WBT championship, this time, it's for real

Some day years from now, little girls dreaming of becoming pro bass anglers will check out the list of women who reached the pinnacle of their profession.

Inevitably, one of them will point to the name Pam Martin-Wells and ask, "Who was she?"

Martin-Wells is now the first winner of the Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship, a title that brings $10,000, a Triton bass boat valued at $50,000 and a permanent place in the history of pro fishing.

"There will be more winners. There will be more champions," Martin-Wells said, "but I'll always be the first."

In this case, the last became the first. Martin-Wells was the last of the 12 pro anglers to qualify for the championship but led throughout the three-day event at Lake Mitchell. She took a 4-pound, 8-ounce lead into Saturday's final round and put the finishing touches on her victory with 15 pounds, including two impressive 4½-pound largemouth, that gave her a total of 38-7.

Martin-Wells topped a field of persistent anglers who refused to give up after dramatic weather changes made the fishing difficult on Thursday and Friday.

After eight of the 12 women produced their best round Saturday, Sheri Glasgow finished second with 31-5, Juanita Robinson third at 28-12, Tammie Muse fourth at 25-12 and Cullman's Linda Sands was fifth at 25-5 after catching five bass weighing 9-14 on Saturday.

It was the kind of field that never allowed Martin-Wells to feel too comfortable with her lead. Instead, she placed her confidence in a plan that developed over several weeks. After qualifying she immersed herself into learning all she could about Lake Mitchell and its spotted bass population, a fish she doesn't catch back home on Lake Seminole in Bainbridge, Ga.

She charted lake levels, water temperatures and talked with various guides and experienced anglers, assembling a thick notebook of research that convinced her to use a Carolina rig off points. That plan paid off for 2½ days until Martin-Wells decided she needed a little more help to ensure victory.

"I said, `That spot over there — I haven't fished that. It's calling me,'" Martin-Wells said. "My co-angler looked at me like I was nuts."

Dropping jigs and other soft plastics into heavy grass, Martin-Wells hooked the first of her two largemouth bass. After watching another largemouth chase her lure, she dropped it back in four times before the fish made its move and ended up in her boat.

"I figured maybe now I have a chance," Martin-Wells said.

Now the pros are convinced women's pro bass fishing can succeed at a much higher level. Many of these women have seen the Bass'n Gals and Women's Bass Fishing Association circuits come and go, but they believe this time it's for real.

"I've been fishing professionally for 21 years but with B.A.S.S. and ESPN this would go somewhere," Martin-Wells said. "I knew it would give us some recognition and promote our sponsors in a way they need to be."

Without that recognition, there aren't enough sponsors to support a big-time women's tour. Without that support, there are no women such as Martin-Wells making history, setting the stage for further generations of young women and girls.

"I think this event is going to do a tremendous amount of good for women's fishing," Sands said. "We've been around for years but so many people don't know we're here and there are so many women out there who do fish. This will raise the level of women's fishing."