Pam Martin-Wells casts a spell
When Pam Martin-Wells and her sister were in elementary school, their parents would pick them up from school on Friday afternoons and head out.
As in, way out to the middle of Georgia's Lake Seminole, where they would spend weekends fishing and camping.
"From very early on, it was my love," Martin-Wells said.
But how could that little girl have known then that she would be able to make a living, build a career, from that thing that she loved to do most?
Martin-Wells is the most accomplished female bass angler of all time. She is the sport's winningest female competitor and the only woman to reach the top 25 in the annual Bassmaster Classic, against a field of the top male competitors in the world.
Martin-Wells is the women's tour's all-time leading money winner, a five-time Angler of the Year and has been inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame.
The native of Bainbridge, Ga., was headed down a more traditional sports route as a kid, playing basketball and softball, and competing in motocross racing until she was 22, when an injury forced her off the bike.
"I loved motocross and I was very good at it, but the older you get, the harder those falls get," Martin-Wells, 50, said. "I injured my elbow and the doctors told me that I would need massive surgery if I didn't quit. It was like fishing for me, I'd grown up doing it. I got my first minibike when I was 6. I'd been doing those two things forever."
Not long after her forced retirement from racing in 1986, Martin-Wells stumbled upon a women's angling event on the now-defunct Bass N' Gals Tour at a lake near her home. She went down to watch.
"I was intrigued by the thought that I could do something I enjoy and still be able to compete," Martin-Wells said.
And the girl who had never left the state of Georgia entered herself in every tournament for the rest of the year.
It was a humble beginning. She was working as a house painter with a friend and taking time off to compete. But she began to win, and prize money and sponsorships started to make it easier. It took her 10 years to fish in her first event as a professional.
"It's not easy to make a living fishing," Martin-Wells said. "But as the years progressed there were more sponsors coming into the tournaments and more money available."
Martin-Wells competed in a dozen events a year -- the season generally runs from January or February to October -- at her competitive peak. She is competing in only six this year on the Lady Bass Anglers Association's Women's Pro Bass Tour.
Martin-Wells' attributes her success to preparation. She is a big researcher: the Internet, magazines, maps, talking to other anglers.
"The more information I have, whether it's weather or water conditions or how the fish are reacting, I use anything I can get my hands on," Martin-Wells said. "But the main thing for me still, is just being out on the water."
Martin-Wells has four wins and 19 top-10 finishes in tour events. In 2010 she became a barrier-breaker, the first woman to make the final-day cut in the Bassmaster Classic, the top event in the country. She finished 22nd in a 51-person field, only the second woman to compete in the event.
She worries a little about pointing out that men have more ample opportunities in the sport than women.
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but given the same opportunity as some of the guys, I'd be right up there with them, there's no doubt in my mind I could compete with them," Martin-Wells said. "I think it's like a lot of other women's sports. It's taken years to get recognized and years to get the sponsorship where it needs to be."
Fishing, Martin-Wells said, is "the least discriminatory sport out there."
"The fish doesn't know who is on the other end of the line," she said.
Martin-Wells is encouraged to see more young women becoming interested in the sport she loves. She wants to see more local events as a starting point for young female anglers.
"Right now it's hard for a 16- or a 17-year-old to go 400 miles for an event," Martin-Wells said. "It's one of the things we are trying to work on."
Martin-Wells, for one, could never have imagined that her love for the outdoors, for sitting on a lake and casting a line, would turn into a career as a pioneer.
"This combines everything that I'm about -- competing and being in the outdoors," Martin-Wells said. "If I could get everybody away from their TVs and outside for two hours, I know I would have them hooked."