A tour with a legend
Each year about this time, I embark on a trip to visit 2-3 Bass Pro stores in a weekend to meet fans of our show and give a talk on the type of fishing that I do. This year has been exceptionally busy so when my contact at Bass Pro sent an email with travel details, I only looked at the flight information. It was not until the day before the trip that I really looked closely at what I was going to do.
Bass Pro decided that they would send Rich and I to different locations to help spread the Pro Staff around the country. I knew that I would be traveling to 3 stores that I had not been to and would be doing so alone. When I opened the travel document attached to the email, I noticed that I would fly into Mobile, Al, do a seminar/store appearance there from 5-9 pm, drive to Denham Springs, LA for a seminar/store appearance from 12-5 pm on Saturday and then drive back through Mobile, AL to Destin, FL for another appearance from 12-5 pm on Sunday. I would have to race to the airport to make a 4:30 flight.
I pulled up the locations on my map and calculated the distances. It was going to be a 3-3.5 hour drive from Mobile to Denham Springs and a 7 hour drive from Denham Springs to Destin. I went straight to iTunes and bought a couple of movies and some music to help pass the time.
When I arrived at Mobile, I was greeted by a welcoming staff and there were lots of fans of the show already at the store. On the way in, I picked up a Spring Fishing Classic newspaper which detailed the pro appearances, seminar times, and the hefty sales that Bass Pro was having during the weekend. I noticed that I would be doing seminars with Roland Martin in Mobile and I was excited to see him. Over the years, I have met Roland several times at Icast shows and other places, but I have never really spent very much time with him. As a touring fishing pro, you meet pretty much all the other touring professionals at one time or another and I have had the great pleasure to get to know a few of them well and enjoy time with several others.
Just because I make my living fishing in saltwater now, doesn't mean that I don't follow or appreciate freshwater fishing. I grew up in Tennessee and watched the Bassmasters back when the "Kid from Kalamazoo" had yet to grow up to be the "Man from Michigan" (Kevin Van Dam, of course). I watched Bill Dance every weekend, Orlando Wilson, Hank Parker, Jerry McKinnis and of course, Roland Martin. Just like all the other kids, I listened to everything these guys had to say and then went to the store to buy the lure and use it in my neighborhood lake or golf course pond, always dreaming with great passion, that the next bite would be a 7 pounder just like the one Bill Dance caught on TV.
While developing our sponsor pool, we formed relationships with companies like Quantum, Lowrance, Mercury and Strike King, all of which had big name Bass Guys as the face of their company. At each event, I would look forward to meeting these guys and I have to admit now that the butterflies showed up in my stomach before meeting them. To me, these were my childhood heroes. I watched sports, but mostly I watched fishing and these were the greats. It wasn't long before I would begin to fish with some of the well known Bass guys and in fact, launch my television career with one of the best.
Shaw Grigsby called me one day and asked me if I would like to do his show, One More Cast. Shaw wanted to catch Barracuda on surface lures and had heard that I could do that. I agreed and looked forward to the opportunity.
When the day finally arrived, Shaw pulled up in a van with a giant Quantum sticker and a giant skiff. I loved the entire process of making a show but could not believe how much more difficult it was than I had imagined. We made a great show and when it aired, my phone rang constantly for 2 weeks!
Shaw and I went on to make 4 more shows together and he acted as a mentor to field questions and help us get started in television. Shaw even helped with sponsorship and introduced us to the Quantum guys as well as Strike King. He went a step further and loaned us his production team in order to film our pilot. Without him, we would never have gotten off the ground. (Thank you, Shaw)
So when I saw Roland Martin walk into Bass Pro Shops, I walked up and shook his hand. I was given a microphone and told to do a seminar, Roland would follow. There were tons of people at the Mobile location and I had great response with lots of questions and autographs afterward. I stayed near the stage while talking to the fans but also listened to what Roland had to say during his seminar.
When we were done, I began talking to Roland and he mentioned his crazy travel schedule, which matched mine exactly. I asked him if he would want to ride to Denham Springs together and he said that he would like that. Neither one of us wanted to drive 10 hours alone so we set a time to meet in the lobby the next morning.
We had breakfast and began to talk about all types of fishing. As with most of my fishing friends, there is rarely a quiet moment as each story tends to remind you of another and time is spent exchanging stories and information. Roland was no exception. As a television personality and more importantly as a guide for many years, Roland is a great communicator. He has lifetimes of experience in the outdoors and can effectively tell stories that are educational and sometimes resulted in me laughing so hard that I almost cried. We talked a little business, but mostly we talked fishing. When the fishing stories slowed down, we. Realized that we both share a love for turkey hunting and the conversation and stories ramped back to a fevered pitch.
Roland was funny, and it takes alot for me to say that about someone. I would actually say that being funny is one of the most important traits among anyone that I am going to spend any time with. In fact, I have been referred alot of cameramen and editors in the last few years. People will go on and on about their technical skills and what equipment they choose. Once they have finished and are sure that they have impressed me, I ask one simple question..."all that is great, but is he funny at all?"
Roland was funny and before I knew it we were pulling into the Denham Springs Bass Pro Shop. You would think that the stories would stop there, but they didnt, he told more and more stories in bettween autograph requests. He told me stories, then he told the fans stories. He has alot of stories.
After the seminar, we made our way for the door but were stopped about every 10 feet for another autograph request. Roland never turned down anyone.
Upon making it to the car, we headed back. There was not a moment of silence as we exchanged stories for 3 more hours. It was obvious that I had found someone who shared my passion for the outdoors. In fact, looking back on the whole weekend. I was impressed with a number of things about Roland, but none more than that after making his living in the outdoors for 50 years, he still loved fishing and hunting with a passion.
I told Roland about the group of fans that wanted to come into the set of our interviews because they wanted an autograph and a picture. This happens all the time and we are fine with it, but this occasion was memorable because the guys were thrilled to see us, but said that their friend would be so excited to meet us because he was the real fisherman of the group.
One of the guys took off to get their friend and a few minutes later, a wide eyed man walked in as his friend brought him up to meet us. The guy looked around like someone was playing a joke on him and said "That aint Roland Martin" and walked out. We laughed and it, of course reminded him of another story.
That night we went to dinner at Felix's in Mobile and told more stories and talked about the nuances of kite fishing for tarpon and wondered if you could make it work for bass. I laughed, because that is exactly the way I think all the time!
We finished dinner, met in the lobby to head to Destin on Sunday morning and finished up the trip with a great crowd. I had to run to the airport, so I said a quick goodbye to Roland knowing that we will fish together fairly soon in fresh or saltwater either with of without cameras.
My time with Roland was fun. I can say the same about the time I have spent with Bill Dance and Shaw Grigsby. These guys have made it on television for 40 years and are beloved celebrities among outdoorsman. They have fished with Presidents, Kings, Celebrities, sports stars...you name it. But in each case, as I have found, they dont do it for any other reason than the fact that they love what they do and that is why it works.
I look to Roland and Bill as mentors now and dont have any butterflies in my stomach. When the phone rings and the caller ID says "Bill Dance" I simply know that I am in for a long and funny phone call.
I just hope that my television career can be as long and successful as theirs has been. After spending time with them both, I know that I have the most important part of the recipe for success already, an unequivocal love for the outdoors and a supreme respect for the resource and the other sportsmen like me.
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