What are the essentials for a successful tournament bass angler to possess? Is it an extensive collection of lures? The best boat and motor combination? The finest rod and reels money can buy? Perhaps some or all of those depending on who you ask.
This time out, Phoenix Boats pro Aaron Martens was the angler asked about essentials for his tournament fishing success. There were many essentials he needs, but Martens shared the three of his most important for success as a tournament pro.
Grub and drink.
“You’ve got to eat right,” said Martens. “Seriously, hunger messes with your mind. I eat a lot of food. It’s almost all very healthy. Along with that, a lot of fluids. You need to stay properly hydrated and fueled, otherwise your mind wanders and you can’t focus on the tournament.”
“I know that being physically fit is completely essential to my success,” said Martens. “Off-season, I work out daily. During the tournaments, I work out when I can.
“Having the physical ability to stand and fish hard all day without wearing down makes it easier to concentrate and focus on fishing. If you are out of shape, you get tired easier and you wear down. The better shape I’m in, the better I fish.”
“I rely heavily on my Humminbird,” said Martens. “I study the lake thoroughly with it. It really allows me to learn as much as possible about a body of water in as little time as possible.
“I usually go into a tournament without much information about the lake. Using my graph during practice allows me to figure things out. It’s really essential to my success.”
For the next seven months, every cast I make will have a purpose.
Every day on the water, every late night fiddling with tackle, every fish I catch – it’ll all be focused on doing my job on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
That’s why it was so important to me to spend three days on the water before the first Elite event with two of my favorite fishing partners: my mom, Carol, and my older brother Chris. We spent three days fishing Lake Logan Martin and Smith Lake, and even though the fishing was on the tough side, it was an opportunity that doesn’t come around enough these days.
I think most of you know how important my mom has been in my tournament fishing career: She was my tournament partner from the time we fished our first team tournament when I was 14, until I started fishing with friends more when I was 17. We used to fish together three times a week when I was a kid, but life has gotten pretty busy the past six or seven years, so my mom and I get to fish maybe one time a year these days.
MOM’S MEMORIES: LAKE CASTAIC
Every time my mom and I fish together, we talk about fishing memories. Something will remind her of something that happened over 25 years ago, and she’ll start reminding me of details that I’d totally forgotten about.
Like our first tournament together on Lake Castaic, in 1988. Lake Castaic is a 2,400-acre lake north of Los Angeles that used to be this amazing big-bass fishery. It was 100 times better than Lake Falcon – you could catch 100, sometimes 200 fish a day there, and some big ones.
Mom and I had fished for years on “rent-a-boats” on Lake Piru, Casitas, Cachuma, Pyramid and Castaic, fishing for everything from redear to trout to stripers. You could rent these little 14-foot aluminum boats with 9-horsepower motors and a coffee can filled with cement for an anchor, and we had a ball in those boats. When I was 14, though, we went to North Hollywood Marina, got a Ranger 363V with a 150-horse Mercury and entered our first tournament on Castaic.
There were over 150 boats in that tournament, and we did … um … not good. I knew how to catch trout really good, but neither of us knew a thing about bass. We finished in the bottom quarter of the field, basically bombed, but that was our start as a tournament team. We got a lot better pretty fast, and won Angler of the Year honors the next year in the A.B.A. “Super Team,” a three-tournament series on those same lakes.
MOM’S MEMORIES: LAKE CASITAS
My mom likes to remind me of the first really giant bass I ever hooked, on Lake Casitas, near Santa Barbara. We were fishing 5-pound Maxima, a split shot and a little 2- or 3-inch worm, just dragging this teeny little thing around during the post-spawn. The water was really clear, and you could see all of these 10- and 12-pounders swimming around, and they wouldn’t eat anything!
I fished jigs a lot back then, and I couldn’t get anything to bite a jig, so I’d switched to this little worm on a tiny No. 4 hook. My mom and I both saw this giant fish swim under the boat, and the next thing I can remember, I kinda pulled on it and set the hook, and that fish took off into the trees, with me trying to fight it on 5-pound line.
We chased her with the boat, managed to pull her out into 40-foot of water, away from the bushes, and when she came to the surface, we saw that she was 16, maybe 17 pounds. I’d caught plenty of 9- and 10-pounders, but that fish was by far the biggest I had ever seen.
She ended up swimming 10 feet under the boat, and the line just broke as I was pulling – it was frayed from her teeth.
That was a traumatic story. My mom likes to refer to that fish as “Chucky” because it was so mean.
MOM’S MEMORIES: ‘GROWING PAINS’ ON CALABASAS LAKE
Ask my mom about Calabasas Lake sometime, she’ll have a great story for you. Calabasas is a really wealthy neighborhood between Woodland Hills and Malibu, and I’d sneak in and walk the shorelines of the small lake there. I’d ride my bike down from our house in West Hills, hide it away somewhere, and scramble around the lake, hiding from the security guards.
They’d kick me out all the time. Remember Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains? He lived there, and I’d see him there often. The security guards knew me by then, and Kirk even asked them if they could just leave me alone and let me fish, but they still had to kick me out.
MOM’S MEMORIES: AN AMAZING HOLIDAY BITE
There’s one memory my mom brings up almost every time we fish together, of the best day of fishing she’s ever had. I think it was on Thanksgiving Day on Castaic, and we had a whole canyon completely to ourselves. We caught around 200 fish that day on ice jigs and spoons, basically catching fish on every cast in every direction for like a half a mile.
I think every fish in the lake was in that canyon, and we caught maybe 15 fish over 7 pounds that day. It was a pretty amazing day.
I tell my mom that she should fish at least two times a week, and I take her every chance I get when she visits us in Alabama. She caught some nice spotted bass last week, and even though she and Chris kept telling me “Aaron, you need to fish!” I kinda wanted to spend my time running the boat and watching them catch and hold fish.
It was really cool for me, and yet another great fishing memory made with my mom.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. That’s what I hear almost constantly in the back of my head right now.
No matter how well I’ve used my time in the offseason, I never feel like I have enough hours in the day when it comes to this time of year. Every time I look at the clock, it seems like a whole day flashed by, but that’s always what it’s like in these final stages of preparing for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic and the Bassmaster Elite Series regular season.
You want to know what I’ve been doing for 12 hours a day for the last two weeks?
I’ve looked through every single compartment of every single box of tackle I plan to bring on the road this season. I’m also: hand tying my jig skirts; making my own shakey heads; hand tying my hair jigs; tying fluorocarbon keepers/bait-holders on all of my hooks – hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.
I try to go through all my tackle, piece by piece. It’s not an easy, pleasant job – the terminal tackle alone takes me like three or four days – and I have to admit, it probably sounds like madness. But for me, it’s necessary madness. There’s no other way for me to function the way I do throughout an eight-month Elite Series season unless I put ridiculous amounts of time into my tackle this time of year.
MY CRITICAL PRESEASON GEAR: A JIG VISE
What is one of my most important pieces of gear this time of year? My jig vise. I use a jig vise a lot. I used to work for a jig company, Ambusher Lures – actually, that was my very first job back in high school – and over the years, I may have tied 10,000 jigs. I’m pretty good with a jig vise, but I spend literally days at a time hunched over that thing.
People may have seen videos over the years of the process I go through in putting keepers/bait holders on my hooks. I cut the keeper off every one of my worm hooks and tie on my own keepers because they hold the head of the worm up the hook better. I used to use the individual wire shafts of brush guards as my keepers, but in the past few years I’ve switched to heavy (45- to 60-pound) fluorocarbon line that I cut into tiny little pieces, pinch over and then tie onto the shank of each hook with a spindle and bobbin loaded with braid.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a total pain, and I go through this process literally hundreds of times. But, I come out of the process with better keepers on all my hooks.
I do surgery on all of my shakey heads, too. I’ll put a shakey head in the vise and cut the stock hook off so there’s still about 1/3 of an inch of the shank left. Next I replace that hook with a Gamakatsu heavy-cover finesse hook, which I use about 90 percent of the time I’m fishing a tournament. I basically attach that hook to the 1/3-inch shank of my original shakey head and come out with the best shakey head you can imagine.
I learned how to do that when I was a kid back in California fishing saltwater a lot. We’d get these jigs that came with crappy cadmium hooks and replace those hooks with good Gamakatsu hooks. I follow that same process I learned 25 years ago with all of my shakey head hooks.
HAIR, FEATHER AND SILICONE, TOO
My hair jigs are pretty basic. I use SPRO jigheads I already have and just make them prettier with a little hair/feather combination. They’re pretty generic, but I add a little accent color here and there – maybe throw in a little chartreuse – and come out with what I think is a pretty good hair jig.
The jig skirts are another story.
I swear, I have 50 pounds of silicone and live-rubber skirt materials in 25 different colors, and some years I go through what seems like 1,000 skirts. Sometimes you can lose 30 of them a day jigging rip rap. In the past, I’ve tied my jig skirts during the season, but I spent several days this winter with my head buried in skirt material, cutting and figuring out precise thicknesses and colors, and then banding all of my skirts.
Making jig skirts is the definition of “not fun,” but I really feel like I’m on top of it this year.
I have a pretty specific reason for spending all this time working on these tiny little details before the season starts: I want to sleep and run more during a tournament week. Last year, I spent way too much time tying skirts during tournaments, and that was part of the reason I’d stay up until 2 a.m. every night working on my tackle.
That clock keeps ticking. I have plenty more to do before I leave home and head to Oklahoma for the Classic. I better get back to it!
The recent pleasant weather has anglers thinking about hitting the lake. For some, it may have been a few months since the old bass boat has seen the sunlight. However, now might be a good time for some early spring cleaning and organizing some fishing tackle.
Nothing is more frustrating to anglers than being on the lake and digging through a boat load of lures to find the perfect one. It’s not that you don’t have it. It’s just not handy and precious fishing time is slipping by. Anglers can take a little time now to get all of their fishing tackle prepared and properly organized.
Professional tournament anglers have learned a few tricks over the years to keep their tackle at the ready. The pros carry a ton of lures, baits and gear, but not all of it in their boat. They don’t like to waste valuable fishing time digging around in boat lockers for one lure.
Leave some behind
Most anglers know the season, lake and water they will be fishing. Certain times of the season may dictate the general types of lures that will be needed.
It is a sure bet that a winter trip to a mountain lake with water temperatures in the 45 degree range, topwater lures are probably not on the menu.
“I don’t carry all of my lures in my boat,” said B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Aaron Martens of Leeds. “I’ll leave some of my baits in my truck or back at the hotel.”
Martens said he usually has an idea of what the fish will be hitting before a tournament begins. He won’t carry a 100 crankbaits in his boat. He generally narrows his selection down to a couple of lures in a few proven colors. This applies to hard baits. For soft plastics he will have on hand enough for a day’s fishing.
Over the years, Martens has learned not to take every lure he owns out on the water. He said a couple of things can happen. One, you get to searching through all the lures looking for a special bait. Two, you waste fishing time looking for lures that are not where you thought they were.
Lure storage boxes
Martens has taken some ribbing from fellow competitors about his obsession with tackle organization. They may razz him if they want, but Martens won two Elite events and AOY in 2015. His tackle prep must be working for him.
In tournament situations Martens has to be efficient in every aspect of the game. A critical area is tackle organization. One way he does this is with modular style plastic storage boxes. There are many different style and types of plastic storage boxes available to anglers at any level.
“For some lures I’ll have smaller boxes inside larger boxes,” Martens said. “This makes it much quicker for me to select a specific box for a lure.”
All of Martens tackle storage boxes are labeled. He knows exactly what lures and colors are in each box. The modular box system works great for Martens. He can place the right boxes in his boat for each trip. If there is something he needs, he can always go back to his truck.
One example of Martens’ storage system is with terminal tackle. He will put tungsten weights in a small box. Hooks in another and jig heads in another.
The smaller boxes are placed inside a larger box. During a tournament, Martens only has to grab one box and everything is handy.
Martens stores soft plastic lures by type and shape. With this system he has to only grab one box when searching for specific bait. Some anglers place the small bags inside larger bags. But, Martens said it can take extra time digging through all of those bags, especially during a tournament.
Some of the newer storage boxes, like the ones made by Plano, have shallower compartments. The slimmer boxes are about one inch deep, perfect for crankbaits. With the thinner sections, single baits can be placed in each slot. This will prevent lures form tangling.
“By tournament time, I have narrowed down my lure selections,” Martens said. “I only grab the tackle boxes I need so I have the lures I need usually in one compartment.”
Anglers can devise their own tackle storage system to fit their style and type of fishing. Martens said the more tackle you carry in your boat the more time it takes to find the lure you want. Also, the extra weight can decrease boat performance.
Gear up, gear down
Rods and reels are another factor in the tackle planning situation. Having too many rod and reel combos on the deck can cause interference during a tournament. It is wise to have just a couple of extra rods rigged and ready, as too many can get tangled and clutter the front deck.
“I like to keep only a couple of rods rigged on the deck,” said Martens. “If you get too many you begin to think of a different bait instead of concentrating on fishing.”
Martens may take 30 or more rods to a tournament, but when the competition begins, he has only five or six rods on the deck. He does keep other rods rigged but in the rod locker. The rods he knows he won’t be using he will leave in his truck or hotel room.
Depending on the lake and the fish, Martens may use exclusively baitcasting or spinning gear. In some situations he will have both types rigged and on deck. Generally he will have another rod rigged and ready with the same type lure he is fishing.
“I’ll arrange my rods and my tackle where I can have quick access,” Martens said. “The lure boxes I’m most likely to use in a tournament will be on top.”
Martens is obsessed with his lures and tackle. He will spend hours before each event organizing and arranging his tackle. He has a system that works for him. The only changes he will make is to be more efficient on the water in grabbing the exact lure he wants.
At the end of every day on the water, a tournament angler charges his batteries. Ater ffinishing up the Bassmaster Elite Series season plus a few other tournaments here and there, it’s time to get back to normal family life and to recharge my batteries.
I don’t get tired of fishing tournaments or working with my sponsors — a lot of that goes on all year long — but after the final Elite event and before the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, it’s great to have a little time to be off the road and not have to think about things like campground reservations, packing for another event or coping with tough weather. No matter how much you love something, it’s nice if you don’t have to do it all the time.
Recharging my body is pretty easy because I exercise and eat right all year long. Recharging my soul requires my wife Lesley and my kids, Jordan and Spencer. Getting back in the groove of family life at home is the best part of the off-season. It’s great to be a stay-at-home dad for a few months and go to kids’ soccer games or running with Lesley — even though she says she’s faster than me.
Running is a big part of my off-season. I probably run at least six or seven hours per week, plus I stay really active doing push-ups, pull-ups and stuff with the kids.
Running helps me get in the right frame of mind. It not only helps to keep me in shape, but it’s a great outlet for my competitiveness. I love to compete, and when there are no bass tournaments, I use running to fill that void.
Lesley and I compete in a lot of 5K and 10K races. I usually do pretty well, and the last time we raced Lesley won her age group. I finished about 12 or 13 seconds behind her, so maybe she is faster than me … that time anyway.
And even though it’s the off-season, I still go fishing. But when I fish in the off-season, it’s different. There’s no pressure, and I go with my family whenever I can.
I always fish hard, and try to catch just as many fish as if I’m in a tournament. But when I’m fishing in the off-season I keep it fun, and I try to use the time to learn new baits and techniques. It’s tough to do that during the season. There’s just no time; I have to focus on what it’s going to take to be successful. I can’t use the time to gamble on a lure or method with which I’m not completely comfortable and familiar. The off-season is the time for that, so I do a lot of experimenting and learning.
I fish a little differently in the off-season, too. I fish faster and cover more water. I usually leave my drop shot outfits at home.
You may have heard this, but I don’t like to drop shot. I like to throw moving baits and fish fast. Drop shotting is work for me. I do it in competition, but when I’m fishing for fun, there’s probably not a drop shot rod in my boat. Surprised?
Of course, when you need it, there aren’t many techniques for catching bass that are better than drop shotting. I’d just rather do something else.
Of course, the off-season involves a lot of work, too. It takes a lot of preparation to get ready for the Classic and the next season. We’ll cover some of that next time.
Aaron Martens was getting his tail kicked by an elf on Michigan’s Mullett Lake the week before he slept late and went home early with the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title at Lake St. Clair.
A small business owner from tiny Dawson, Ga., Scott Gilley, who is as unfamiliar with smallmouth bass waters as you’d expect a south Georgia boy to be, was whipping both Martens and another south Georgia (Albany) elf named Joe Durham. Gilley was enjoying every second of it, particularly the smallmouth bass blitz he was dropping on Martens.
“We talk a lot of trash to Aaron,” Gilley said of himself and Durham, who are not tiny men. Elf explanation to come. “We give him a ton of grief. We tell him we’re his mental coaches.
“I’d caught eight or 10 bass before they’d caught one. I said (to Martens), ‘I’m beating your ass, worm-to-worm.’ We were throwing within 5 to 10 feet of each other.”
That’s when a tiny detail caught Martens’ eye, and he said to Gilley, “Bro, who taught you to rig your worm like that?”
If you know Martens, you know he said it exactly in those words: “Bro, who taught you to rig your worm like that?”
All three anglers were drop-shotting wacky-rigged Roboworms in the same color pattern.
“Same worm, same rod, same everything,” Martens said. “He was rigging the worm funny. I’m like, ‘That’s a funny way to rig it.’”
“‘It’s a wacky rig,’” Gilley said.
“Uh, no, not really,” Martens said. “That’s something different. He had me and Joe like 5-to-1. I’d never had a guy do that to me smallmouth fishing.”
(Note: Yes, this writer noticed the discrepancy between how bad Gilley said he was kicking Martens’ and Durham’s tails, and how much less severely Martens said their tails were being kicked. This issue shall remain unresolved. Choose the “facts” you like best. It’s a fishing story.)
Martens’ runaway success this year while clinching the Angler of the Year title before the AOY Championship event would indicate that little escapes his sharp eyes and inquisitive mind. This fishing trip among friends serves as one more interesting example.
Martens noticed that instead of the traditional wacky style, where the hook is placed near the balance point of the worm, below the egg sack, Gilley was inserting his hook above the egg sack, nearer the head of the worm. In essence, Gilley was sticking the middle ground between a nose-hooked bait and a wacky-hooked bait.
“Aaron changed and immediately started catching fish. Joe did too,” Gilley recalled.
We’re talking about the difference in maybe a half-inch in the hook insertion point on a soft-plastic finesse bait, and Martens noticed it. Even more impressive, instead of dismissing it as blind luck with a mistake-rigged lure by a self-described “weekend angler,” Martens kept his brain engaged, looking for clues as if it were Kevin VanDam, not Scott Gilley, out-fishing him.
“That’s what is amazing to me,” said Gilley, who fished as an FLW co-angler one season and still competes in local events. “I bet a thousand other high-level fishermen wouldn’t have noticed that.
“And he learned something. He always learns something when he’s on the water. He loves fishing more than any other human being I’ve ever seen. I think that’s what separates him from the rest. He’s not fishing for a check. He’s fishing for the love of fishing.”
Now, about the reference to both Gilley and Durham as elves: Properly addressed, they are “ELF,” an acronym for Esquire Legal Funding. Durham is an attorney who does some legal work for Martens. Here’s Gilley’s explanation of ELF: “Venture capitalists in unconventional financing.”
When anyone asks about the small blue “ELF” logo on Martens’ Phoenix Bass Boat, “We told Aaron he’s supposed to say, ‘People helping people,’” Gilley explained, sort of. ELF is one of Martens’ sponsors.
How this whole ELF thing got started is another testament to Aaron Martens being, well, Aaron Martens. The friendship between Durham, Gilley and Martens began with Durham and Gilley buying a fishing trip with Martens in a charity fundraiser.
“Joe asked me one day what I’d pay to fish with Aaron Martens,” Gilley recalled. “I said I’d pay a thousand dollars. Joe said we’re going to do it then. I figured it would be about a four- or five-hour deal. But that’s the thing about Aaron – he always fishes like he’s never going to fish again.
“What started as a way to advance our fishing skills became a genuine friendship.”
It’s a relatively recent friendship. That first fishing trip occurred in May 2012. A year later, Martens won his second career AOY title with a final-tournament, come-from-behind rally. With the 2015 victory, Martens has now won three AOY titles – two in the 3 1/2 years the three men have known each other.“
We tell him his career really turned around the year he met us,” laughed Gilley.
Aaron Martens may be the banana-eating-est bass angler in the world. He put two in the boat with him every Elite Series tournament day this season, and always starts each day with at least one, blended in a nutrition shake or eaten the old-fashioned way as he exits his camper to go fishing.
Yeah, turned around to the extent that Martens could sleep through his alarm clock on the final day at Lake St. Clair, spot the other 11 finalists 45 minutes of fishing time and still finish sixth to salt away the AOY title, three weeks before the AOY Championship event at Sturgeon Bay, Wis. That’s a slight but significant change for Martens, who is in the process of shredding that always-the-best-man-never-the-groom image he had after accumulating four runner-up finishes in the Bassmaster Classic and nine other second-place trophies in B.A.S.S. major tournaments.
It’s amazing what two “mental coaches” from south Georgia can do for a pro angler’s career.
Also, it’s worth noting that some of the bass Martens weighed while finishing sixth at Lake St. Clair, a week after their smallmouth trip to Mullett Lake, were caught on a “Gilley-rigged” Roboworm. Martens believes the Gilley rig is legit.
“It doesn’t twist your line,” Martens said. “A wacky rig will twist it. A wacky rig falls slow. A nose hook falls fast. A Gilley rig falls (at a rate) somewhere in-between.”
Sometimes the smallmouth simply want it that way, like Goldilocks prefers her porridge – not too hot and not too cold. The Gilley rig falls just right.
This story can’t end without sharing a couple more Aaron Martens stories from Gilley, who has quickly grown to love Martens like a brother and admire him like a Hall of Fame athlete in any major sport. Durham, Gilley and Martens have been fishing together “about two or three times a year” since they met.
“Joe and I call him ‘The Fish Whisperer,’” Gilley said. “He tells us that’s his favorite nickname.
“Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in his mind. He’ll call me when he’s on the road, and he’ll talk for 30 minutes. Talk about everything. Joe will ask me what he said, and I’ll go, ‘Man, I couldn’t tell you.’”
On their first day at Mullett Lake in August, the day before the Gilley rig was born, the wind howled and the three anglers caught a total of seven smallmouth bass on a miserable outing.
“Joe and I are like, ‘Call (Mark) Zona and find out where we can catch some fish,” Gilley recalled.
“Aaron says, ‘Bro, I’m Aaron freakin’ Martens. I don’t need to call anybody.”
Spoken like a true champion.
Editor’s Note: This Thursday, watch Aaron Martens fish live on Bassmaster.com. Bassmaster LIVE on the Lake with Aaron Martens presented by Carhartt will be on Lake Guntersville from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. CT.
A lot has been said and written about Aaron Martens’ 2015 Elite Series season, and a lot more will be said and written in the coming weeks as the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship determines much of the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic field. But even before the AOY Championship, Martens has locked up AOY.
He did it at the conclusion of the regular season, with one event left to go. The accomplishment has pundits and fans asking if it’s the best Elite season ever.
Well, is it?
It’s easy to say that Martens’ year is the best in the 10 year history of the Elite Series, to get caught up in the moment and the excitement of the achievement, but how do you back up that very bold statement?
Other anglers have cinched AOY before the regular season ended, though not during the Elite era. Tim Horton, in 2000, was the most recent. And other anglers have won two tournaments in an Elite season, including Kevin VanDam (2007 and 2008), Skeet Reese (2010) and Edwin Evers (back-to-back in 2015).
It would be convenient to look at AOY points and compare them to get a feel for how dominant Martens was this year, but that doesn’t work because points have never been tallied in the same way for even two years in a row during the Elite era.
So how can we best compare one angler’s performance against another’s across seasons? It presents some challenges, even for the very limited period of Elite competition (2006-2015). For one, there’s the ever-evolving points system. For another, there’s the varying field size (it’s usually around 100, but has been as low as 93 and as high as 140). Finally, there are “cuts” (reducing the field to 50 after the first two rounds and to 12 after the third) which prevent a cleaner calculation based on actual fish caught and weighed in.
The best method left to us is an angler’s percentile finish. Remember standardized testing from high school? You got a score that told you how you rated against other students in the same grade or school. If you did really well, you were in the 90th percentile or better (upper 10 percent). If you did poorly, you scored below 50 (in the bottom half).
This system is a little like that, and it actually reveals a lot about what it takes to compete for AOY. A perfect score is 100 — it means you won every tournament. The worst possible score is 0 — it means you finished dead last every time. A score of 50 is average.
We start with Martens’ finishes in 2015. He was third at the Sabine River, 66th at Lake Guntersville, second at the Sacramento River, first at Lake Havasu, 15th at Kentucky Lake, 13th at the St. Lawrence River, first at Chesapeake Bay and 6th at Lake St. Clair. The 2015 fields ranged from as few as 107 anglers to as many as 124 and totaled 895 competitors for the year, including Martens himself.
If you calculate Martens’ finishes as a percentile of the field, he scores 88.04, which means that his average finish was in the top 12 percent. Of course, it was the best of 2015, but how does it stack up against other anglers in other Elite seasons.
Using the same formula, here are the 10 best Elite seasons ever:
Six other Elite anglers posted season scores of 80 or above. A good way to think of that number (80) is to consider it the threshold to challenge for AOY. If you score 80 or better, you’re going to be in the hunt. If you score below 80, you’re not. No angler in Elite history has ever won AOY with a score below 80.
Martens’ 2015 season was not only the best in Elite history, but his margin of victory was also the biggest ever. He was 11.62 percent better than his closest challenger, Dean Rojas. And this is no slight against Rojas, who had a terrific year (76.42). It simply illustrates how strong Martens was in 2015.
Here are the five biggest margins of victory for AOY in Elite history. Keep in mind that these numbers were calculated at the end of the regular season and before any postseason tournaments (where points systems have been dramatically altered and field size has been reduced).
# Percent Year AOY Leader Closest Challenger
1. 11.62 2015 Aaron Martens Dean Rojas
2. 10.48 2011 Kevin VanDam Edwin Evers
3. 2.90 2009 Skeet Reese Kevin VanDam
4. 2.87 2007 Skeet Reese Kevin VanDam
5. 2.47 2006 Michael Iaconelli Steve Kennedy
The AOY race has produced just two runaways of 10 percent or more. Every other AOY battle has been decided by less than 3 percent. The closest was 2010, when it was less than 1 percent. So to win by more than 10 percent is quite an accomplishment.
And then there’s money. With his two wins, five other in-the-money finishes and $100K for the AOY title, Martens will take home about $386,000 in B.A.S.S. prize money, not counting the $12,500 he earned in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. It will make him the top-earner for the year among all B.A.S.S. pros — higher even than Classic champ Casey Ashley, who picked up $300,000 in that championship alone.
To lead all anglers in money for the year without winning the Classic is extremely unusual. In fact, it hasn’t happened since 2001 when Dean Rojas won back-to-back Top 150s and the Classic was worth only $100,000. He edged Kevin VanDam in earnings that year.
So let’s go ahead and say it. Aaron Martens had the best year in Elite Series history in 2015. Whether you evaluate his season in terms of wins, money or percentile finish, no Elite angler has ever been better.