standings against a field of around 130.

Sharing his knowledge of catching bass is something he imparts with passion, and he’s opening his tackle box to show the short list of lures that helped make his lengthy career successful.

Martin prefaces his lure descriptions with the fact that many of the companies have changed hands, or names, or are no longer in business.

“We didn’t have near the selection of baits we have today,” he said, adding that he wished he had vaulted some away. “I just didn’t’ do it -- neither did anybody else. If it was a good bait, I probably threw it in the next tournament.”   

Tommy Martin's Tackle Box

Photo of  Tommy Martin's tacklebox

1) Black and blue half-ounce jig with black and blue trailer
This jig has been in part responsible for 15 of Martin’s victories, including the 1981 B.A.S.S. Texas Invitational on Toledo Bend Reservoir. Running out of his hometown of Hemphill, he totaled 81 pounds of bass from willow trees over three days. “I was the only angler here to have a 7-bass limit with 35 pounds, 2 ounces, a record for the biggest string of bass ever caught at the time. That record stood for some time.”

2) Rebel Super R and Deep Wee R in crawfish brown with orange belly
Martin threw these two Rebel crankbaits to win on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake in 1974 to qualify for the Classic, catching almost 90 percent of his fish on the Super R and the rest on the smaller Deep Wee R. “Those were two baits that were real dominant when I started bass tournaments,” he said. “I used them a lot when I just getting starting in the sport, of course the sport was just getting started.” Martin said when he played out a spot with the Super R, he’d switch to the Deep Wee R and catch a few more. “When it got tough, I’d go to the smaller bait. I caught a lot of fish on both.”

3) Rat-L-Trap in red shad
For getting under aquatic vegetation in the flat Texas lakes, Martin swears by the lure Bill Lewis created there in the 1970s. “Everybody who fished tournaments has a whole box of these,” Martin said. “Those originated on the lake I live on, and even today, we’re still catching a lot of fish on the Rat-L-Trap.” Martin has used the lure to unparalleled success on both Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn. “You just catch a lot of big ones on those.”

4) Half-ounce willow-leaf spinnerbait in chartreuse and white
Spinnerbaits are in most anglers’ arsenal, and Martin said a willow-leaf spinnerbait in chartreuse and white is what he would use “99 percent of the time.” This lure helped him finish second in the 1985 Classic to Jack Chancellor and his Do-Nothing worm. “We’re still going strong with spinnerbaits today,” he said.

5) Zoom Trick Worm
No tackle box is complete without some sort of worm, Martin says, so his includes Zoom plastic Trick Worms. “It has been key for me in the last 15 years since Zoom has been in business,” he said, adding that the green pumpkin or watermelon candy colors have brought him a number of high finishes and were “instrumental in getting me in a lot of Classics. Wherever we travel, those work.”

6) Bagley Balsa B3
Oh, for one of Jim Bagley’s famous crankbaits. Martin had two with him when the 1974 Classic qualifiers packed up their allotment of five rods and 10 pounds of tackle before flying to the unknown locale. On Alabama’s Wheeler Lake, he broke the bill on one, couldn’t fix it and was “sweating blood” that the other would hold out. It did, and he rode it to victory in bass fishing’s greatest venue. “We’d only get 10 pounds of tackle and Ray Scott would keep lures if you were over,” Martin said. “You had to have lures that could work in a lot of places. You just had to be careful to cover yourself.” The B3 did then, and still does today.

7) Black and blue ¾ -ounce jig with black and blue trailer
The larger jig of the same colors has been big for Martin when he’s needed to punch through hydrilla grass and the like. Specifically, he used it to beat Hemphill Gang cohort Larry Nixon as they went a short ways West to Sam Rayburn Reservoir for the 1983 Texas Invitational. “I’ve had a lot of success with it as well,” he said.