Category Blog

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.

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.

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.

As I write this, I’m preparing for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship on Sturgeon Bay out of Door County, Wis. This tournament presents a lot of firsts for me, and it’s tough to figure out just how to approach it.

I suppose the most unusual thing about the AOY Championship is that I go into the tournament as the 2015

photo by Seigo Saito - With my mom (Carol) after winning the Lake Havasu Elite Series tournament.
photo by Seigo Saito – With my mom (Carol) after winning the Lake Havasu Elite Series tournament.

Angler of the Year. I was fortunate enough to lock up that title at the end of our last regular season Elite Series tournament on Lake St. Clair. I’ve really been blessed this year, worked extremely hard and have had a lot of success. To win my third AOY title means a lot to me and my family. We’re really grateful.

I have a lot of people to thank for this season, and I want to do that soon but with the AOY Championship this week, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about that. I’ll have time to tell you all about my year after the season is over. It’s been a real rollercoaster — some of the highest highs of my career and some of the lowest lows of my life.

This tournament is unusual for me because for the first time I have nothing at stake. Since I already earned AOY and the prize money that goes with it, I get the same reward whether I finish first at Sturgeon Bay or last. That’s definitely different.

Although there’s nothing really at stake for me, there’s a lot at stake for most of the other guys. They’ll be battling for spots in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees and for a greater share of the AOY money. Some of them are already guaranteed a spot in the Classic, but everyone but me can move up or down in the AOY standings and gain or lose money.

Even though there’s no way for me to move up or down or change my payout, I want everyone to know that I’m taking the tournament very seriously. I’m trying to do everything right in my preparation. My gear is as well prepared as for any Elite tournament, and I really want to win, collect another trophy and add another page to what’s been a great season.

I’ve been fun fishing at Sturgeon Bay a couple of times before, so I feel like I know it pretty well. It’s an amazing fishery with giant smallmouth bass. As a smallmouth fishery, it’s really tough to beat, and I’m really excited to be here.

At last year’s AOY Championship at Bay de Noc out of Escanaba, Mich., we ran into some windy weather that kept us off the water for three straight days. Now it looks like conditions could be rough at Sturgeon Bay for part of the practice period. It doesn’t take a lot of wind to create 4- and 5-foot waves out there. If things settle down, though, you’re going to see some fantastic catches. I hope I’m one of the guys making them!

But if weather’s a big factor and things are rough out on the big water, I might play things safe because of my situation. Like I said, there’s not much for me to gain or lose. I want to try to have fun, to fish relaxed and to win if I get the chance. But if things get rough, I probably won’t be out there in the middle of it like the guys fighting for one of the last Classic spots.

It’s a weird situation, but I think that’s the best way to handle it. Of course, after each day of competition, I’ll be reconsidering my situation and coming up with a new plan.

That approach has worked all year. I see no reason to change it now.

AaronMartensWe are about month out from the 2015 Bassmaster Classic and I find myself putting countless hours in my shop preparing for it and the upcoming season. It seems like every year I try to focus on simplifying things more and more. I think it is widely known that I am a tackle junky, tinkerer, and collector. This makes simplifying a difficult task, but I believe that the simpler I can keep things, the better chance I have to be successful.

 There are several reasons for my thinking. First, the more complex your approach is, the less focused you are on the water. It isn’t as simple as just having a few techniques and key baits and heading out on tour, but for every bait or technique I won’t use, I can focus on those that I will use. Any tackle I carry in my boat that I won’t use, just gets in the way: both mentally and organizationally.

 There is a fine line between eliminating what I won’t need and simplifying too much. If I eliminate too much, I will end up leaving something out that I might later want. At the Classic in New Orleans in 2011, I left my square bills out—a painful mistake. It may only be once every two years that I am looking for a particular bait in a tournament and that too is very distracting. The feeling that I am missing a particular bait which could be effective is a miserable one, and it definitely affects my focus. That is something I risk every time I remove something from the boat. To help avoid that, I carry a lot more with me in practice and then streamline everything before the tournament begins.

 I think every year I get a little bit better at simplifying and organizing my tackle. It is a cycle that will never end. As I add new techniques and products to my boat, inevitably I will need to remove some.

 Improving my physical health is another key component to getting ready for the season. My collective attention to running and eating correctly over the past few years has really helped me on tour. By being healthier, I am able to put more time into fishing without losing energy. Additionally, keeping my energy level high helps me focus better while I am on the water. Being tired or having low energy levels makes it difficult to keep the kind of mental focus it takes to compete against the best anglers in the world. I really believe that being fit gives me a competitive advantage, and it can do the same for you.