By Paul Strege
As seen in…
All photos courtesy of Bass Communications
Every angler has a story…
Pam Martin-Wells, the Women’s Bassmaster Tour’s most accomplished angler of all-time, had a lifelong dream of fishing professionally on the sport’s grandest stage: the Bassmaster Classic. That dream became reality this past February when Pam rolled into the Birmingham-Jefferson Complex in front of thousands of cheering fans. The moment represented a culmination of nearly 25 years of intense dedication and unwavering determination. Women anglers across the country could not have selected a more suitable delegate for their sport. Throughout her career, Pam epitomized success with class. Her soft-spoken and humble nature underscores her career accomplishments. With all her successes, she remains the Pam of old – appreciative of every opportunity she has to enjoy the outdoors.
Along the upper end of the Flint River in Georgia, Jimmie and Pat Martin established a Friday routine of picking up their two daughters from school to spend the weekend together fishing as a family on Lake Seminole. For their youngest daughter, Pam, it was a special family tradition that initially formed her love of the outdoors.
“I tell people that I was destined to be a bass fisherman. Both my parents and grandparents had boats. And, my grandparents fished three days a week until they were 86 years old. So, it has always been in my blood. I can remember one weekend, in particular, when we were fishing bluegill on the beds. My mom, dad, and sister were catching them just as soon as their cork hit the water. For whatever reason, I couldn’t catch a bluegill, but I ended up catching three bass. I was six or seven years old at the time. It was a special memory, and I still have a picture of me holding up those fish.”
Although the Lake Seminole that Pam grew to know lacked the Hydrilla and other forms of aquatic vegetation that are present today, it was still considered an exceptional fishery. In addition to bluegill and largemouth bass, shoal bass populated portions of the Flint River, just upstream of her parents’ house.
“In high school, I would take the family Jon boat upriver and catch Shoal Bass with topwaters, jerkbaits, and other lures. They are a pretty awesome fish – mean, too. If they got as big as a 10 or 12-pound largemouth, you could never land them. I believe the lake record is somewhere around 8 pounds, but it is not uncommon to catch 4 or 5-pounders up there. I had a lot of fun catching them.”
Pam’s parents immersed her in all forms of recreational activities on top of fishing: camping, canoeing, and even motocross racing. School sports, including basketball and softball, served as a structured outlet for Pam to exercise her competitive nature. The desire to excel at an activity was practically a genetic predisposition. Pam’s father was a fixture on the local dirt track, and her granddaddy enjoyed drag racing.
Jimmy Houston Outdoors
When not actually participating in outdoor sports, Pam enjoyed watching weekend fishing programs on television. One of her favorites, Jimmy Houston Outdoors, commonly featured Jimmy’s wife, Chris.
“I watched fishing shows on TV of course, and the Jimmy Houston show was on nearly every weekend. My parents had gone into town to eat supper one night and they came home and said they had met Jimmy and Chris Houston. I was like, ‘No way!’ They said that she was in town for a women’s tournament. So, I went down to Wingate’s Marina later that week and hung out there to observe what was going on. I told the people running the event that I would be fishing the next one.”
The tournament that Pam attended was part of the Bass N Gals circuit. Meeting Chris Houston, tournament workers, and other female competitors inspired her to enter the next event of the series. It would prove to be a difficult undertaking, however. She was 22 years old, did not own a tournament-worthy fishing boat, and had never been outside of her home state of Georgia. But, Pam made the trip and fished every tournament of the circuit from that point forward.
“The first tournament was on Lake Fork, Texas, not too long after it had been opened to the public. It was a relatively new lake. There was standing timber – forests, really, underwater. Compared to Lake Seminole, Fork was very different than what I had been used to. Actually, the woman I drew the first day was from the area, and I remember telling her that I was totally lost. We went so far back in the woods that I didn’t have a clue to where we were.”
Even though Pam caught fish, her competitive nature made it difficult for her to feel comfortable in a situation that was completely foreign to her – a circumstance she could not control.
“My husband will say that I have always got to be in control. I didn’t like the feeling of not knowing where I was at, or what was going on. So that is kind of what prompted me to work towards getting my own boat.”
Bass N Gals
In her second season on the Bass N Gals trail, Pam fished as a boater, running a used Stratos that she purchased the preceding offseason. Then in control, she did well enough to finish in the Top-30 for the year and qualify for the Bass N Gals championship. Pam enjoyed competitive fishing so much that she eventually moved from her parents’
Bainbridge, Georgia home to Texas. She felt the move provided a more central location to the tournament scene. She did not remain a Texas resident for long. After spending approximately four years in Texas, she decided to move back home. The return grounded her lofty expectations that she could instantly make a living at fishing tournaments.
“Starting out it was very difficult. There was many times where I would sleep in my truck or in a tent because I couldn’t afford a motel room. I was in my early twenties, traveling all over the country, fishing for a check. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I discovered that if I go into a tournament with the mindset that I have to make a check, I won’t make a check. In that situation, you put more emphasis on making a check than trying to find or catch more fish. I’ve tried to learn from that.”
After moving back home in 1989, Pam achieved her first tournament victory on Oklahoma’s Tenkiller Lake. The win was worth a fully-rigged Ranger bass boat and provided temporary financial security. She sold the boat on site before traveling back home. It was the first of many future tournament titles she would later earn.
The Bass N Gals tournaments of the late Eighties and early Nineties were typically held Thursdays through Fridays, with weigh-ins scheduled around three o’clock. Although the events were not as popular as the most current Bassmaster Women’s Tour, they still attracted a respectable tournament field and public audience.
“Back then, there was not as much interest in the tournament weigh-ins and things like that, but that probably had more to do with the schedule. The average person was still at work at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. As far as the tournaments go, we averaged somewhere around 100 boats when I first started. Even by today’s standard, that was pretty good.”
When not fishing on the Bass N Gals tournament trail, Pam worked with a friend painting houses. Her job was flexible and it granted her five to six weeks of leave each year to go fishing. To supplement her painting and tournament incomes, Pam also started a guiding business on Lake Seminole.
Throughout the mid- to late- Nineties, Pam was a fixture in women’s fishing. As circuits such as Bass N Gals, WBSA, and WBFA inevitably started, folded, and reemerged under new names and formats, Pam remained steadfast to her unheralded sport. During that period, she qualified for every championship – 18 in total.
Growth in the Sport
Pam’s notability has grown with the sport that she has dedicated her life to. When B.A.S.S. added the Women’s Bassmaster Tour (WBT) in 2005, she quickly established herself as the circuit’s top angler by winning the inaugural event on Lake Lewisville. She followed that victory with an additional eighteen Top-10’s, three wins, a Tour Championship, and an Angler of the Year title. Within the pages of Bassmaster magazine, mainstream bass anglers could not help but recognize the recurring pose of Pam Martin-Wells hoisting a crystal trophy atop the tournament stage. In a sport that was previously without mass-market identity, she had become a recognizable face.
“On my way to a tournament in south Texas one evening, I stopped at an Academy Sports to quick buy some tackle. After I entered the store, a fan that saw my truck and boat in the parking lot, stopped at the store, and ran up and down each isle just to meet me. Right there, that showed me just how far the sport had grown. Someone outside of my hometown, 800 miles away, ran into a store just to shake my hand.”
Parade of Roses
The popularity of the WBT had grown to a point in 2008, that B.A.S.S. allocated a Bassmaster Classic qualification slot for the circuit’s Angler of the Year. In October 2009, Pam won the title and became only the second woman to be invited to the Classic in its storied history.
From the moment she arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, Pam prepared for the 2010 Classic by observing as many of her pretournament rituals as possible. Within the first two hours of championship competition on Lay Lake, her meticulous preparation and ability to compete at fishing’s highest level immediately became apparent to the entire world as she jumped out to an early lead.
“When the ESPN Field Reporter, Robbie Floyd, came over to interview me and told me that I was leading the tournament, I asked him if we could stop the tournament right then!”
Although Pam’s lead eventually faded, she qualified for the final day of competition and finished a respectable 22nd Place. A successful Classic was, from Pam’s vantage point, more than a high position in the final standings.
“It was indescribable. There is really no way to put the feeling of being there into words. On the last day, from the moment when they first pulled me into the arena, through weigh-in, to my exit, fans threw roses into my boat. It was a very humbling experience. It showed me that the public wanted to see women in fishing. All week long, I told people that we were all there for one common goal: to promote our sport.”
Like many other aspiring professional anglers, the pages of Bassmaster magazine shaped Pam’s angling dreams at a young age. Famous fishing personalities, such as Rick Clunn, Roland Martin, and Jimmy Houston, were her childhood heroes. One of the greatest influences in her angling career, however, was the owner of a nearby marina. Jack Wingate, owner of Wingate’s Resort and Marina on Lake Seminole, provided inspiration and guided Pam’s angling development from the beginning. He took a special interest in her fishing adventures and advised her of what she could do to catch more fish.
“Outside of my family, the most inspirational person in my life was Jack. I don’t know exactly how to put it other than Jack has always been Jack, for as long as I’ve known him. If I went out and didn’t catch any fish, first he would tell me what I did wrong and then he would threaten to take my fishing license away. He is just a pretty awesome guy all around.”
Jack Wingate would later become one of Pam’s first sponsors and biggest fans when she started touring. Now, Pam lives less than a quarter-mile from her childhood hangout.
Tournament Support Team
In addition to Wingate’s Marina, Pam has assembled a strong, supportive team of sponsors through the years, including Legend Boats, Mercury Marine, Academy Sports, Costa Del Mar, and CastAway Rods among others. Her sponsors, as she attests, play a vital role in her success on the water. Legend Boat Company, for example, goes to extraordinary efforts to support Pam and all their other customers.
“I have been sponsored by different boat companies over the years, but I have never been in a boat that performs the way that Legend does. On top of that, everyone at Legend Boats goes the extra mile. Actually, Dean Smith, one of the owners, drove four hours to meet me with the boat that I had ordered just so that I did not have to drive as far.”
Pam’s greatest supporter, however, continues to be her husband. In 2002, three years before the start of the WBT, Pam Martin married a high school classmate, Steve Wells. Their shared love for the outdoors brought them together, and Pam instantly gained a traveling companion for competition.
“He travels with me and practices with me when tournament rules allow. I can come in after fishing all day and I don’t have to worry about the boat. He does just about everything for me: hooking up the battery charger, checking the oil, putting the cover on – things like that. I don’t even have to worry about those sorts of things. It’s kind of a joke – somewhat of an exaggeration really, but I like to tell it this way – when I come in, if I want to eat pizza, we eat pizza. If I don’t want the TV on, the TV is not on. He is very supportive in those ways. He knows what I’ve got to do, he takes care of the details, and all I have to do is focus on my fishing. I am very fortunate to have him in my life. I couldn’t do it without him.”
When he is not traveling and working as a one-person pit crew for his wife, Steve operates a bass fishing and duck hunting guide service on Lake Seminole. He also owns and operates a boat house and dock construction company on the lake.
Live Your Dreams
With her own support team in place, Pam looks towards the future of women’s fishing with optimism. Although the WBT dissolved upon conclusion of the 2009 season, she anticipates competing on new tours in the future.
“It was disheartening to learn about the WBT ending, but each time a door gets closed, God opens a new one. I’ll be fishing the Central and Southern Opens, so there still is an opportunity to grow my career with B.A.S.S. Also, there is a ladies tournament this May in Kentucky, and those same organizers are working on plans for a tour in 2011.”
With an ultimate goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series, Pam recognizes that she has a daunting task at hand. She tries to keep her future goals in perspective by working towards ones in the near-term.
“I have always been a person that takes things one day at a time. I never expected to even make it to the point that I am at now. I set short-range goals and try to meet those. I can only do what’s now; I can’t change what’s ten years from now, or worry about that. There are no guarantees in this sport. I sign my autograph as “Live Your Dreams”, and that is the principle that I try to live by.”
In addition to qualifying for the Elite Series, Pam intends to continue her work promoting the sport of fishing with people of all demographics.
“If just one person, whether it is a man, woman, or child, sees me walk across the stage and thinks, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ – and that inspires them to get out in the great outdoors and enjoy all that the good Lord has given us, then it is all worthwhile.”
Pam Martin-Wells Achievements:
1986 – Fished first Bass N Gal tournament.
1989 – First Bass N Gal tournament win on Tenkiller Lake, Oklahoma.
1996 – Started fishing FLW Tour as a Professional.
2005 – Inaugural WBT winner, Lake Lewisville, TX.
2007 – Won WBT Championship, Lake Mitchell, AL.
2008 – Runner-up, WBT Championship, Lake Keowee, South Carolina
2009 – WBT Angler of the Year, WBT Championship Runner-Up. Second woman in history to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.
18-time Bass’n Gal, WBSA, and WBFA Classic Qualifier.
4-time WBT Championship Qualifier.
4 Wins, 19 Top-10’s, 1 Bassmaster Classic Qualification, and $307,000 in career B.A.S.S. winnings.
1 Top-10 and $10,000 in career FLW winnings.