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.”
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.
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.
Some days, he’d probably much rather run than fish. He runs in the offseason to prepare for the Elite Series season. Half marathons, long-distance relays, he’ll compete in pretty much anything where running’s involved. He runs during the season to stay healthy and clear his mind after a day on the water.
This season, he ran away from literally every one of his Elite Series competitors. It. Wasn’t. Even. Close.
With victories at Lake Havasu and Chesapeake Bay along with five other Top-15 finishes, he compiled the most impressive statistical season in the 10 years the Elite Series has served as B.A.S.S.’s top tournament circuit. There were 35 Elite Series competition days this season. Martens competed on 31 of them, an 88 percent participation rate, en route to his third career Angler of the Year Championship. On 13 of those days, he either was in the lead or was within 5 pounds of the leader.
He went to the season-ending AOY Championship at Sturgeon Bay last week knowing he could’ve stayed on shore for the whole event and still won AOY, but he finished 28th and tacked on 10 more points to the gap between himself and his closest challenger. His 112-point margin of victory over Justin Lucas is, by far, the most lopsided AOY win in the four seasons B.A.S.S. has used its current points system. Each of the previous three AOY races was decided by fewer than 15 points.
Martens went over the $3 million mark in career B.A.S.S. winnings this season and is now one of eight pros with at least three AOY titles to his credit. The others are: Roland Martin (9 – all B.A.S.S.), Kevin VanDam (8 – 7 B.A.S.S., 1 FLW), Bill Dance (3 – all B.A.S.S.), Mark Davis (3 – all B.A.S.S.), David Dudley (3 – all FLW), Clark Wendlandt (3 – all FLW), Jay Yelas (3 – 2 FLW, 1 B.A.S.S.).
“I’ve always wanted to be No. 1 in the sport,” he said. “It’s why I’ve worked so hard at this sport and why I started fishing. I wanted to be the best at it. Watching Kevin and Gary Klein and those guys over the years, I wanted to be at the top. I don’t fish to make a living. I fish to be the best at it. I’ve been fortunate that it’s going that way, but it’s hard work. It never ends.”
He feels that his physical fitness allows him to be sharper on the water and that’s why he’s made such a commitment to eating right and staying fit.
“Every year, I feel like I’m in better shape than the year before,” he said. “That’s my secret. That’s what helps me do what I’m doing. I do several races in the offseason and by the time the Classic or season starts, I’m in crazy good shape and I’m ready to go mentally and physically and my abilities are stronger than ever.”
He called this season the most consistent of his career and that avoiding the mishaps, be it mechanical or otherwise, that can derail a day or tournament was a big reason for that.
“That’s happened throughout the years,” he said. “I’ve had a couple bad things happen and it doesn’t take much to knock you out whether it’s a breakdown or you lose a big fish or even a small keeper. This year wasn’t like that. I had a handful of strong finishes where I gained so many points.”
’He’d Have Been Real Proud’
Martens’ season started with a surprising sponsor move and a crushing personal loss, but he seemed to navigate it all with ease.
In January, Japanese tackle company Megabass announced its 17-year run as one of Martens’ core sponsors was ending as Martens had signed on with start-up rod company Enigma Fishing, headed by friend Jesse Tacorante. It was a bold move that wound up paying off in a big way.
Then, on the eve of the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, Martens’ father, Jerry, passed away at the age of 75 after a long battle with peripheral neuropathy, a nerve disease. Despite catching a 6-11 brute on day 2 – it was big fish of the event – Martens finished 30th at Hartwell, his worst Classic result since the Louisiana Delta in 2001.
Asked how his father’s death impacted his focus heading into the season, he said, “I don’t know. I think of him quite a bit. I don’t know how it helped me, but I don’t think it hurt me obviously.
“My dad was a hard worker and taught me a good work ethic. I remember helping him clean pools when I was a kid. That’s how I made money. He was a good dad. Maybe I made sure I performed well this year for him. I think he may have been an inspiration.”
Asked what he thinks his dad would’ve said about his dynamic season, Martens said, “He’d have been real proud of this one. I know the last one I won, he was excited, but this one would’ve gotten him excited, too.”
Sabine Prep Pays Off
During his run to the 2013 AOY title, Martens had to overcome an 85th-place finish at the Sabine River. It was a venue very few in the Elite Series field had been to or even heard of. When it showed up again on this year’s schedule, Martens vowed that history would not repeat itself.
He spent 3 days in east Texas last December trying to learn more about it so he was better prepared when the season kicked off there in early March.
“It was flooded, so it wasn’t real good fishing,” he said. “I wanted to idle around and look at things because it’s impossible to see it all in 3 days of practice. It helped quite a bit.”
Did it ever. He was in 2nd after day 3 and wound up finishing 3rd while fishing the same stretch as winner Chris Lane and 7th-place finisher Shaw Grigsby.
Martens said having his mom, Carol, with him at Lake Havasu was like “a fantasy tournament.”
Three weeks later, he took 66th at Guntersville, a surprisingly low finish for the Alabama resident who won at the prolific Tennessee River impoundment in 2009.
“I just missed them,” he said. “I got on them good in practice. I wasn’t getting a lot of bites, but they were quality bites. It all died, though, in the tournament. The fish moved up and I couldn’t find the females. I was around some of them and I probably needed to upsize my bait. I caught a lot of 2 1/2-pound males.
“On day 2, I figured it out more and did something different and ended up with almost 20 (pounds) which kept me from doing really bad. I just missed it.”
Martens’ season really started to take shape on the West Coast swing, the Elite Series’ first trip to the Pacific time zone since 2010.
He was the day-2 leader at the Sacramento River and eventually took 2nd to Justin Lucas before capturing the victory at Lake Havasu the following week. It was a special trip for Martens, whose mom, Carol, a prolific angler herself and the one credited with teaching Aaron how to fish, tagged along for both tournaments.
The win at Havasu came at a time when Martens was starting to wonder if he’d ever win again. The Sacramento River was his sixth career runner-up finish in an Elite Series tournament (that’s not counting his four Classic runner-up finishes). Havasu ranks as one of Martens’ favorite places to fish and he overcame a 2 1/2-pound deficit on the final day to win by 2 pounds on Mother’s Day with his mom in the crowd.
“It was like a fantasy tournament,” he said. “It was definitely a blessing for my mom to be there. She hadn’t been able to go to tournaments for the last 6 or 7 years because she was taking care of my dad. My parents always went to the Classic and made tournaments that they could, but they hadn’t been able to do that.”
The win pulled Martens into 3rd place in the AOY standings, 23 points behind leader Dean Rojas, at the midway point of the season.
Martens kicked off the second half of the season with a 15th-place finish at BASSFest at Kentucky Lake, then followed up with a 13th at the St. Lawrence River to take over the points lead from Rojas. From there, he shifted into hyper drive and left everyone else in his dust.
PHOTO: B.A.S.S./SEIGO SAITO
Martens called this fish catch – 7-02 giant – at Chesapeake Bay one of the best catches of his career.
The highlight of a season full of them came on the final day at the Chesapeake Bay, when he caught a 7-02 kicker from under a snag-infested dock with a spinnerbait. The hook came loose just as Martens lipped the fish, adding to the intensity. The fish catch was captured during B.A.S.S.’ live streaming coverage online and featured Martens apologizing to Bill Lowen for likely spoiling his first Elite Series win.
“The first big one out of the reeds at Havasu on the final day was an enjoyable fish for me,” he said, “but it’s not going to top that 7-pounder. It wasn’t hooked in the skin. I had it hooked in the mouth and when it came up I could see the whole bend of the hook. That’s the first thing I look for when I see a fish. I knew it was bad. I expected it it to come off at that point. I tried to keep the rod straight up and the tip bent as much as I could.
“It stopped flopping for a second and that’s when I went down to get her. I took advantage of that and everything went so smooth. It was pretty intense. That was one of the top fish catches of my career.”
It propelled him to the victory and he then sealed the AOY title with a 6th-place finish at Lake St. Clair two weeks later.
“The more you get (to the final day), the more you want to stay there because that’s where the excitement is at,” he said. “I like to be around where the excitement is. Just being in the Top 12 and having a chance to win is more fun.”
With all he’s already accomplished in his career, Martens is fast climbing the list of best bass anglers of his generation. Still, there’s one hole on his résumé he’d like to fill – and soon.
“My ultimate goal is to win AOYs and the Classic,” he said. “The next Classic would be good. I need to win one soon. I’m going to work on that really hard, but it’s going to be tricky being the first week of March.”
He said he’ll go into the 2016 Classic at Grand Lake with as much confidence as he’s ever had, a scary proposition for his competitors. He finished 28th at the 2013 Classic at Grand Lake.
“It could happen,” he said. “We’ll see. That’s going to be a tough one. I’m definitely going to have earn it.”
For the first time in the 14-year history of the BassFan World Rankings, Aaron Martens has ascended to the top slot. He moves into the No. 1 position in the latest edition, which takes in the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Ouachita and the Bassmaster Elite Series events at the Chesapeake Bay and Lake St. Clair.
Martens, who wrapped up his second B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title in 3 years with a 6th-place finish at St. Clair, has a lead of nearly 9 points over previous kingpin Bryan Thrift. Former No. 2 Scott Martin moved down one slot to 3rd and Andy Morgan gained one position and sits in 4th. Edwin Evers, like Martens a two-time winner on the Elite Series this year, jumped 11 places and rounds out the Top 5.
The bottom half of the Top 10 consists of Justin Lucas, Jacob Powroznik, Greg Hackney, Jason Christie and Wesley Strader.
Martens, now a three-time AOY for his career, has been both consistent and spectacular throughout 2015. He finished among the Top 15 in seven of the eight regular-season Elite events and claimed victories at the Chesapeake and Lake Havasu.
Todd Faircloth, a former No. 1 who’d had a lackluster campaign this year before winning at St. Clair, gained 14 places to No. 22. Cup champion Brad Knight moved up 15 slots to No. 42.
Chad Pipkens, who logged Top-4 finishes at both the Chesapeake and St. Clair, is up a whopping 65 places to 83rd.
The next tournament that will impact the rankings is the Bassmaster AOY Championship (now misnamed due to Martens’ early clinching of the title), set for Sept. 17-20 at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin.
Aaron Martens slept through his alarm clock Sunday morning, got on the water 30 minutes late and still clinched the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title three weeks early.
By finishing sixth in the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, the 43-year-old Leeds, Ala., angler built an insurmountable 102-point lead over his next closest competitor. It sealed possibly the most dominant season in Elite Series history. And it made the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay next month a foregone conclusion.
“Now I feel bad,” said Martens. “If I wouldn’t have done that, (the AOY race) officially wouldn’t have been over.”
Martens was only halfway kidding. There was very little chance anyone was going to catch him, even if it had been mathematically possible, at Sturgeon Bay next month. Now it’s impossible.
In the eight-tournament Elite Series season, Martens won twice and finished lower than 15th only once. His one hiccup came in the second tournament of the year when he was 66th at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. His victories came at Lake Havasu and Chesapeake Bay. He finished second at the Sacramento River/California Delta, third at Sabine River, 13th at the St. Lawrence River, 15th at Kentucky Lake.
“It’s getting better every day,” Martens said of the 2015 season. “I’ve definitely been blessed this year.”
This marked Martens’ third AOY championship. He previously won in 2005 and 2013. He was fourth in 2014.
“It has been an amazing three years,” said Martens, who has won over $2.5 million in his B.A.S.S. career.
It was a sign of how diligently Martens has prepared for every tournament day this season that he slept through his alarm clock and several wakeup calls Sunday morning. From working on tackle and preparing his nutrition shakes each evening, Martens has been averaging four hours sleep per night. Exhaustion may have caught up with him before Sunday’s final day on Lake St. Clair.
“I never heard an alarm go off,” Martens said. “I’ve never done that before. When you wake up and see it’s light outside you know you’re in deep (trouble).”
Even spotting the other 11 finalists a half-hour before he got on the water, Martens still moved up in the standings Sunday, starting in 11th place and finishing in sixth. It was just the latest example of how dominant he has been all season.